Defending scientism: mathematics is a part of science
on August 21, 2014
It is remarkable how scientism persists so naively as if Kant never existed. The issue of empirical knowledge is problematical. We would like it to be true that it can serve as the fundamental test of knowledge, but this position fails, and the result is the endless debates with all sorts of metaphysical positions, including those of science. This issue has been muddled by theological debaters over ‘god’ and ‘faith’. But the real issue is that there are noumenal/phenomenal distinctions/boundaries/limits that make reliance on pure empiricism fail.
We must suspect this connects with evolutiolnary confusions in the ‘noumenal’ aspects of teleological questions.
While the term “scientism” is often a rebuke to those considered to be overstepping the proper boundaries of science, plenty of scientists will plead guilty to the charge so long as they get a say in how the term is defined. The “scientism” that I defend is the claim that, as far as we can tell, all human knowledge is empirical, deriving from contact with empirical reality. Further, that empirical reality seems to be a unified whole, and thus our knowledge of reality is also unified across different subject areas so that transitions between subjects are seamless.
What we call “science” is the set of methods that we have found, empirically, to be the best for gaining knowledge about the universe, and the same toolkit and the same basic ideas about evidence work in all subject areas. Thus there are no “other ways of knowing,” no demarcation lines across which science cannot tread, no “non-overlapping magisteria.”
A related but different stance is expounded by Pigliucci in his critique of scientism . Pigliucci instead prefers the umbrella term “scientia,” which includes “science, philosophy, mathematics and logic.” This sees mathematics and logic as epistemologically distinct from science. Indeed, Pigliucci has remarked:
“it should be uncontroversial (although it actually isn’t) that the kind of attention to empirical evidence, theory construction, and the relation between the two that characterizes science is ‘distinctive enough’ … to allow us to meaningfully speak of an activity that we call science as sufficiently distinct from … mathematics.”