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Sunday Quote

Sunday Quote!- The Failure of Scientism

scholastic-metaphysics-feserEvery Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

The Failure of Scientism

Edward Feser is a profoundly brilliant scholar. Every time I read something he writes–even if I disagree–I realize I must contend with his argument. In his latest book, Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction, he provides a robust look at the ways in which Scholastic philosophy and Thomism may be applied to the modern day. He touches on any number of important and interesting topics, including scientism–the notion that the physical sciences are the only way to know anything. But he doesn’t have much nice to say about scientism:

[T]he glib self-confidence of its advocates notwithstanding, there are in fact no good arguments whatsoever for scientism, and decisive arguments against it… First, scientism is self defeating… Second, the scientific method cannot even in principle provide us with a complete description of reality. Third, the ‘laws of nature’ in terms of which science explains phenomena cannot in principle provide us with a complete explanation of reality. Fourth, what is probably the main argument in favor of scientism–the argument from the predictive and technological successes of modern physics and the other sciences–has no force. (10)

Now of course this is quite a bit to swallow, and Feser expands on these points over the next several pages, arguing that each of these points demonstrates the failure of scientism.

I’m still going through the book, but it has been a fantastic read so far.

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Sunday Quote– If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)

Source

Edward Feser, Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction (Piscataway, NJ: Transaction Books; Editiones Scholasticae, 2014).

SDG.

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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick has an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. His interests include theology, philosophy of religion--particularly the existence of God--astronomy, biology, archaeology, and sci-fi and fantasy novels.

Discussion

17 thoughts on “Sunday Quote!- The Failure of Scientism

  1. Well, it’s a good thing no one practices scientism then.

    Posted by tildeb | November 16, 2014, 8:30 AM
    • I’m finding it a bit hard to see how Carl Metzger, with whom I’m currently having a discussion, doesn’t buy into scientism, as he argues that “WHEN IT COMES TO KNOWLEDGE ALL THAT MATTERS IS EVIDENCE.” How does his position differ from scientism? The use of the word ‘knowledge’ is key: scientism is perfectly happy to have people do whatever they want, as long as they don’t call it ‘knowledge’. And I’m pretty sure Carl Metzger would argue that science is the best way to analyze the evidence, such that no ‘knowledge’ gets left out of the domain of science. I could be wrong of course, but his argumentation so far firmly supports this model.

      How does your position differ from scientism? Feser certainly thinks he’s criticizing people who exist; for example see his Scientism roundup. If you could carefully articulate one or two of Feser’s biggest errors when it comes to the topic of scientism, that would add a lot to this blog discussion. Bare assertions don’t really add much at all. Few want to be labeled with the term ‘scientism’.

      Can you see any reasonable reasons Feser might think people hold to scientism, even though they don’t? That is, if you give him the benefit of the doubt (this may be hard for you to do, but if one cannot understand people different from him/her by attempting to simulate their point of view, public discourse will shatter), can you see why he would think others are practicing scientism, or at least heading toward scientism?

      Posted by labreuer | November 16, 2014, 12:06 PM
      • Science, construed broadly, means the use of reason, empirical observation, doubt, and testing as a way of acquiring knowledge about reality. Scientism, as defined by Wiki, and used by the ‘Feser, is construed to criticize those who think only scientific claims are meaningful. Note the difference. I doubt there is a scientist alive who exercises such scientism. But there are many who think the method of science is the only method that reliably and consistently produces knowledge and is demonstrated by reality to produce applications, therapies, and technologies that seem to work for everyone everywhere all the time. This is the model the ‘Feser is trying to criticize for doing more than that, ‘more’ in this case referring to the value of meaning.

        What the ‘Feser – an intellectually slippery fellow par excellence – is trying to do is to suggest that there are other ways of knowing than the method of science broadly construed in order to give the method of faith-based beliefs and the metaphysics used to justify them a pass from reality’s arbitration of them. So in this brash claim of his – that there really, really, really are other ways of knowing – I wish him luck. He has an uphill battle if he wants to demonstrate what these other ways are that do not utilize reason, empirical observation, doubt, and testing the results by reality’s arbitration of them.

