Monday, June 17, 2013


There are philosophobes in the world. Many of them are not religious (they are basically atheist or agnostic), but if you mention any philosophy or philosopher to them (really, it could be anyone: Plato, Hume, ..., Dennett, Baudrillard — it doesn't matter), they react as if you were a member of Campus Crusade For Christ trying to share a Four Spiritual Laws tract with them. Philosophy, it turns out, is like theology (or politics) in that way: You can't talk about it without some getting upset at its even being brought up.

Scientism is a term that has been applied to some prominent scientists who bad-mouth philosophy. Stephen Hawking has said philosophy is dead, yet his book The Grand Design (written with Leonard Mlodinow) turns into a philosophy of science essay on model-dependent realism. (He should realize he is doing philosophy.) I think philosophobia — the fear, revulsion, or dismissal of philosophy — could be at the core of scientism.

There could be a reason for that. Scientistic scientists are foundationalists (foundationalism says "there are 'basic beliefs' which serve as foundations to anchor the rest of our beliefs"), much like religious fundamentalists. Philosophy (the best kind) is anti-foundationalist.

Philosophy is not anti-science, just anti-scientism. The analytical side is a formal science on its own using tools like symbolic logic. The poetical side ("continental") is generally pro-science as well. (The good parts anyway!)
Unlike the use of the scientific method as only one mode of reaching knowledge, scientism claims that science alone can render truth about the world and reality. Scientism's single-minded adherence to only the empirical, or testable, makes it a strictly scientifc worldview, in much the same way that a Protestant fundamentalism that rejects science can be seen as a strictly religious worldview. Scientism sees it necessary to do away with most, if not all, metaphysical, philosophical, and religious claims, as the truths they proclaim cannot be apprehended by the scientific method. In essence, scientism sees science as the absolute and only justifiable access to the truth.