Philosophy, Top Stories

The Philosophical Case Against Scientism

Scientism is the claim that science is the only source of knowledge. This claim has been the subject of intense controversy for years, and it has recently re-emerged in public debate following the publication of Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress. Admittedly, Pinker does not make this claim himself, but those who do are (mis)using his work in support of their claims, and the renewed controversy over the term provides us with an opportunity to revisit its validity. Representatives of the humanities, in particular, have had their feathers ruffled by the notion that empirical observation and hypothesis testing have a monopoly on rational inquiry as tight as that enjoyed by Andrew Carnegie on the steel industry in the 19th century; liberal arts need not apply. Much of the criticism of scientism has focused on the aesthetic poverty of abandoning the contemplation of Shakespeare for the study of synapses in humanity’s quest for knowledge of the world and of ourselves. These criticisms have some merit, but a stronger case against scientism can be made using the philosophical equivalent of the arid reasoning that scientists admire.

Consider the following all-too-common scenario: you are a cash-strapped graduate student, and you decide to make a little money by participating in a psychological study.During the study you are presented with a computer program with two inputs, identified (with a tip of the hat to Nelson Goodman) as ‘grue’ and ‘bleen.’ The purpose of the study is unstated, as usual, so you simply focus on engaging with the program. As soon as you select an input, the computer prints out a number. As you continue clicking the inputs, you notice that every time you click ‘grue’ the computer prints ‘1’ and every time you click ‘bleen’ the computer prints ‘0.’ After a few minutes of doing this with no change in the pattern, you formulate a hypothesis that the computer is programmed to always return a ‘0’ for ‘bleen’ and a ‘1’ for ‘grue.’ In moving beyond making observations of the past and forming a testable claim about the future, you’ve made an assumption that the latter tends to resemble the former. We can call the assumption you’ve made the Past-Future Thesis (PFT):

The more consistently something has behaved a certain way in the past, the more likely it is that the thing will keep behaving the same way in the future.

What happens if you don’t assume the PFT, and instead assume that the future might be radically and unpredictably unlike the past? To make this clear, we’re now considering what happens if you don’t believe any past behavior makes similar future behavior more likely – that even a million trials with one result don’t make it any more likely that the next trial will have the same result.

In this case, all of your reasoning up to and including the testable claim about the program becomes invalid. Since you have no relevant data on what the computer does in response to each input, you cannot formulate a ‘law’ that the computer will always return ‘1’ for ‘grue’ and ‘0’ for ‘bleen.’ Your past observations are irrelevant because ex hypothesi they do not make it any more likely that the computer will return the same outputs as before. In fact, you are in the same boat, from an epistemological standpoint, as if you had never made any observation of the computer’s behavior at all.

And without law-like statements, Karl Popper’s celebrated criterion of falsifiability in science becomes unintelligible. Only statements that make claims about the future can be falsified by new data. Law-like statements (e.g., “Inputting ‘grue’ will always produce an output of ‘1’”) do make claims about the future, but mere descriptions of the past don’t. In the absence of a link connecting the two, there is no more contradiction in the future being radically different from the past than there is in Venus’s surface temperature being radically different from Pluto’s.

We can conclude, therefore, that the PFT is indispensable to science because it forms the basis of empirical reasoning. If you doubt this, try to think of even one claim about the natural behavior of anything – water, electrons, unladen swallows, the Moon, etc. – that does not depend on past observations of the thing in question. Doing so is, of course, impossible. Indeed, the claim that you can find things out about how things work just by thinking about them in the abstract, without observation, is the very sort of deductive reasoning that pioneers of the scientific method like Francis Bacon and John Stuart Mill ridiculed.

But this assumption that the future must resemble the past isn’t self-evident. It doesn’t force itself upon our belief in the same way that the impossibility of a square circle does. And because it isn’t self-evident, we ought to ask how we know it to be true. It is here that scientism comes to pieces. The PFT cannot itself be justified empirically, because empirical reasoning, as we saw above, assumes the PFT.

To see how this works, imagine how someone might try to defend the thesis empirically. One might say, “The PFT claims that past behavior makes similar future behavior more likely. And if we look at the past, we see that the future resembles the past all the time, so there’s an overwhelming probabilistic case for the PFT.” The problem, of course, is that in appealing to what’s happened in the past as a guide to what will happen in the future, the would-be defender is assuming the very thing in question – that the future will resemble the past. There is no non-circular way to bootstrap the PFT even as a probabilistic claim, much less an infallible metaphysical principle, from past experience.

We are left on the horns of the following dilemma: either the PFT can be justified on non-empirical grounds, or it cannot be justified at all. If we accept the first horn, then we are conceding that scientific observation is not the only source of knowledge, and thus that scientism is false. This is unacceptable to the defender of this philosophy, so what of the other option?

The second horn of the dilemma clearly won’t work either. On scientism’s account, science is the only source of knowledge. We’ve just seen above that the PFT cannot be known scientifically to be true. Ergo, given scientism, the PFT cannot be known to be true at all. You have no more reason, in that case, to believe in the PFT than your crackpot co-worker does to believe that Freemasons are controlling the world through a long-plotted 1960s takeover of the Vatican. In fact, you have less reason to believe in the PFT than your co-worker does in his Freemason Thesis, because he can at least point to a few conspiracy theory attempts at ‘evidence,’ but the whole enterprise of providing evidence at all has been shuttered for you by scientism’s restriction of knowledge to the empirical.

It gets worse, however. If you have no reason to believe that the PFT is true, then it follows that you have no reason to believe that anything that assumes the PFT is true either, and so out go all of your grounds for trust in any of the deliverances of science. Your belief that the Earth completes an orbit around the sun once every 365 days is no better grounded than the belief that the Earth completes an orbit around the moon once every 365 years – both are now equally unfounded and arbitrary.

It won’t do to say that we have no reason to believe the PFT to be false, and shouldn’t abandon it just because there’s a sliver of probability that it might not be true. This line of reasoning assumes that the onus is on someone who denies that the past is like the future to prove that view. But this is just creeping circular reasoning again, albeit better concealed: we find this argument tempting because it seems overwhelmingly probable that the PFT is true. And that sense of probability is, again, grounded in an implicit belief that it’s true because we’ve seen it be so in the past – and brings us back to the dilemma described above. If we actually adopt the sort of open-minded approach to this thesis that we would to any other claim, then the burden of proof falls upon the person who asserts, not the one who denies. Hence, this evasion likewise fails.