        I suspect he utilizes the bugaboo of scientism as most do, to smear anyone who might hold him to account for these supposed ‘other ways of knowing’ in order to avoid having to do the heavy lifting required to demonstrate what, how, and why these other methods are equivalently productive in producing knowledge.

        Posted by tildeb | November 16, 2014, 4:11 PM
      • Scientism, as defined by Wiki, and used by the ‘Feser, is construed to criticize those who think only scientific claims are meaningful.

        Let’s see if what you say is true.

        WP: Scientism: Scientism is belief in the universal applicability of the scientific method and approach, and the view that empirical science constitutes the most authoritative worldview or most valuable part of human learning to the exclusion of other viewpoints.[1] It has been defined as “the view that the characteristic inductive methods of the natural sciences are the only source of genuine factual knowledge and, in particular, that they alone can yield true knowledge about man and society.”[2] The term scientism frequently implies a critique of the more extreme expressions of logical positivism[3][4] and has been used by social scientists such as Friedrich Hayek,[5] philosophers of science such as Karl Popper,[6] and philosophers such as Hilary Putnam[7] and Tzvetan Todorov[8] to describe the dogmatic endorsement of scientific methodology and the reduction of all knowledge to only that which is measurable.[9] “Scientism” has also been taken over as a name for the view that science is the only reliable source of knowledge by philosophers such as Alexander Rosenberg.[10]

        Not all things which are ‘meaningful‘ are “genuine factual knowledge”. Therefore, to construe scientism as necessarily the same as logical positivism is to talk about it in a restricted sense. Again, people generally hold there to be ‘meaningful‘ beliefs which are not about ‘knowledge’.

        Feser: In several recent posts we have dealt at least indirectly with scientism, the view that the only real knowledge is scientific knowledge.

        Again, we see a focus on knowledge, not on meaning. This is precisely what you, yourself, affirm:

        But there are many who think the method of science is the only method that reliably and consistently produces knowledge […]

        This is what Feser calls ‘scientism’. Why did you distort Edward Feser’s claims?

        Posted by labreuer | November 16, 2014, 5:55 PM
      • It’s right there in the first sentence, Lab. You seemed to have missed it so let me highlight it for you:

        “Scientism is belief in the universal applicability of the scientific method and approach, and the view that empirical science constitutes the most authoritative worldview or most valuable part of human learning to the exclusion of other viewpoints.”

        There’s your values associated with meaning. No scientist I am aware of has ever made such a claim that only science is the valuable part of human learning. Granted – and again in the broad sense – the method of science seems clearly to be the only game in town when it comes to producing knowledge. People who criticize people who point this out very often utilize this notion of ‘scientism’ as a way to misrepresent science construed broadly with the narrow version of scientists they wish to criticize usually because of particular works they wish to criticize. But the charge is an empty one because no one as far as I know holds the method of science to be the same ‘standard’ used for determining meaning.

        The clue about the conflated meaning of ‘scientism’ resides in the use of the term ‘viewpoints’. A method, my dear fellow, does not include a different viewpoints. A method is simply a method. Science is a method and not a viewpoint. The product of the method that seems to work for everyone everywhere all the time is not a viewpoint. The molecular organization of water is not a ‘viewpoint’. And to speak about science as if it were a ‘viewpoint’ indicates the depth of confusion by those who use it this way. The ‘Feser is not immune from this self-inflicted confusion.

        Posted by tildeb | November 16, 2014, 7:23 PM
      • I would argue that the Wikipedia version allows for either “scientism as only source of knowledge” or “scientism as only source of meaning”. You perhaps reject that; alright.

