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Orlando Humanist Association Message Board › ARTICLE: "Scientism" (WIP...)

ARTICLE: "Scientism" (WIP...)

Orlando, FL
Post #: 425

I'm currently doing research for an article on "scientism". I'm largely ignorant of the subject, so there is A LOT to learn! This is going to take quite a while. So, in the meantime, I'm pitching it out there for input from our members. Do you know what it means? Have you thought about it before? Regardless, what are your thoughts? TIA.

OK, here is the intro, as it stands, to give you a place to work from...

Scientism: "Science is everything, right?"
By Swami


"Science is everything, right?"... But wait! Not so fast! That’s “scientism”. And actually, not everybody agrees that science is applicable to everything, including even some (many? most? all?) scientists! And if science is not all-inclusive or solely valid, then what other valid sources of evaluation and knowledge are there? And to what realms and questions are they applicable?

So, what exactly is “scientism”, anyway? Here is the most concise definition I found, and it is a good starting point:

"Belief that the methods of science are universally applicable."
~The Phrontistery

The following definition touches on the pejorative sense of the word, as most often used, presently:

"an exaggerated trust in the efficacy of the methods of natural science applied to all areas of investigation"
~Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary

OK, fire away...
Adam N.
user 12059978
Orlando, FL
Post #: 30
Hi Swami,

It is my opinion that science is revealing and relevant in the frame of reference in which the laws bounding it apply and are observable. In other words in this dimension the laws of physics chemistry and biology are consistent and observable so they are revealing of the mechanisims of life as we know them. In other dimensions with different variables the rules might be different but localized scientific observations will still be valid.

That said an overall science can still be concieved if the additional variables of all the dimensions involved are factored in so if a "theory of everything " is the goal; science is still relevant and, if enough is known, will be revealing.

Religion and other beliefs on the other hand, cannot adequately describe even one dimensions laws or interactions even the one in which it resides, so science still pertains as the most effective means of understanding the universe (or multiverse as appropriate).

Since science expands only to the extent that the observations support without exaggeration, I assert that the second definition asserting an exxagerated trust in science is not a viable definition.
Orlando, FL
Post #: 426


First, I am fascinated by this topic, and once I understand it well enough, I will be able to express it simply:) In the meantime, I will do my best...

Might I sum up your reply to say: "Science is applicable in its domain(s)" and "Religion has no practical applicable domain(s)" and "Science is the best way of knowing"? Of course, this begs the question: What do you mean by "science" (and "religion")? As for science, the matter of scientism touches on natural science (physical/material), social science (human behavior), formal science (math/logic), and the humanities (human condition). As I noted in my 'INTRO', there is A LOT to learn! And that's a good thing:)

Now, regarding your statement: "the second definition asserting an exaggerated trust in science is not a viable definition."...

To be clear, "science" and "scientism" are distinctly different things. And, as is the dynamic case with words, the use of "scientism" has expanded.

Though some form of the concept was around before the coining of the word, I'm having a hard time definitively tracking down the first attestation. Webster notes the first known use from 1870 (http://www.merriam-we...­ ), but unfortunately supplies no quotation/reference. A search of my 1937 Oxford Universal English Dictionary (Vol VIII of X; shortened version of the full 1928, 1st Ed.) gives no entry for "scientism". Ultimately, I will have to consult the OED, 2nd Ed. at the library. The most reliable information I currently have is in a biography of Friedrich August von Hayek by R.W. Garrison, and Israel Kirzner, which states...

"Scientism, ... was the focus of two long and critical articles published by Hayek during World War II. In these articles, which constitute the central core of his 1952 book, The Counter-Revolution of Science: Studies on the Abuse of Reason,..." (PDF).­

And, one definition that is in line with Hayek's treatment is...

"The view (similar to reductionism) that the methods of the natural or physical sciences are universally valid, and therefore should apply to the social sciences and the humanities as well."­

BTW, Hayek was particularly interested in the social science of economics (which he viewed as "spontaneous order" resulting from unintended human design by virtue of their actions). I will cover this aspect in more detail once I've sussed it all out.

Finally, as regards the change in use of the term scientism, it has moved to focus on religion (technically one of the humanities), mainly due to its pejorative use by religious entities, often in criticisms/debates about God, evolution, cosmology, etc. Again, as noted in my 'INTRO', scientism is generally not endorsed by scientists. In fact, the term is often used in a strawman argument.
A former member
Post #: 127

It is possible that you would get more responses from
Atheist members of Plato's Philosophy Club.

As I pronounce the word 'Scientism' over and over,
I am impressed that it is equal to all the other ' ism's '
out there.

When your article is published, you may receive 'Fame'
as being the originator of the word 'Scientism' as other
creative people have received 'Fame' for words that
originated with them.

Of course the spell check says it does not exist;
but, what do they know ?

Good Luck !

Orlando, FL
Post #: 439

To clarify, I did not coin the word "scientism", nor did I originate the concept. Some essence of it arose with the Scientific Revolution and into the Age of Enlightenment, peaking in the late 1800's, and presently with a pejorative use by anti-science factions. And, actually, there are several different uses of the term. So, I take no credit, or blame. My intent is to explore the range of and motivation behind the term, plus its usage. The challenge is to encapsulate things in an interesting and meaningful way.

All words exist. They are just waiting to be plucked from obscurity!

P.S. I have posted this to Plato's Cave, too.
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