The defender of scientism might finally claim that the PFT needs no justification, because it’s a basic presupposition that we cannot avoid having and whose denial we cannot even conceive. This might be compared to biting the bullet and breaking your teeth on it. Which segment of society has been louder for the past hundred years when claiming that even our most fundamental beliefs about causation, meaning, time, space, and consciousness are all subject to the acid of scientific inquiry than those who proudly wear the label of scientism? Who has sneered more at the appeal to ‘common sense intuitions’ against the deliverances of reason than the Daniel Dennetts and Steven Pinkers of the world? And will they now suddenly take refuge in the very sort of crude appeal to the basic beliefs they ridicule in practically every other context? Our eyes would fain deceive us into believing that a double standard were being applied, if our hearts were not convinced of the inherent righteousness and unfailing rationality of those who promote “reason, science, humanism, and progress.”

For the defender of scientism to suddenly back away from the obligation to provide evidence for his beliefs on a point this fundamental is unacceptable. But since, as I’ve already demonstrated, there is no empirical way of defending PFT, we are forced to conclude that defending the assumption – and ultimately defending science itself – must rest on a philosophical foundation rather than an empirical one. And, thus, it follows that the claim that science is the only source of knowledge is false.

This is enough to make the case against scientism, but another word ought to be said about the ideology’s reception among popular intellectuals. Every detail of the argument I have just presented in this essay can be found in both David Hume and Immanuel Kant, two architects of modern philosophy whom Steven Pinker favorably cites in his breezy intellectual history at the beginning of Enlightenment Now. Material for similar arguments can be found in practically every other philosopher of any importance before the Enlightenment, and quite a few for a century afterwards: Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, Augustine, Duns Scotus, Aquinas, Ockham, Descartes, Spinoza, Locke, Reid, Schopenhauer, Hartmann, and Soloviev, to name a few. The argument I’ve presented in this essay is not, for these philosophers and quite a few more in the last century, some arcane and especially difficult conclusion. If philosophy were mathematics, the argument against scientism wouldn’t be transfinite arithmetic or modern geometry, it would be remedial pre-algebra. The ability to reflect on our own thinking and seek out the justification for our starting principles is the very foundation point of philosophy, and yet it’s something which popular science and public intellectuals cannot seem to discuss without lapsing into caricatures or wildly pointing fingers at religion or German Romantic aestheticism as the only conceivable source of opposition to scientism.

But it just isn’t so – philosophers like Hume, who made a poor secret of his anti-Christian sentiments, and Spinoza, who was excommunicated from the synagogue for his pantheistic views, were hardly writing axe-grinding defenses of traditional religion. They were attempting to do philosophy well, which led them both to recognize the necessity of reasoning that went beyond the empirical, even as both of them developed radically different systems. If popular science writers wish to defend scientism, they would do well to demonstrate a modicum of understanding of the best arguments against their position. But to invoke the PFT one last time, given their past behavior, I wouldn’t count on it for the foreseeable future.

 

Spencer Hall is a statistician living in Macon, GA who writes on science, philosophy, and religion. He graduated from the University of Georgia in 2016 and has worked for his alma mater in disease ecology ever since. His blog can be found here.

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62 Comments

  1. Joshua Schwartz says

    This reminds me of why I wouldn’t be a very good philosopher: because I don’t understand how I’m supposed to be impressed by an author pointing out a lone, exceptional, non-empirical axiom is somehow supposed to invalidate a perspective that is potentially viable in 99.999% of other questions. It’s like arguing that a house in unsound because there’s a slight crack in the foundation. My house has one and it holds up fine. So do most houses.

    I’m not sure moving people from saying “science is the only source of knowledge” to “science is the only source of knowledge, but has an axiomatic PFT assumption that everyone agrees with” is some kind of useful foot-in-the-door wedge past which other, magical forms of knowledge will suddenly rush in. No, scientism is built on an axiom and proceeds from there. Voila – a change to the meaning of the word, a distinction to appease the ‘paradox’, and no significant change occurs.

    • To extend the metaphor: Your house may hold up well for the time being, but if you let it go on like that for too long, eventually the structural integrity of the house WILL diminish.

      So to argue that a non-empirical axiom makes a statistically viable perspective “unsound” IS true from a certain standpoint, even though I admit that labeling such a viewpoint with those terms or behaving as such is a bit alarmist.

      There’s nothing inherently wrong with approaching a scientific theory that holds true for the vast majority of cases and to look at the outliers and metaphorically say, “Could use a bit of spackle there.”

    • JBR says

      For a good explanation of why this matters *practically*, read Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s The Black Swan. He covers both Hume’s and Goodman’s two different problems of induction, but instead of sticking to the rarefied air of philosophy, he brings it down to a practical level that shows precisely why these problems matter for the actual practice of science and how not understanding them can have serious consequences.

      Example: A big problem comes when there are multiple possible empirical models that equally fit onto the past data, but give very different predictions. Then there’s a problem, in certain domains (which Taleb calls type 2 randomness or more colorfully, “Extremistan”), of making any predictions at all. In these domains we are vulnerable to getting blindsided by extreme events we never saw coming.

  2. ted boronovskis says

    Seems to me it all depends on what we mean by the word ‘knowledge’. But then, i think the Queen was right when she told Alice that, “words mean what I mean them to mean, no more and no less”

    • Eisso Post says

      That was the caterpillar I think, or Humpty Dumpty, not the queen anyway.

  3. garthdaisy says

    Wow you slew that straw man to shreds. No quotes from Pinker, Dennett, or any other person self identifying as a “defender of scientism.” The word “scientism” is not a label anyone identify’s by it’s a pejorative invented by, well, people like our author here, who write articles about defenders of “scientism” without quoting anyone who identifies as such.

    • markbul says

      The word ‘jerk’ works perfect well, in spite of the fact that I’ve never met anyone who self-identifies as one.

    • ermn says

      Rosenberg openly identifies with and defends scientism. See his Atheist Guide to Reality.

  4. Joshua Schwartz says

    If scientism were “the belief that science is the primary source of knowledge” instead of the “only” source of knowledge, this “refutation” would vanish in the wind but the essentials of everything Pinker and Dennett believe would remain unaffected.
    Also, the author really betrays himself near the end, expressing a juvenile attitude (“remedial pre-algebra”, “a modicum of understanding”). It’s one thing to disagree with a position and advocate your own, but such immature belittling weakens one’s case and is unbecoming.

  5. Joe Bob says

    That was impressive- extremely sharp and well written.