        What about Feser’s definition? After all, the Wikipedia one attempts to gather together multiple different uses of the term; this is prone to ambiguity and so forth. You claimed that Feser’s use of scientism has to do with meaning; can you back this up with evidence? I gave you an example which contradicts what you claim, and could provide a more rigorous one from Feser’s Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction. But perhaps Feser is inconsistent in his usage of ‘scientism’? The burden of proof is on you.

        Posted by labreuer | November 16, 2014, 9:04 PM
      • The ‘Feser’s definition is that Scientism is the view that all real knowledge is scientific knowledge—that there is no rational, objective form of inquiry that is not a branch of science.

        Already we have conflation, which he then passes over in his rush to speak about the dismal lack of knowledge of this different kind in ethics and, of course, then the mandatory bashing and vilification of New Atheists for their lack of philosophical sophistication.

        The view that all ‘real ‘ knowledge – and here we are left to our own devices to insert what to us is ‘real’ knowledge as compared to ‘unreal’ knowledge, apparently – is scientific knowledge (scientific used here as a adjective, note, to describe the kind of knowledge we’re talking about, namely, real knowledge and presumably not the the unreal kind – whatever that may be) is dependent on what we mean by knowledge. The ‘Feser has muddied the waters already by offering up a meaning to knowledge that is distinctly ‘scientific’ by his reckoning. In other words, he has already presented this conclusion as if it were a premise, that they really is an alternative to ‘scientific’ (aka ‘real’) knowledge and it rests somewhere in the deeply academic recesses of philosophy and metaphysics and Thomism.

        Well, this defintion is a problem the ‘Feser presumes isn’t a problem by fiat when science broadly construed defines a method of inquiry that utilizes the use of reason, empirical observation, doubt, and testing as a way of acquiring knowledge about reality. Is there some unreal kind of knowledge that does this equivalent job describing reality? The ‘Feser implies there is… and then sets about to criticize those who don’t accept that implication (for obvious reasons) as practicing scientism… as if the pursuit of real – instead of the unreal – knowledge utilizing a method that works was a philosophical and metaphysical blunder.

        Go figure.

        So where’s the equivalent knowledge produced by this ‘other ‘ method?

        The ‘Feser doesn’t tell us.

        Now why might he do that?

        Well, it turns out at the end of a long and slippery argument that the intention is not to introduce the world to this other way of knowing, this other kind of knowledge that is equivalent to the method of science. No sir. For that you must go a read his books. His intention seems to me to be an opportunity taken to smear anyone who doesn’t elevate philosophy to be the ruler of all knowledge but who dares to (unreasonably) want to have compelling evidence from reality to inform modeled explanations about it.

        Such plebeians.

        And, of course, the very worst totalitarian kind of adherents to scientism are those nasty and brutish New Atheists. Yada Yada Yada.

        Posted by tildeb | November 17, 2014, 1:35 PM
      • The view that all ‘real ‘ knowledge – and here we are left to our own devices to insert what to us is ‘real’ knowledge as compared to ‘unreal’ knowledge, apparently – is scientific knowledge (scientific used here as a adjective, note, to describe the kind of knowledge we’re talking about, namely, real knowledge and presumably not the the unreal kind – whatever that may be) is dependent on what we mean by knowledge.

        Wow, it’s usually you who criticize me when I say something like “dependent on what we mean by knowledge”. For example, when I asked what you meant by ‘healthy’. Anyhow, let’s return to what you said:

        tildeb: But there are many who think the method of science is the only method that reliably and consistently produces knowledge […]

        What did you mean by ‘knowledge’? Earlier in that comment, you said “knowledge about reality”—perhaps the ‘about reality’ part is key? But then it seems relatively easy to connect Feser’s “real knowledge” with your “knowledge about reality”. You don’t seem to be willing to extend Feser the benefit of the doubt that perhaps he means something entirely sensible. For that might make even one of his criticisms binding on you. Well, alright; how about I rephrase his criticisms, appropriate them for myself, make them match up with what you believe, and then have you respond? Or will you exercise your right to make up the meaning of my words with no reference to an external causal agency (viz: me)?

