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Pascal & Barzun On Scientism

That science is an explanation of all things is itself not a scientific statement.
Blaise Pascal was a man smarter than I and smarter than thou. He was a scientist, mathematician, probabilist, and was deeply, deeply Catholic. Pascal as scientist warned against trusting science too well; which is to say, Pascal spoke out against scientism. Statistics, incidentally, contributes as least as much as any other field to this dismal fallacy.

From From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life by Jacques Barzun, 2000, HarperCollins, New York, p 218.

Ten succinct paragraphs of the Pensées state [the warning against scientism] with finality. Scientism is the fallacy of believing that the method of science must be used on all forms of experience and, given time, will settle every issue. Again and again, the bright thought has occurred, “If we can only define our terms, if we can only find the basic unit, if we can spot the right ‘indicators,’ we can then measure and reason flawlessly, we shall have created one more science.” And nearly as often, the shout has been heard: “Eureka! We are scientists,” the new science being some portion of the desired Science of Man—history, sociology, psychology, archaeology, linguistics, and other more or less short-lived ologies…

The motives behind scientism are culturally significant. They have been mixed, as usual; genuine curiosity in search of truth; the rage for certainty and for unity; and the snobbish desire to earn the label scientist when that became a high social and intellectual rank. But these efforts, even though in vain, have not been without harm, to the inventors and to the world at large. The “findings” have inspired policies affecting daily life that were enforced with the same absolute assurance as earlier ones based on religion…The case of Karl Marx is typical. Infatuated with the kudos of science, he persuaded himself and his millions of followers in and out of the Soviet Union that he had at last formulated the mechanics of history and could predict the future scientifically.

Curiously, the only Marxists left have all joined jobs programs (so fertile at providing employment for all manner of politically desirable groups) at Western universities. There they plot their bloody revenge. Never mind.

And from Pascal himself, these:

The vanity of the sciences.—Physical science will not console me for the ignorance of morality in the time of affliction. But the science of ethics will always console me for the ignorance of the physical sciences.”

“The world is a good judge of things, for it is in natural ignorance, which is man’s true state. The sciences have two extremes which meet. The first is the pure natural ignorance in which all men find themselves at birth. The other extreme is that reached by great intellects, who, having run through all that men can know, find they know nothing, and come back again to that same ignorance from which they set out; but this is a learned ignorance which is conscious of itself. Those between the two, who have departed from natural ignorance and not been able to reach the other, have some smattering of this vain knowledge, and pretend to be wise. These trouble the world, and are bad judges of everything. The people and the wise constitute the world; these despise it, and are despised. They judge badly of everything, and the world judges rightly of them.”

56 thoughts on “Pascal & Barzun On Scientism Leave a comment

  1. You knew that I would respond to this, Briggs. But as a change of pace I will present this partial quote: “first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye”. By which I mean that although “scientism” exists, although I believe that this is a poor choice of wording, it is used in the majority of cases as a “boo word” (Pinker, who is also smarter than the two of us) by those who wish to deflect attention from the beam in their own eye.

  2. Scotian,

    I first had to run to the bathroom to look in the mirror to see if I had a scientism plank sticking out of my eye. What a relief not to find one!

    Second, the only person who could understandably confuse Pinker as a great thinker would be his mother.

    Third, fourth, fifth, etc., etc.

  3. Great post… As a physicist (50+ years in the field), I am well aware of the limitations of science. And one might also read Fr. Stanley Jaki (a physicist, theologian and Benedictine) on “The Limits of a Limitless Science”.

  4. Considering that the “science” ole Blaise pondered in the mid-1600s was quite a different thing than “science” is today, his musings must be considered in proper, and relative, context…relevance to modern “science” is best taken with the proverbial “grain of salt.”

    Pascal’s (his deep thinking is documented from about 1640 to his death in 1662) perception of “science,” for example, probably considered bloodletting quite rational, and, as a Catholic, may have believed the Earth was still the center of the universe–despite objective observations to the contrary…

    …on the other hand, he might not have believed this, or even had an opinion….HOWEVER…he was almost certainly aware of institutional religion’s (the Roman Catholic Church’s) hammerlock on the reporting of things scientific that contradicted religious orthodoxy.

    THAT would easily explain some of his inclination to put less than complete trust in then-contemporary “science” — he undoubtedly recognized that much too much of then-contemporary science was corrupted by the need to subsume objective facts (like the Earth orbits the Sun) to religious orthodoxy.

    Undoubtedly he was well aware of what happened to his contemporary, Galileo, who was tried for this heresy in 1633; the actual trial transcripts are revealing: http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/galileo/galileo.html .

    It wasn’t “science” he didn’t trust–it was the religiously-corrupted science he observed interwoven with truly objective science he knew he couldn’t trust — and he knew many others, sometimes himself included, would be unable to distinguish the religiously-corrupted science from the truly objective, pure, science.

    In that period, bemoaning the corrupting effects of religious doctrine was a lost cause–potentially a deadly course of commentary. So one is left with cautioning about the overall results — where one’s learned contemporaries understood the real meaning while Church authorities were duped by the verbal charade.