  6. AC Harper says

    If only ‘knowledge’ meant objective facts and ‘wisdom’ meant valuable ways of living then this debate could be resolved,

  7. teacup says

    This is essentially the ‘problem of induction’. Popper’s response was that science does not progress via inductive inference but through ‘conjecture and refutation’ – which consists of first coming up with falsifiable hypotheses and then seeing which of these hypotheses survive falsification by the evidence or criticism. Thus, the problem of induction does not disprove scientism, because inductive inference is not how science works in the first place.

    (I’m familiar with Popper’s argument through David Deutsch’s books.)

    • Indeed, it is the falsification principle that allows us to see that one of the beliefs “the Earth completes an orbit around the sun once every 365 days” and “the Earth completes an orbit around the moon once every 365 years” is manifestly false.

    • Meh says

      This way of addressing Hume’s problem of induction amounts to saying that much of what we think is known on scientific grounds is actually just a long list of stuff that hasn’t been falsified yet; all that we really know is that the hypotheses that have already been falsified are, in fact, false. It’s the scientistic equivalent of so-called negative theology, in which all that can be said about God is that which God is not; just substitute “physical reality” for “God.” But in any case this is not a very good solution because there is a sense in which the claims represented by theoretical constructs like the periodic table and quantum theory are not just true but known to be so; and if our epistemology doesn’t allow us to say that we know these things to be true, then it means that there’s something wrong with our epistemology.

    • Yosi says

      Falsificationism asserts that theories cannot be proved but that theories or hypotheses can be shown to be false. There is nothing wrong with falsificationism, excepting that some things are demonstrated to be true. 😉

  8. Doug says

    “In fact, you are in the same boat, from an epistemological standpoint, as if you had never made any observation of the computer’s behavior at all.”
    The non-scientist would, at this point, throw her hands in the air in frustration, decide there’s no reason to try and learn why things happen, pray to her supreme being for guidance, and go back to her happy life.
    The scientist would note a change in behavior that causes them to look for a reason for the change, refine their hypotheses, build test cases, run the tests, analyze the data, and then either accept the new hypothesis or reject it and begin again.
    That’s how science works…it’s a feature not a bug.
    One of Pinker’s major themes is that the non-science world prior to the Enlightenment showed us no progress on anything. Life expectancy, wealth, health, vigor…nothing…total flat line. Once people began to move away from the ‘god said’ mode into ‘I wonder why happens’, we see nearly exponential improvements in everything. Science beats any alternative way of looking at the world.

  9. The second horn of the dilemma clearly won’t work either. On scientism’s account, science is the only source of knowledge.

    This is the point at which you might name someone who actually believes this.

  10. David Pittelli says

    I wonder if the author believes that there are modes of inquiry whose predictive validity or knowledge would remain even if everything about the universe were subject to change.

  11. Steve T says

    This article is a bit of a mixed bag because there is a degree to which it is perfectly correct and a degree to which it is simply a straw man argument. I think there is a basic dispute about exactly what scientism means which means that any article for or against must explicitly and clearly enunciating the intended meaning. That hasn’t really been done.

    Having said that, I am a mathematician and my attitude probably wouldn’t meet most definitions of scientism. For me the universe is understood based on a set of assumptions plus formal logical argument with all of this being tested by verification of self-consitancy and compatibility with empirical observation. The objection being presented is that the base set of assumptions cannot be proven by science. This is true. However, false sets of assumptions can be disproved by science and the principal issue that supporters of science have with those arrayed against them is that the other sides assumptions can be proven false or, in many cases, simply proven to be incompatible with each other. I am much more comfortable viewing the universe with a set of assumptions that nobody has managed to prove false of which the PFT is one.

    Technically the PFT argument needs to be modified for compatibility with our modern understanding of the universe since we have no solid understanding of there being a strict ordering of events that allows use of the terms past and future. Perhaps I should expand and point out that this whole article makes assumptions about the universe that are not only not provable but are known to be inconsistent with our current understanding putting us in the position where the article’s argument is destroyed by depending on stuff we know isn’t true. Basically, science has disproved some elements of the above argument and it needs restructuring for modern (not) understanding of time. IT can be reformulated just fine but needs to adopt so more “sciency” terminology to become valid which probably seriously detracts from the intent of the argument.

    On the other hand, if reformulated it is still basically an argument that we can’t prove the foundation principal on which our entire understanding of the universe is based which is the principal of causality and without causality we do in fact know nothing at all. I for one don’t see the point of moving to a philosophical basis of knowledge where we simply assume we don’t know anything whatsoever.

    And as a final point, all other approaches to knowledge trip over the same hurdle. We cannot prove any basic principals using any of our intellectual tools. The only thing we can do is prove incompatibility between different principals and incompatibility with observed reality. For me those are the principals of a scientific understanding of the universe and hence what scientism means. I recognise this is a personal definition but from my point of view the author has depended on science to make his point that you cannot depend on science.

    Ultimately the whole argument isn’t about logic, understanding of the world, science or any other mode of understanding. It is simply an argument about the meaning of the word “Scientism” dressed up in the emperor’s new clothes to make it look like we are arguing about something more substantial. It reminds me of the arguments many years ago about whether viruses are a form of life.

    • Steve T – for the win.

      I believe his to be the best summary of the article and its flaws and strengths on the premise of “scientism”.

      Personally, I would add that “scientism” is the refashioning of “logical positivism” – which collapsed in the 1920’s if I recall correctly. Today’s version doesn’t do any better by employing more nebulous applications of language and an appeal to perceived “progress”. I believe the reason for that is “scientism” being a term cooked up in the humanities.

    • Meh says

      What a mess of a comment. For one thing, the implication made in the third paragraph to the effect that the PFT presupposes a “strict” temporal ordering of events is false. The PFT presupposes nothing about the metaphysics of time that isn’t already perfectly obvious to us.

      The point of the article is not that we can’t prove “the principle of causality” (whatever you think that means). Rather, the point is that scientism cannot be the right epistemological theory since our empirical sciences presuppose at least one metaphysical assumption in the PFT that cannot be justified on grounds that are acceptable to this theory. In other words, if scientism is right, then it means that our empirical sciences cannot be a source of knowledge after all; the theory turns out to be self-refuting. If you think the article amounts to an empty dispute over the meaning of a word, then you are mistaken.