        Well, this defintion is a problem the ‘Feser presumes isn’t a problem by fiat when science broadly construed defines a method of inquiry that utilizes the use of reason, empirical observation, doubt, and testing as a way of acquiring knowledge about reality. Is there some unreal kind of knowledge that does this equivalent job describing reality?

        That, of course, depends on how you define ‘reality’. You have spoken of making meaning; does this happen inside the realm of ‘reality’, or outside that realm?

        Posted by labreuer | November 17, 2014, 2:24 PM
      • You’re focusing on the wrong word, Lab. That’s why I put the term ‘real’ in those scare quotes. The ‘Feser never addresses what he means by this term but implies that there is some other kind of knowledge. This (supposedly other kind of knowledge) is the basis for his central criticism, that those who dare to support the notion that there is only ‘knowledge’ about reality acquired by the method of inquiry that utilizes the use of reason, empirical observation, doubt, and testing from reality are unsophisticated dullards who should respect philosophy much more so and grant it and people like… oh, I don;t know, maybe the ‘Feser….to direct our knowledge inquiries appropriately. He bases this on the notion that there are other ways of knowing about reality but fails to produce an equivalent method that produces equivalent knowledge for his sought-after philosophical arbitration. That one he just leaves blank while he busies himself telling us why we are all so engaged and engrossed and mesmerized by the false glow of ‘scientism’ that blinds us to those supposed other kinds of ‘real’ knowledge about reality.

        Posted by tildeb | November 17, 2014, 4:55 PM
      • Once again, you’ve refused to show that what Feser means by ‘scientism’ is as you claimed:

        tildeb: Scientism, as defined by Wiki, and used by the ‘Feser, is construed to criticize those who think only scientific claims are meaningful. Note the difference. I doubt there is a scientist alive who exercises such scientism.

        As I demonstrated, what you claim about Feser’s definition is likely wrong. You definitely took the Wikipedia definition to support your original claim; fine. Now answer the question: did you accurately represent what Feser meant by ‘scientism’, or were you wrong? I want to see you operate based on the evidence, instead of unsourced claims. I provided some evidence which criticizes your claim; you’re welcome to present counter-evidence.

        The ‘Feser never addresses what he means by this term but implies that there is some other kind of knowledge.

        I agree that he means this, and I would be 100% happy to discuss it, once you address the above. I found your comment about meaning absolutely fascinating, for example. But before we continue, I’m going to require that you accurately represent your interlocutors. So far, it seems like you manifestly have not done that. Either own up to that fact and we can move on, support your version with textual evidence, or stand accused of unrepentantly misrepresenting your interlocutors, and attempting to divert the topic when you’re caught doing so, red-handed.

        Again, there’s some really neat stuff to discus when it comes to the idea of non-scientific ‘knowledge’; I have some motivating quotations from psychology, sociology, philosophy, and economics.

        Posted by labreuer | November 17, 2014, 9:05 PM
      • First off, Lab, I quoted the ‘Feser DIRECTLY about his definition of what constitutes scientism and gave the link… a criticism written by him. If you read the first paragraph where he defines scientism, you will arrive at what informs my criticism of him as slippery. The ‘Feser’s examples were both value examples, namely medical ethics and religion. That indicates that the definition that he provides – although he’s seemingly unable to articulate it accurately, really does fall into what Wiki describes, namely, the conflation of knowledge with meaning (in the ‘Feser’s case, through values). I am not misrepresenting him in this matter and have read many of the ongoing debates about this supposed wide-ranging affliction he calls ‘scientism’ that no one actually exhibits.

