History, Evolution, and The Darwin Debate

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Defining scientism

December 26th, 2011 · 1 Comment

Coyne discusses a new essay on scientism at the Pigliucci blog. I find the essay and Coyne’s commentary both to be useless.
Anyone associated with Darwinism trying to preach to us about scientism is, to me, peddling a sick joke. The essay cited on the other hand goes off on a series of tangents.
I use the term a lot here with reference to the Darwin debate, but I don’t ‘own’ the term so my usage is merely fuzzy/useful on the grounds of ‘topical reference’. That is, the definition of the term is left a big vague as a gateway to a particular discussion showing some relevant issues. Like Darwinism in the context of scientism.
So, to get one’s bearings, go to Amazon (or Google) and type ‘scientism’ in the search box, and scroll down for some of the histories. Then type ‘iron cage’ and ‘positivism’ in the same search spots. There are good histories of these subjects starting in the nineteenth century. But the issues are treacherous. Nietzsche has a nasty strain of scientism, and the way he ‘denatures’ his guru Schopenhauer to play to the gallery of his groupies to come is the most sinister brand of them all. But, technically, he is a far cry from the category in the typical usage of the term. Speaking of Schopenhauer, his distinctions of phenomenal and noumenal (or thing in itself, he does use Kant’s term ‘noumenon’) suggest how the restriction to the phenomenon in science creates scientism. Note how in Nietzsche the ‘Will’ in nature from Schopenhauer becomes, to make it compatible with an anti-metaphysical reductionism, the ‘naturalistic’ will to power. Treacherous shift in meanings.

My usage is not entirely standard, but then again academic scholars will wreck this term if they try to use/define it. My usage reflects the crystallization of reductionism in science despite the warnings of classic figures, from Rousseau to Kant and the Romantics, plus others. You could adopt a Kantian usage: scientism arises when a particular metaphysics in reverse arises, eliminating key sources of discourse, as not ‘science’: e.g. the issue of free will in relation to Newtonian physics, or the ethical basis of human morality, beyond the dogmas of reductionists.

So note how those trapped in scientism are going to be discussing it and claiming authority to define it. They will define themselves out of it, and continue merrily down the Darwinian garden path, none the wiser. All you can do is change to new terms and move on. But the term scientism still has some life in it.
Again, not all would agree with my usage, but I think that it is appropriate: for example, to leave the sci/acad idiots nettled, let us call the use of population genetics to explain morality in theories of kin/group selection ‘rank scientism’. The free agent of ethical behavior has been reduced to a ‘scientistic’ mechanization theory (garbage, really) operating via natural selection. That to me is scientism. So be wary of the pomposity of discussions here Coyne to Pigliucci et al: they are all dopey zombies in the scientism quagmire.
Night of the living dead all over again.

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