  12. Jon says

    I would argue this rather.
    You handicap yourself when you limit reasoning to only what is tangible. Now, I would say that people like Hawking realized this. Many of his theories and ideas have some basis in tangible observation, however, he allowed his mind to fill in the intangible details that cannot be observed with current technology.
    The dangers of scientism are apparent in the number of people that take all of these brilliant minds’ ideas and theories as closed, facts. They may certainly be correct, but to shut out any opposition to the ideas based on new information is a problem that plagues many areas of research.

  13. The problem with “scientism” is not that its proponents espouse “scientism”. The problem with “scientism” is that its proponents are (Dennett excepted) piss poor philosophers that would be put to shame by the average college sophomore. They aren’t contributing anything, everything is just derivative and dumbed down versions of Hume and logical positivism, without any understanding of subsequent critiques.

    If you look at a phenomenon as simple as language, language is radically contingent, and depends on cultural memory and history for its existence and continuation. In comparison, a block on a frictionless plane is not path dependent in the same way. It doesn’t matter at what initial conditions you start at, if you give me any initial conditions, I can predict its velocity and location at any other point on the segment.

    Macro-phenomenon are mostly path dependent, and physical models reducible to four forces of physics (not that biologists, for example, are able to do more than hand-wave at that sort of reduction) are not adequate, and will never be sufficiently predictive over the long-term to make reductionism anything more than a dogma. Reductionism is incredibly useful as a methodological tool, radically inadequate as a universal explanation.

  14. George Kushner says

    no sympathy for scientism but a bit of a strawman here..
    scientism claims reflect the science’s claim in general about science being simply the only viable way to gain reliable knowledge , as reliable as it can get.
    so it’s a bit misleading to present scientism as a claim to exclusive certainty of its methodology. I doubt that serious proponents of scientism claim some absolute empirical foundation , likewise Logical Positivists didn’t dispute validity of non-empirical analytic propositions ( math and logic )

  15. Joe Bob says

    An essay by psychiatrist and neurology researcher Ian McGilchrist in response to Steven Pinker and his denial of the charge of scientism.

    “Professor Pinker is quick to disassociate himself from such beliefs, as I say. But is he not saying something similar when he insists that science is ‘indispensable in all areas of human concern, including politics, the arts, and the search for meaning, purpose, and morality’? Really indispensable? How, one wonders, did Burke, Bach and the Buddha do so very well without Professor Pinker’s support?”

    http://178.62.31.128/reply-to-steven-pinker/

  16. Another problem with “scientism” is what the term means.

    The problem with social science is that the act of producing social scientific findings changes society itself. For example, if you discover some regularity in the trading price of tea in China, once the information becomes well known, trading activity capitalizing on the relationship will distort the price and get rid of the regularity. You see similar patterns in military tactics, politics, smuggling etc.

    I think social science is important to understanding the human condition, but it is no more closed than the Great American Novel.

    These sort of obvious facts lead me to believe that there must be a fundamental dichotomy between subjects like law, theology, letters, and say nuclear physics, as well as a fundamental difference between sociology and biology, and biology and physics. I say this as someone who is deeply disappointed by the failure to consider natural selection and genetics in social science.

    But Pinker is right, today, that modern science is deeply relevant to many traditional disciplines, in ways it wasn’t in the past because we know so much more. Further, while Bach and Buddha were not scientists, one might hope that science could serve as a possible inspiration to the wooly-types.

  17. Thanks all for commenting. I don’t at present have the time to address in full all of the objections that have been made, but I have a post in the works on my blog (linked to at the end of the OP) that addresses what I think has been the most common claim, i.e., that my definition of “scientism” is a caricature. Should be done within a couple of days. For the time being, let me briefly address a few things that have been said which seem to be good opportunities to briefly expand the argument.

    Steve T: “Perhaps I should expand and point out that this whole article makes assumptions about the universe that are not only not provable but are known to be inconsistent with our current understanding putting us in the position where the article’s argument is destroyed by depending on stuff we know isn’t true. Basically, science has disproved some elements of the above argument and it needs restructuring for modern (not) understanding of time. IT can be reformulated just fine but needs to adopt so more “sciency” terminology to become valid which probably seriously detracts from the intent of the argument…I for one don’t see the point of moving to a philosophical basis of knowledge where we simply assume we don’t know anything whatsoever.
    And as a final point, all other approaches to knowledge trip over the same hurdle. We cannot prove any basic principals using any of our intellectual tools. The only thing we can do is prove incompatibility between different principals and incompatibility with observed reality. ”

    On the first point, you’re correct about the naive view of time assumed in the article, but this misses the point. Yes, the standard interpretation of time based on modern physics is the four-dimensional block view of the universe, where time is something more analogous to space than what we usually think of as time (i.e., a succession of moments). I wrote in terms of the commonsense view of time because introducing the modern theory would have been pointlessly space-wasting. It doesn’t matter whether this view of the universe is true or not for the purposes of the problem of induction. The problem of induction is ultimately about how we can rationally infer that because two things, A and B, have gone together under n observed cases, therefore, A and B will always go together. On the commonsense view of time, we’d frame this in the way that I (and Hume, and Goodman, and Russell) did, which is to say, “We’ve observed A and B together some large number of times in the past, so should we conclude that they will always go together in the future?” On the block universe view of time (known in philosophy as the B theory), you’d just reword the question to, “A and B go together at n observed time coordinates. Do they go together at all time coordinates that exist?” It doesn’t affect the problem, because the problem of induction isn’t inherently tensed and can easily be reframed in a way that accounts for the block view of the universe.

    On the second point, who said that the philosophical basis of knowledge claims that we don’t know anything whatsoever? I’m not aware of any major philosopher who ever claimed that we can’t know anything or prove any basic principles. Even Hume, probably one of the most skeptical philosophers in history besides A.J. Ayer, never claimed that -nothing- could be known, and many philosophers who adopted the sort of skeptical approach I presented here (Descartes, Berkeley, and Kant, for instance) were quite a bit more positive in their assessment of what we could and couldn’t know than Hume.

    I’ll take the next two together.

    Joshua Schwartz: “If scientism were “the belief that science is the primary source of knowledge” instead of the “only” source of knowledge, this “refutation” would vanish in the wind but the essentials of everything Pinker and Dennett believe would remain unaffected.
    Also, the author really betrays himself near the end, expressing a juvenile attitude (“remedial pre-algebra”, “a modicum of understanding”). It’s one thing to disagree with a position and advocate your own, but such immature belittling weakens one’s case and is unbecoming.”

    garthdaisy: “Wow you slew that straw man to shreds. No quotes from Pinker, Dennett, or any other person self identifying as a “defender of scientism.” The word “scientism” is not a label anyone identify’s by it’s a pejorative invented by, well, people like our author here, who write articles about defenders of “scientism” without quoting anyone who identifies as such.”