        Please stop commanding me to do your bidding. Although I’m quite willing to explain what I mean in my comments, I do not do so to dance to your tune. I think I’ve been very clear about why no one practices scientism as people like the Feser want us to think they do. I think the accusation stands on a confusion between what constitutes knowledge about reality and what constitutes the assigning of value judgements… two very different endeavors. I think the ‘Feser likes his approach to stimulate traffic and advertize his books and I think he requires a Straw Man argument in order to pretend there is some ‘other’ kind of knowledge about reality than what reality offers us. Every time someone comes up with what he or she thinks may be this ‘other’ kind of knowledge about reality – stuff like history, math, music, and so on – it has (so far) always come back to either taste and/or preference and/or belief or utilizing the use of reason, empirical observation, doubt, and testing from reality… namely, science broadly construed.

        For anyone with a minimal interest in why the ‘Feser is badly misguided in his criticisms of science and those who exercise this method and value its contribution, please read an excellent rebuke by The Pinker… a fellow Canadian but, unlike me, possessing deep skills of clarity combined with and excellent style of writing. His marvelous rebuke can be read here.

        Posted by tildeb | November 18, 2014, 1:41 PM
      • First off, Lab, I quoted the ‘Feser DIRECTLY about his definition of what constitutes scientism and gave the link… a criticism written by him. If you read the first paragraph where he defines scientism, you will arrive at what informs my criticism of him as slippery.

        Ok, so when you said that “it’s a good thing no one practices scientism then”, were you referring to the below:

        Feser: Scientism is the view that all real knowledge is scientific knowledge—that there is no rational, objective form of inquiry that is not a branch of science.

        ? Can you establish for me a “rational, objective form of inquiry that is not a branch of science”? As far as I can tell, you cannot; instead, you do talk about meaning, but you make clear that it is subjective, not objective. So, it’s not clear to me that in fact, “it’s a good thing no one practices scientism then”. I see no justification of this claim. Contrary to what you say:

        I think I’ve been very clear about why no one practices scientism as people like the Feser want us to think they do.

        , I don’t think you have. Indeed, you go on to say:

        Every time someone comes up with what he or she thinks may be this ‘other’ kind of knowledge about reality – stuff like history, math, music, and so on – it has (so far) always come back to either taste and/or preference and/or belief or utilizing the use of reason, empirical observation, doubt, and testing from reality… namely, science broadly construed.

        How is this not precisely scientism, as Feser describes it? You deny that there is any such thing as ‘knowledge’, outside of what scientific inquiry produces. Anything else is not ‘knowledge’, for it is not objective: instead, it is the product of meaning-making, where that meaning-making is not causally influenced by “any external causal agency”. Yes, Feser thinks there are other kinds of knowledge, but this has nothing to do with whether your beliefs match Feser’s definition of ‘scientism’. You can disagree with him on this matter, and still match.

        Let me get concrete and attempt to push this conversation forward—although I do want to get further clarity into your claim, “it’s a good thing no one practices scientism then”. One aspect of your “without any external causal agency directing us in how we assign importance to the meaning we make” is that the meaning I assign is irrelevant to you. You’ve stated precisely this. Now, let’s weaken your claim, to let my meaning-assigning matter to you. What you’ll still maintain is that God’s meaning-assignments would be 100% irrelevant to you. Even if he were to exist, by your own reasoning, what he cares about wouldn’t matter one iota to you. One way you can accomplish this ‘rationally’ is to deny the ontic existence of intentionality, except as a 100% emergent phenomenon, despite the fact that the very idea that you can get intentionality ex nihilo is very questionable. (See Stephen Wielenberg on C.S. Lewis’ argument from reason, a little after 22m: he argues that intentionality may be unsolvable under naturalism, just like he thinks the problem of evil is unsolvable under Christianity-like theism.)

        What you might have sensed in the above paragraph is the idea that perhaps God assigns some meaning, and we assign other meaning. I call this true relational freedom, in the sense that neither person dominates the relationship. This would mean that there is no one, single purpose for your life that God has in stock. However, it would mean that certain purposes you might choose–such as serial rape—would be against any purpose God would want for your life. Perhaps you have simply never thought of freedom in this sense? After all, how can your “without any external causal agency” include other humans, but exclude God? And yet, what is life, if not a single other human ever finds meaningful what I find meaningful? Accidental alignment seems pretty piss-poor, as well.

