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Pinker on Scientism

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Posted

If you redefine scientism to mean commitments to the world being intelligible and knowledge acquisition as "hard" then it seems to include a lot of things, such as Christianity for one. I don't think Pinker intends that and in fact what he actually means is just falsificationism: "Any movement that calls itself 'scientific' but fails to nurture opportunities for the falsification of its own beliefs... is not a scientific movement."

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Posted

Scientism is a philosophical idea that says that philosophical ideas are worthless, because only science has answers to questions, and/or says that only scientific questions are worth asking.

I still have difficulties with how "science" is instantly equivocated in some quarters with "institutional science". When people speak of science as a noun, I still have a hard time understanding who is being spoken about here, and who speaks. Sometimes people speak of science with an authoritarian voice, and by two kinds: First, by those who are critical of science's alleged authority; and second, by those who wish to invoke the authority of science, or merely submit to it.

But to me, science has always been the process of inquiry itself. I've often enjoyed Peirce's quote, "Every work of science great enough to be well remembered for a few generations affords some exemplification of the defective state of the art of reasoning of the time when it was written; and each chief step in science has been a lesson in logic." Science itself should be in a process of self-overcoming. To bind it down by some doctrine about scientific method, or some orthodox view, would be to sap it of it's character.

So it makes sense to have a pejorative term for scientism, which could be seen as the involution of science. Scientism is the process by which science becomes enamored with itself, and at the same time loses its affection for the object of its study.

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Posted (edited)

It strikes me as telling that Pinker charges "postmodernism" as exemplar of a "suffocating political correctness." This is, on its face, a ridiculous charge. Foucault, who is often lumped in to the POMO camp, was lambasted by 'progressives' the world over as related to his thoughts on the Iranian Revolution. Can anyone possibly charge Feyerabend, who is often similarly lumped in, subsetted under the postmodernist heading, with "political correctness?" Derrida's (another token POMO) mere engagement with Carl Schmitt (the unrepentant Nazi) was decried.

The very notion of “political correctness” has an intrinsic normative import that postmodernists would more readily seek to collapse than proliferate. Pinker, in all but idolizing this human activity called “science,” in sacralizing science, is far more instrumental to the codifying of a variation of political correctness than any decent POMO. Isn’t political correctness contingent on exactly that which postmodernism, in its heart of hearts, calls for an accounting, the sacred?

That the charge of “obscurantism” is mind numbingly inane hardly needs mentioning, a lazy accusation, flung by those uninterested in getting educated, as it were, on the issues.

Even the very terms in which Pinker frames the issue, “science is not your enemy,” suggests an intense dichotomous thinking, and perhaps one would rightfully infer, that Pinker is of the persuasion himself that those who would question “science,” recognizing that humans are after all, scandalous creatures, and that science is a human activity, are in fact the “enemies.”

Pinker is the George Bush of philosophy.

Edited by DeadCanDance
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Posted

  • A preoccupation with demarcation, i.e., with drawing a sharp line between genuine science, the real thing, and “pseudo-scientific” imposters.

I see this in some of the critics of scientism as well. Massimo Pigliucci comes to mind here. Their concern with scientism seems to be merely centered on the misapplication of the term "science" rather than the implications of assigning some type of social/political authority to it, which is what concerns me the most. The more I look into these topics, the more I start to feel that the demarcation "problem" is a red herring.

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