    It isn’t wise to call someone’s bluff on a claim when documentation for it is publicly available. No one identifies as embracing scientism? Here’s two.

    Steven Pinker: https://newrepublic.com/article/114127/science-not-enemy-humanities
    Alex Rosenberg: https://www.whyarewehere.tv/people/alex-rosenberg/

    Now before anyone objects – yes, my article says that Pinker doesn’t himself embrace scientism *as I defined it.* That was a caveat the editor requested on the grounds that Pinker’s position is more nuanced than saying “science is the only source of knowledge.” I disagree with this interpretation, and I think the more accurate claim is that Pinker is simply incoherent on what he means by scientism, and so it’s difficult to pin down what the actual content of the term is for him. However, while I would argue (and am arguing, in my follow-up essay to this article) that Pinker’s self-description does logically amount to saying science is the only source of knowledge, I grant that he has not explicitly said so, and so I agreed to refrain from accusing him of the position on the grounds of lack of space to develop that claim. However, whether Pinker actually holds to scientism in the sense I define it – and again, I would argue that his position logically amounts to it, though he doesn’t admit it – it is indisputable that he *does* call himself a defender of scientism in *some* sense, as does Rosenberg. And Rosenberg, as you see in the interview, does explicitly say that he believes that the evidence supports the claim that science can answer all questions, including philosophical ones, which is as clear of an expression of my definition of scientism as you could ask for.

    “Also, the author really betrays himself near the end, expressing a juvenile attitude (“remedial pre-algebra”, “a modicum of understanding”). It’s one thing to disagree with a position and advocate your own, but such immature belittling weakens one’s case and is unbecoming.”

    I find it interesting that this standard isn’t applied when Pinker, Dennett, and other commenters on this thread caricature anyone who disagrees with them as being motivated by ulterior religious motives, believing in magic, thinking things “just happening” for no reason, etc. In the case of Pinker, with all due respect, he pretty clearly doesn’t have even a basic understanding of the problem of induction’s relevance to his position, given that 1) he never references it when talking about how we can know things, even when the argument is publicly known and obvious objection to his claims and 2) he quite consistently ignores things his opponents have actually said and defaults to caricaturing their arguments, including arguments from philosophy of science.

    • Meh says

      There is no conflict between modern physics and the PFT. Just because we have yet to incorporate tensed relations into our mathematical physics doesn’t mean such relations aren’t real; indeed, some physicists (like Richard Muller at UC Berkeley) are actively working to do just that. Arguments from silence (X says nothing about Y; therefore, Y can’t be true) are notoriously problematic.

      I would also add to your critique the complaint that scientism is self-defeating, as our empirical sciences cannot possibly justify an epistemological theory like scientism. If the theory is true, then its truth cannot be known. Moreover, the PFT is not the only metaphysical assumption that our empirical sciences presuppose, metaphysical doctrines concerning reality (e.g., that it exists independently of our minds and is susceptible to rational inquiry), substance (e.g., that the objects of perception can maintain their identity even as they undergo change over time), and non-contradiction (i.e., an accurate description of the world will conform to our mathematical notions of logical consistency) are also routinely presupposed yet they cannot be justified on scientistic grounds either. There’s a lot more that can be said that you didn’t get around to in the piece.

  18. Jan de Jong says

    So some examples please of other sources of knowledge than science?

    • How about knowledge of Latin grammar?

      Tort law?

      Mathematics?

      Rhetoric?

      Logic?

      Fine wines?

      How to play a musical instrument?

      Acting?

      [Leaving aside disciplines like History due the science/not science dispute]

      • CZ Marks says

        Keep in mind that the issue at hand is about the source of factual knowledge about the world. And it is not about science as a profession, but about the intellectual process of science, which, broadly (and correctly) construed, is just the rigorous application of reason and evidence.

        If you learn to appreciate fine wines (in the sense of acquiring a taste), then no, you are not doing science, but you are also not creating knowledge. But if you decide you want to know something about fine wines (e.g., which grapes grow where, why they grow better in certain places, how the contribute to different flavor profiles) then to the extent that the knowledge you acquire is reliable it will be based on “science”.

        • I am afraid you are moving the ball. If we use “knowledge = true, justified belief”, then “knowledge” entails understanding a language, which requires empirical experience at this time. [Maybe someday, they will be able to just upload proficiency.] But “knowledge” of a language is not science.

          I think the law is important, I think there can be knowledge of the law, but I don’t think the law is anything like a “science” even broadly construed. I think the law, and legal development, relies heavily on the human capacity for analogy, which is quite distinct from the scientific method. Further, there can be innovation in the law, just as in science, and it can have important, far-reaching consequences, just like technology can.

          So unless you want to stretch the definition of “science” to include many things we don’t conceive of as having anything to do with “science”, then it doesn’t all come down to “science”, and if you do want to stretch the definition of “science” to encompass everything, I don’t know that you said anything very interesting. We already know, or perhaps remember, that the One encompasses everything, including science.

          • CZ Marks says

            There is no such thing as justified belief, and we can never “know” that anything is true in that sense (speaking of factual truth about the world, not merely logical truth like 2+2=4). There is also no single “scientific method”. Science (broadly construed) is the rigorous application of evidence and reason, along with the refusal to accept claims in the absence of evidence. The knowledge science produces is often reliable, but always potentially subject to revision in light of additional evidence.

            To the extent that the law addresses factual questions (i.e., did the defendant commit the crime he is accused of), it is quite scientific. Indeed much of the evidence introduced in a criminal case will be explicitly based on (forensic) science. Of course there can also be innovation in aspects of the law that don’t address questions of fact (e.g., how should we interpret the law or balance competing societal interests). In that capacity, the law addresses questions about values not about the factual nature of the world.

            Any intellectual process that creates reliable knowledge about the factual nature of the world will be broadly scientific (i.e., based on reason and evidence) because there is no other way to know about the world. If you don’t accept that, the burden is on you to describe an alternative mechanism and how it works.

          • CZ Marks: If you are claiming that our beliefs about the physical world should be broadly based in “evidence” and “reason”, then I would agree with you. But I don’t think “science” is the same thing as “evidence” and “reason”, although they are necessary conditions for science. If you look at say nuclear physics, it takes a lot more than some “evidence” and a capacity to “reason” to be competent working nuclear physicist. Speaking of which, an important aspect of modern institutions seems to be administration, which is a long way from a science.