        Posted by labreuer | November 19, 2014, 4:32 PM
      • Lab, it is the ‘Feser who needs to establish some ‘other form of knowledge’ than the method used by science broadly construed. His definition fails to establish ‘scientism’ as being somehow different in method than what we currently use to create knowledge about reality. That’s why he switches in that first paragraph and starts speaking of ethics and religion… neither of which produce knowledge about reality that stands independent of those who discuss them. What he does is define scientism to be trust in the method of science broadly construed to be one thing – something all of us exercise, to be clear – and then slip ethics and religion into the mix as if those who don’t accept that they produce equivalent knowledge (through sophisticated philosophy and metaphysics properly done) are “condescending”, who merely “pose of rationality”, whose support for the idea is “vacuous”, “a Procrustean ideology” with “pretensions” and a “religious axe to grind”, “a vicious regress, a methodological “chasing of one’s own tail” on to infinity”, “a bizarre and muddleheaded view”.

        Yes, we are such dullards as the ‘Feser proclaims because ethics and religion really, really, really are ‘other’ ways of knowing, part of the introductory paragraph, do not forget, explaining his topic sentence you quote… which he then (and we expect him to do so by comprehending his first paragraph) conflates with ‘understanding’ (how very convenient of him), not with accumulating blunt and dull quantitative data but by rejecting qualitative understanding through meaning. And so the circle is complete. Scientism according to the ‘Feser is about rejecting such understanding, rejecting qualitative meaning, rejecting the subjective experience. And this no one does. That’s why I say that it’s a good thing no one practices this ‘scientism’ that exists wholly and solely in the sophisticated philosophical and metaphysical recesses of the ‘Fecer’s mind.

        In fact informed by reality, this entire claim by the ‘Feser about other ways of knowing is the north end product of a south facing male bovine evacuating its bowels. And I’m being very kind by phrasing it this way rather than following the ‘Feser’s example of vilifying others… others whose only crime to earn such vitriol is to respect reality enough to let it justify claims made about it rather than trust in its stead such “a profoundly brilliant scholar” to arbitrate on its behalf.

        How very ‘militant’ of me.

        Posted by tildeb | November 19, 2014, 8:07 PM
      • His definition fails to establish ‘scientism’ as being somehow different in method than what we currently use to create knowledge about reality.

        But this is not what you claimed. Instead, you claimed:

        tildeb: Well, it’s a good thing no one practices scientism then.

        I’ve gotten two distinct messages from you:

             (1) nobody practices ‘scientism’
             (2) everyone practices ‘scientism’

        This is very confusing. What seems to be the case is that you’ve actually split ‘scientism’ into two halves:

             (A) understanding how particles and fields work
             (B) understanding how subjective experience works

        Perhaps you would say that everyone does A-‘scientism’, and nobody does B-‘scientism’?

        Scientism according to the ‘Feser is about rejecting such understanding, rejecting qualitative meaning, rejecting the subjective experience.

        I really do not understand how you get to this conclusion. What, precisely do you mean by saying ‘qualitative meaning’ and ‘subjective experience’? What is it about those which Feser is rejecting? Perhaps if you explained this with twice as many words and no digs at Feser in the process, it would be easier to understand. Perhaps you could, for a time, be non-polemical and do a “value-free analysis”?

        How very ‘militant’ of me.

        It’s always the nice ones who you really gotta look out for. My wife and I went to Paris for our honeymoon and went on the ‘tower tour’ of Notre Dame. There was a French guy managing the tourist movements; my wife is fluent in French and asked him about the gargoyles. He got all excited and explained the difference between gargoyles and chimera, noting that at the time of Notre Dame’s construction, beauty was not trusted. And so, the chimeras have all sorts of awful faces and such to scare away treacherous beauty. Interesting stuff, especially considering how we idolize appearance these days.

        Posted by labreuer | November 19, 2014, 8:25 PM
      • Lab, I don’t know how many times I can explain it differently for you: it is the ‘Feser who proclaims that because there are other ways of knowing about reality than science broadly construed, not accepting subjective meaning to be equivalent knowledge is ‘scientism. It’s his job to establish that there is some other method to establishing equivalent knowledge about reality. This he either can’t or won’t do; instead, he goes after establishing meaning, for which there are other methods better suited by qualitative rather than quantitative evaluation. This evaluation (see ‘ethics’ and ‘religion’ he uses to make his point) he calls ‘understanding’… as a pseudonym and synonym for ‘knowledge’. This I have called a conflation because subjective qualitative understanding is not ‘knowledge’ as revealed by the method of science. Therefore it is not ‘another way of knowing’ about reality equivalent to the method used by science. That’s why ‘scientism’ is a red herring. What he really wants is equivalent respect for the products of philosophy and metaphysics (I am quite willing to grant a very great deal of value to these other qualitative methods regarding meaning) but they do not produce equivalent ‘knowledge’ about reality. For that, the method of science works just fine.

        Where the ‘Feser goes off the rails is trying to present respect for this knowledge producing method (that underlies therapies, applications and technologies that seem to work for everyone everywhere all the time) as a Bad Thing if an equivalent amount of respect is not paid to philosophy and metaphysics… neither of which produces therapies, applications, and technologies that seem to work for everyone everywhere all the time. That’s because philosophy and metaphysics can’t reproduce equivalent knowledge about reality although they are used this way – and inappropriately so – all the time and receive well-deserved criticism for doing so. Areas outside of science that investigate reality utilize the scientific method and this is fine. That’s how we establish historical explanations… by allowing reality and not metaphysics the central role in producing evidence from reality and not the simply the minds of those who wish history to be this way or that. But because areas outside of science usually include some fairly large interpretive element, we very often don’t find the same level of duplication as, say, the boiling point of water at sea level. Levels of confidence granted to historical explanations are therefore usually less respected for this interpretive element. But I don’t know any scientists who refuse to grant some historical explanation any respect because of a lack of chemical equations, or refuse to grant a piece of music any emotional influence without first measuring the physical frequencies used. The very idea that those who respect the method of science to produce knowledge about reality somehow means refusing to grant meaning to qualitative factors found aplenty in ethics and religion is patently ridiculous and yet this is the heart of the ‘Feser’s argument. What he does is quite disingenuous, by claiming that because we use mind to filter scientific knowledge, science is just as subjective, qualitative, and interpretive as, say, religion. Tell that to boiling water and see if it cares to alter its temperature to suit the ‘Feser’s metaphysical arguments. until it does, I’m afraid he’s spinning his wheels for all the wrong philosophical reasons: namely, envy masquerading as academic sophistication. That’s why his argument gains no traction but reveals a acerbic petulance that should be beneath him but is aimed, instead and mostly, at New Atheists for insisting that claims about reality be arbitrated and then informed by reality. His tools for investigating reality – philosophy and metaphysics – are the wrong ones and demonstrably so. No amount of clever words about ‘other ways of knowing’ will alter that brute fact.

        Posted by tildeb | November 19, 2014, 10:54 PM
      • I will repeat my question:

        Luke: Perhaps you would say that everyone does A-’scientism’, and nobody does B-’scientism’?

        See, I understand there to be two lines of discussion going on. First, there is the question about what constitutes ‘knowledge’ and how it is acquired. As best I understand scientism, it argues that only science produces ‘knowledge’. It says nothing more than this. Nothing. What you seem to be doing is adding to that idea, and I can identify a very questionable motive for doing so: you wish to discredit those who use the term. Maybe this is not your motive, but given our history, I’m more inclined to respect the evidence and best-fitting models, than your self-report. You, obviously, may treat me similarly.