  19. Science has been very good at combating self-deception or the arbitrary truths of Authority, such as The Church or various rulers. In both cases, “show me the evidence” has been the antidote to “the world was created in seven days” or “God decrees that I am a monarch”.

    Show me the evidence works well for material things and it has led to our sublime, and at times counter-intuitive, understanding of the world. Thus, seeing the sun rise from the east and set in the west intuitively tells us that the world circles around the earth, and it isn’t until astronomers ran into complications that this explanation was abandoned. Similarly, seeing a perfectly-formed world implies a Grand Plan, until fossils and vestigial forms hint at a more complicated past. Ultimately, the Theory of Evolution provides a far more satisfying explanation, even as it challenges us in explaining missing gaps.

    The trouble comes when Science tackles non-material things like love or God. It tries to assign material explanations to things it cannot otherwise explain because that’s all it knows how to do, as well as because it believes it can explain everything. And when explaining God fails, Science will say that God does not exist, preferring to dismiss 50,000 years of human experience rather than admitting its limitations.

    Personally, I’m OK in living with the contradiction of rational Science and mystic Faith. I think learning to do so will make us better, less arrogant people.

  20. Nate D. says

    “How can we understand the world in which we find ourselves? How does the universe behave? What is the nature of reality? Where did all this come from? Did the universe need a creator? Most of us do not spend most of our time worrying about these questions, but almost all of us worry about them some of the time. Traditionally these are questions for philosophy, but philosophy is dead. Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics. Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge.”

    Stephen Hawking, The Grand Design

    This sounds like the type of scientism that the author contends is gaining momentum. Ironically, the statement “philosophy is dead,” is a philosophical statement that cannot be proven empirically. Thus, Hawking is insisting that philosophy is its own pallbearer.

  21. nicky says

    The PFT is only a small part of science, and scientists in the example would rather investigate why grue always results in 1 and bleen in 0 under the given circumstances. That might even give us some idea whether it will do the same in future. That is what science is about.
    Note that -related- the idea that correlation is not necessarily causation is quite well established in science. Moreover, I always find that scientists are generally quite careful and always keep the possibility of a different mechanism in mind. “True, unless new data or better theory’. Even Occam’s razor is not dogma: there maybe good reasons to think the simplest is not the best in that particular case (generally induced by new data).
    If not science, what other methods we have to acquire knowledge? (deafening silence or rather woo?).
    If this article articulates the case against ‘scientism’, I can but conclude the case is kinda weak, to put it mildly. Is this the best anti-‘scientism’ can come up with?

  22. “[S]ince… there is no empirical way of defending PFT, we are forced to conclude that defending the assumption – and ultimately defending science itself – must rest on a philosophical foundation rather than an empirical one. And, thus, it follows that the claim that science is the only source of knowledge is false.”

    I don’t see it. The PFT is an assumption and you have given us no reason to believe that it can be defended philosophically and, more importantly, that such a defense should count as knowledge.
    So science could still be the only source of knowledge.

  23. Clinton says

    The assumption your making in the PFT is analageous to the priors of Bayes’ theorem, right?

  24. Terry says

    New to this site and love the articles. As silly as I find this strawman argument and the definition of “Scientism” so absolute as to not apply to anyone I have ever heard of, at least it made me examine my own thinking for a second. But only a second. I see no damage here to my proposition that “science is the best way to understand the world.” I am comfortable with the understanding that it will never get me absolute truth, but in my view it demonstrably gets me closer than anything else yet proposed!

    (and made slightly happy that Firefox’s spell checker does not even think Scientism is a word!)

  25. If you really want to tear holes in proponents of scientism, attack the foundations of mathematics, as mathematics is NOT empirical and idiots who think it is end up having to confess that we haven’t verified 2 + 2 = 4 is true on Mars.

    Since no math, no physics, no reduction of biology to physics, all the pretty sand castles wash away to the Sea. You don’t even need to get into intentionality or ethics or beauty or immortality of the soul.

  26. CZ Marks says

    It is certainly true that if there is no continuity or regularity in the universe, so that the future is radically unpredictable and bears no relationship to the past and present, then science will not work. But, then, neither will any other “way of knowing”. Such a world is simply unknowable. We also must admit that it is possible the world is like that: perhaps this is all a dream I am having; perhaps some god created the world one minute ago (in its current state, including all my memories of earlier times). Of course, there is no reason to believe that the world is like that, and if it is we shall never know, because, again, that sort of world is inherently unknowable.

    So, yes, we have to assume that the world is knowable as a philosophical matter. Then the question becomes, how can we know it. As to the author’s claim that scientism is the belief that science is the only source of knowledge, I have never heard anyone defend the view that science (narrowly defined as the professional activities of people wearing white lab coats) is the only source of knowledge. What usually gets labeled as “scientism” is the claim that factual knowledge derives only from the rigorous application of reason and evidence (both in science and in other disciplines) and, in particular, the refusal to accept factual claims that are not supported by evidence.

    With regard to the humanities, what scientists frequently critique as “unscientific” (and unproductive) is not “the contemplation of Shakespeare [instead of] the study of synapses.”–you can be as rationale about Shakespeare as about anything else. Rather, it is the uncritical adoption of elaborate conceptual frameworks (e.g., Freudian, Marxist, or social constructionist “theories” of human nature and culture) that are then defended against any and all countervailing evidence as a matter of ideology. In short, what scientists tend to critique in other disciplines (and their own) is the tendency to reason from preferred conclusions to an interpretation of facts that support those conclusions.

    In some places the author seems paints scientism as opposition to reasoning “that [goes] beyond the empirical” or rationality that goes beyond “hypothesis testing.” But science is not just about hypothesis testing. Science is the pursuit of “good explanations” (i.e.,explanations that can be convincingly supported by evidence and reason) by any available means. As Popper saw, one of the criteria of such an explanation is that it should be detailed enough to make “risky” predictions (i.e., claims that could conceivably be shown to be wrong by countervailing evidence). In the absence of such falsifiability, it is not clear how we could ever gain confidence in any factual claims about the universe (and the author of this piece does not suggest any alternative approach). But science doesn’t discount the use reason that goes beyond empirical observation. Indeed, scientists reason from the seen to the unseen all the time (most of our knowledge of particle physics is of this nature). If the author is critiquing anything here, it is not “scientism,” but a very narrow and largely abandoned view of philosophical empiricism (of the sort associated with logical positivism). If the author wants to make some substantive critique of the actual scientific perspective (rather than simply setting up and knocking down one straw man after another), he would do well to demonstrate a modicum of understanding of how science actually works.