        Second, there is the question of ‘meaning’ and ‘value’ and of subjectivity vs. objectivity. I get that this is a legitimate topic, and I get that in the past, various religions have claimed to be the sole purveyor of these things, in such a way that a small elite effectively forced their ways on the masses. I get this. Nevertheless, to conflate this matter with the term ‘scientism’ thwarts understanding. That is why I stated my (A) vs. (B), and I would appreciate your respecting that dichotomy and engaging my question, or telling me why it is a bad dichotomy or bad question.

        […] he goes after establishing meaning, for which there are other methods better suited by qualitative rather than quantitative evaluation.

        Can you cite a single place where Feser thinks that one deals with ‘meaning‘ via ‘quantitative evaluation’? I do know a little bit about the primary/​secondary quality distinction, which does have versions where there’s a pretty direct mapping between primary qualities & objectivity, and secondary qualities & subjectivity. For example, I’m reading Colin McGinn’s The Subjective View: Secondary Qualities and Indexical Thoughts, and he gets at this matter.

        The above being said, I’m really not sure that you have a coherent conception of what you’re talking about. For example, the term ‘subjective’ can mean ‘mind-dependent’, while still having an aspect of objectivity to it: perhaps there are laws which exist entirely within the realm of the mind. See my Phil.SE question, Are there laws which govern minds? Alternatively, the term ‘subjective’ can mean both ‘mind-independent’ and essentially lawless, in that there is no guaranteed correlation between my mind and your mind on some matter.

        That’s because philosophy and metaphysics can’t reproduce equivalent knowledge about reality although they are used this way – and inappropriately so – all the time and receive well-deserved criticism for doing so.

        This is an atrocious comparison. As I’ve pointed out time and again, the human sciences are nowhere near as well-developed as the hard sciences. What is even more complex than the human sciences is philosophy. So we should expect even less progress, there. Furthermore, philosophers got them into huge error via the “quest for Cartesian certainty”, to use a term close to Stephen Toulmin’s own term in Cosmopolis: The Hidden Agenda of Modernity. If you want a solid source on this matter, see Interpretive Social Science: A Second Look:

            The time seems ripe, even overdue, to announce that there is not going to be an age of paradigm in the social sciences. We contend that the failure to achieve paradigm takeoff is not merely the result of methodological immaturity, but reflects something fundamental about the human world. If we are correct, the crisis of social science concerns the nature of social investigation itself. The conception of the human sciences as somehow necessarily destined to follow the path of the modern investigation of nature is at the root of this crisis. Preoccupation with that ruling expectation is chronic in social science; that idée fixe has often driven investigators away from a serious concern with the human world into the sterility of purely formal argument and debate. As in development theory, one can only wait so long for the takeoff. The cargo-cult view of the “about to arrive science” just won’t do. (5)

        The way you write seems like you disagree with the above view. If that’s true, it would explain a lot. If that’s false, I’d like to tell me what it means, to you, to accept the above paragraph. It seems like you have some pretty terrible expectations of where philosophy should be, what progress it ought to have made.

        The very idea that those who respect the method of science to produce knowledge about reality somehow means refusing to grant meaning to qualitative factors found aplenty in ethics and religion is patently ridiculous and yet this is the heart of the ‘Feser’s argument.

        If this is true, you will be able to produce multiple examples of Feser’s argumentation where “this is the heart of [his] argument”. If you would like me to believe you, please provide multiple additional examples. If you don’t care whether I believe you, then you may do as you wish. You may always do as you wish; it’s just that if you exercise this prerogative, you might lose convincing power to anyone else reading this conversation. Whether you care about that, I simply do not know.

        Posted by labreuer | November 20, 2014, 12:29 AM
  2. Reblogged this on Contemplans Profundes and commented:
    A excellent quote by Ed Feser on the failure of scientism as a legitimate philosophy.

    Posted by Aethereus | November 23, 2014, 9:28 PM

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