  27. Santoculto says

    Science is just a word…

    During great part of [human] hi-story humans has practicized ”science” without the hierarchical, immoral and subservient [to evil classes] system which science is today.

    ”Science” also can be easily translated as ”rationality”.

    If i think in rational ways and draw a correct conclusion most scientists will not accept even some validity of my thought by the simple fact it was not did in university by someone with diploma, equal.

    At priori, it’s correct don’t accept any type of pretend-to-be-rational-work BUT firstly science as we know now has been too lenient with below average scientific works as well below average MORALLY correct scientific works to start. Secondly, ”science” has been used as ”intellectual/social signaling” as well to down anyone who are out of academic world.

    Simple fact scientists barrely understand what RATIONALITY really mean and use it in at least average ways and that no have a teaching about it, the basis of any pretend-to-be-human thinking style already shows how outdated science and/OR scientists has been and since a long time.

    Indeed, today science can be easily understood as a market-science. One of the practical aspects of philosophy was progressively changed or allied to capitalist and any other similar and morally-handicapped socio-/political-/cultural system.

  28. Joshua Haberman says

    This is an interesting argument, but flawed in several critical ways.

    The biggest problem with the argument is that *all* knowledge (not just scientific knowledge) depends on the PFT. If we accept the question of the PFT as presented here, then we must apply it to everything we think we know. Shakespeare is widely considered the greatest writer in the English language, but if we reject the PFT then we have to accept that we could wake up tomorrow in a world where everyone agrees he was actually quite a poor writer. We could even wake up to find that every one of his books and associated historical artifacts has inexplicably disappeared, leaving us with no evidence that he even existed. Psychologists could wake up to discover that people’s behavior has nothing to do with their childhood experiences, sailors could find that suddenly sailboats only work if the wind is blowing from ahead, and football players could be surprised to learn that punting on first down is now the best way to win football games. If the PFT is false, *anything* can happen, and anyone who thinks they know something about the world is vulnerable to that.

    If all knowledge is equally vulnerable to the PFT being false, then the PFT doesn’t work as an argument that science depends on knowledge outside of science. Everyone assumes the PFT equally, and everyone is equally vulnerable if it turns out to be false.

    The second problem is that the words “future” and “past” are misleading. “Future” just means “t > now”, but “now” is always changing. We can test any theory for an arbitrary “t” if we wait long enough. “Future” just means “unexplored time”, but we are constantly exploring more and more of that time.

    This concept becomes clearer if we compare time to another dimension. Think about a formula from physics, like E=mc^2. We decide that this appears to be true when it holds for every E and m we have tried. But we haven’t tested for *every* E and m. We just assume the relationship holds until we can find a counterexample. We have explored many of the values for E and m, but not all of them. Likewise for t (which does not even appear in this formula), we assume the formula holds for all t until we can find a counterexample.

    Is it an assumption? Sure. And sometimes the assumptions turn out to be false, like assumptions around Newtonian mechanics that were proven false by Relativity. It’s always possible that some of our beliefs are false. But if the PFT is false, then everything comes crashing down. Even math and philosophy are vulnerable to it. Without PFT, it’s absolutely possible that mathematicians and philosophers wake up tomorrow and all agree that every proof that was previously accepted is wrong and invalid.

    • Hi Joshua.

      As a practicing environmental scientist, I have little use for your argument. To me, E=mc^2 is a good theory when it helps me understand what I see around me and when I can use it in my work. If I can rely upon E=mc^2 to solve my problems, then I’m OK with it, regardless of your quibbles about past and future.

      In my mind, scientific knowledge is not an abstraction, but something we can rely upon to make sense of the world around us. Each time I use it in my work and it passes the test (it returns the right answer), then it confirms both its validity and usefulness. Anything else is merely an intellectual artifact.

      • Joshua Haberman says

        Hi Andre,

        I feel I must have been unclear. I agree with you that E=mc^2 is a useful and valid way of understanding the universe. I am saying that we don’t need to test it for every E and m to accept it as generally true. Likewise we don’t need to test it for every time “t” before we can reasonably conclude that it holds for all values of t.

      • Santoculto says

        Andre explain for us what scientism is…

        And, if this answer was directed to me Joshua, please, first of all, write my nickname, second: try to answer ponctually my points instead to recreate a new debate.

    • Santoculto says

      If all human beings were rational as they believe they are, science would be less that exclusive team of specialised people than we have today, but with the aggraving factor that most scientists are in the of day just humans, with higher IQ than the regular joey. It’s maybe a double-aggraving factor because a mistake in scientific world can easily reasonates in many places and lives, not just humans.

  29. And as a separate comment. The current state of physics is that we are unsure whether the PFT is true. As the article points out it is taken on faith but we now know that really, really weird stuff is needed to resolve the conflicts in fundamental physics which lead to a number of things we no believe are uncertain. Here are a few examples

    a) Given a set of events we don’t know how to tell for certain whether we can give them a determined order in time. We can determine that some sets of events cannot be given a reliable time ordering (ie the time order differs for different observers) but we are uncertain about all other sets of events

    b) Retro-causality could be a thing (past caused by the future)

    c) Nobody knows what time is

    d) It is still utterly unclear what is meant by the arrow of time or whether that is even a valid idea

    The current state of physics is that we kind of believe the PFT is valid for non-quantum scale systems but the only reason we believe this is empirical evidence, it is an idea that seems to work. At the quantum scale we are confident that there are relationships between things that we can describe in ways that sound like causality be in reality at a really fundamental level we are trapped in the “correlation isn’t causation” paradox.

    Bottom line, if you rely on reductionist science (ie working from first principals) then we kind of actually don’t really know anything.

    This is the origin of Stephen Hawking’s comments about philosophy losing its way. Fundamental physics has broken the foundations of human knowledge about the universe and the only reason this isn’t a big problem is that the only people who ever really cared about those foundations are physicists and philosophers.

  30. Linvega says

    Pretty unimpressive article. Rehashes an old point, which already got answers.

    The PFT, as the author calls it, is necessary for all and any knowledge, not just scientific. Pure logic for example also requires clear axioms and requires that the laws of logic stay the same. If we can’t expect that, logic, too, is useless.

    There are actually a few more of these axioms, and it makes me even less impressed with the author that he didn’t even bring them up.
    One would be the is-ought problem, which argues that any science of the state of things can’t tell us how things ought to be, which makes empiricism iffy.
    Another one would be the validity of our reasoning. How do we know that our brain works reliably? We can’t, and if we try to think about it, we’re already implicitly assuming that it indeed does work.
    A last example would be plato’s cave, arguing that the world we’re seeing might not actually be the world that is, just a result from it, like a shadow on the wall. If that would be the case, we can’t make statements of the ‘true’ world reliably, because we’re not actually experiencing it.

    However, all of these are in my opinion very general problems, invalidating reasoning at all, not just empiricism. So it is not a very compelling case against, as the author calls it, ‘scientism’.

  31. Somehow, I knew this article was by a religious person. (From his blog: “A fervently traditionalist Catholic and recent convert – confirmed 01/07/2018)”. It’s a brazenly weak attempt to make a pejorative stick by a tortured exposition of something no-one disputes—that empirical science at its deepest roots must rely upon reason—whilst conveniently ignoring the first word of the subtitle of Pinker’s book: reason.

    Here’s this article’s conclusion: “For the defender of scientism to suddenly back away from the obligation to provide evidence for his beliefs on a point this fundamental is unacceptable … [and defending science itself] must rest on a philosophical foundation rather than an empirical one. And, thus, it follows that the claim that science is the only source of knowledge is false.” What a brazenly dishonest attempted indictment of the much more thoughtful authors that this article is trying to diss.

    I’m all for a diversity of viewpoints. But why must viewpoints that try to paint scientifically minded humanist polymaths as missing something, be so bad? (Actually, that question answers itself).

  32. Vasily Kuznetsov says

    It’s disingenuous of the author to not reference the common replies to the problem of induction. Karl Popper, for example, denied that science relies on induction and proposed instead a view that science is based on proposing theories that explain reality and selecting from them the ones that work better. Another line of reasoning comes from thinking about AI development (Ray Solomonoff, etc.), where it’s mathematically established that Bayesian reasoning with universal prior is the best thing an agent in an unknown environment can do.

    Finally, even if we assume that induction is necessary to get science off the ground, scientism could be redefined as “science is the only source of knowledge except for the claim that principle of induction is true”. This invalidates the line of criticism in the article but doesn’t change anything of importance as far as science is concerned.

    I myself don’t believe that scientism is true. Clearly, mathematics is knowledge and it is not based on science (if anything, perhaps the reverse would be possible by assuming that the world we inhabit is a mathematical structure). Another objection would be that normative knowledge (i.e. what we should do and value) is not derived from science in any way that we could currently agree on. It might turn out to be possible to ground normativity in science (through some kind of union of neuroscience, antropology and economics) but we’re definitely not there yet.

  33. I’m not sure if this was adequately covered and I missed it, but given that the present state (the past’s future) can be used to predict the past (when the one generating the prediction is ignorant of the past state, but there is an authoritative source of the past’s state after the prediction – a FPT if you will), does this break out of the circular dependency between scientism and the PFT, without having to make any assumptions about the future and relying on a past that has been fixed? I’m trying to reconcile this post’s argument with the observation, that least with respect to Newtonian physics, that the equations that describe the phenomenon can be run in both directions temporally. If I see a baseball arcing in a particular direction, and I know its current velocity, angle, and local gravitational constant, I can predict where it was hit from?

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  35. Martti O. Suomivuori says

    To me it is silly to say that science is the only way to acquire knowledge.
    It is not true in the domain of your subjective experience.
    For instance, I know when my bladders is full, no science needed.
    I know I a hungry, I am scared, I am angry or horny or frustrated.
    I know I like the color green. I know what is green when I see it, no scientific inquiry recquired.
    Until very recently, the subjective realm, feelings and stuff, has been outside of the realm of science as the only port to get knowledge from there is through subjective reporting.
    And we lie a lot.
    Still, that domain exists and is very significant in our everyday life.
    Just saying.
    Looking for something to eat.

  36. Martti O. Suomivuori says

    Another domain where scientism does not apply is “the flow”.
    We see Federer, the tennis master, places his racket where he knows the ball will be in the next millisecond and moves it is such a manner that the ball will land on the white line on the opposide side.
    Does he need scientific method to “know” all this?
    Does he “know” in the sense weh talk about knowing?
    If not, what is he doing when he is acting according to information available to his brain-body and clearly is getting impressive results.
    If this knowing is not knowing, should we maybe widen our concept a bit?
    And put the scientist manifesto in a certain context, only?

  37. Well, I must confess my summary of replies to some of the objections raised here has come significantly later than expected, on no other grounds than procrastination. Mea culpa. If anyone wants to read what I’ve said in summary of my replies to the objections raised here, follow the link on my name here (or at the end of the article) to my blog.

    For those who don’t want to trudge through the piece, I’ll offer a precis here.

    To those who say this oversimplifies how science is done:

    Yes, of course it does. That’s why it’s an introductory article, not a philosophical treatise. I’m well aware that the way science is done differs based on the subject matter, that particle physics is weird, etc. The point is that all empirical reasoning relies on the PFT, and all scientific reasoning is empirical. Objecting that the grue / bleen example oversimplifies science and refutes the argument is like objecting that a math presentation to kids about adding two apples and getting four invalidates arithmetic because addition isn’t always done with fruit.

    To those who say it’s a caricature:

    It doesn’t matter whether scientism means science is the only source of knowledge, the primary source of knowledge, the ideal form of inquiry, etc., because the point of the article is that scientific knowledge is *derivative* from philosophical assumptions. If it’s derivative, it isn’t the primary / only source of knowledge.

    To those who say “commonsense induction” isn’t how people like Popper et al. viewed science:

    Yes, correct. This only supports the thesis of the article. The fact that we can and must reason about what science is, what the status of its theories are, what “knowledge” in the sciences even means, etc., all just further establishes that science is a derivative source of knowledge.

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  39. Brad says

    While this guy blathers apriori syllogisms, scientists perform naturalist miracles.

  40. Scientists are people too with their own set of bias . To insert that bias IS Scientism . To refrain from bias is good Science . Another factor is the tension between a priori vs a postiori. Of course Kant puts the two together into a synthetic priori , which shoots for more accuracy instead of having to choose between the two . Synthetic a Priori gives a wider scope and and the possibility of a more coherant Epistomology .

    I dont think that Pinker has fallen in to Scientism at all , but this article is a good warning to that problem and once a Scientist makes headway on something he or she has to stand on their own two Philosophical feet . No free lunch . Which is why Popperian Falsefication test is so important .

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