    Consider Pascal’s wager — the trade-off in believing in God, or not, is based on the logic of choosing belief based on possible outcomes…with don’t believe & God exists leading to eternal misery being the only grim outcome leads to the conclusion that one should “choose to believe.” However, as a belief cannot arise from a desire for a particular outcome — something a smart guy like Pascal would certainly understand — this, especially in context with so many other remarks, is most readily interpreted as his choice to express the language & trappings of such belief in the then-orthodoxy of religious doctrine. It not only made life much easier, it was then a requirement for survival.

    Such pandering to a contemporary philosophy, be it religious, political or whatever, recurs throughout history in all cultures. Given the social context Pascal found himself, his objective & brilliant ability to analyze, and the overreaching power of the then-Church, many of his comments present a pattern consistent with superficially/overtly conveying verbal complicity with a religious institution’s perspective that are also consistent with being carefully chosen & designed to camouflage a contrary [then-heretical] view held privately.

    Such goes on today, for example, with much research into Climate Change — there ARE many researchers who quietly disagree but play along, who DO get grants, and develop contrary findings they discretely camouflage in publishable reports — when the “powers that be” want to see a particular answer, history shows they really don’t pay close attention to contrary facts presented as something else…

    It’s an age-old game…

  5. Please Briggs, it is not like you to misrepresent my statements. The scientism plank, if you must call it that, is to use a poorly defined term to dismiss the arguments of others when direct methods are wanting. I’ve rarely seen (heard) it used in any other way (Boo!) but when I have time I will read your links in more detail. Barzun, by the way, gives a much more nuanced observation and I have less problem with him. The majority of those who use the term are anything but nuanced.

    Also, I never said that Pinker was a great thinker, although I won’t dismiss that possibility. I said that he was smarter than the two of us which is unquestionably true. I said this because this was the reason you gave for accepting (uncritically?) the opinions of Pascal. Pascal, Barzun, Pinker, you and I have all held (hold) mistaken opinions. It is the argument that counts and the term “scientism” with all its baggage just gets in the way. Do you disagree?

  6. @Ken: Undoubtedly [Pascal] was well aware of what happened to his contemporary, Galileo

    Probably far more aware than are Late Moderns. For details, begin here:
    http://tofspot.blogspot.com/2013/10/the-great-ptolemaic-smackdown-table-of.html

    But then someone who believes that the Church in the mid-1600s had “overreaching power” anywhere outside the Papal State might also believe that there was compelling empirical evidence for geomobility at the time. Much easier to take a modern template and apply it to earlier times.

  7. Scotian,

    How’d your reading of the Maverick Philosopher and the others go?

    And how about this one (forgive me): Pinker’s a stinker!

  8. Hi Briggs,

    I’ve been catching up on other things but I still plan to give your links the attention that they deserve. Give me a couple of days. Since I greatly enjoyed “The Blank Slate” I tend to give Pinker the benefit of the doubt, but we’ll see. Trying your hand at doggerel I see.

    Cheers

  9. Speaking of that, here is an excerpt from an entertaining interview that David Berlinski conducted with himself (Jonathan Witt).

    […]
    JW: How would you react to the argument that Dawkins has made that any form of religion that goes beyond the scientific facts about the universe really represents a form of brainwashing?

    DB: He’s probably right. Most education is a form of brainwashing – so much better in French, by the way, lavage de cerveau. Give a child to the Jesuits, they say, and ten years later the man will cringe when he spots the Cross. But look, ten years or so spent studying physics is a pretty effective form of brainwashing as well. You emerge into the daylight blinking weakly and talking about an endless number of universes stacked on top of one another like an old-fashioned Maine pancake breakfast. Or you start babbling inanely about how meaningless the universe is. But if you ask me just who is the more credulous, the more suggestible, the dopier, the more perfectly prepared to convey absurdity to an almost inconceivable pitch of personal enthusiasm – a well-trained Jesuit or a Ph.D. in quantum physics – I’ll go with the physicist every time. There is nothing these people won’t believe. No wonder used-car salesmen love them. Biologists are, of course, worse. Tell them that in the future Richard Dawkins is going to conduct a personal invasion of Hell in order to roust the creationists, and The Panda’s Thumb will at once start vibrating with ticket sales.
    […]
    Full interview here:
    https://docs.google.com/document/d/1GWum5O7pSlFVu8V5P5HciOnVxbSl5Jg67ZRwf1IZAGo/edit?pli=1

  10. Francisco,

    Love it! Had no idea he was such a wit.

    “What a question! I feel like I’m being interviewed by the Dean at some horrible community college.”

    “But that’s a journalist for you: all zeal and no content. No, no, not you, of course. You’re not like the others.”

    So quotable!

  11. “religiously-corrupted science” – now we have atheisticaly-corrupted science.
    “truly objective, pure, science” – there no such a thing

  12. the religiously-corrupted science

    In the case of Galileo, it was more like scientifically-corrupted religion. Theologians running all the way back to the Fathers had relied upon the settled science of the consensus that the earth is in fact immobile due to the overwhelming empirical evidence against her motions, and so had written and commented with this worldview in mind.

  13. Briggs, I’ve gone through the Maverick link and think that I understand his position, maybe. My general impression is that Pinker and Maverick are speaking past each other, so to speak. Actually they are writing to different audiences. Maverick gives a rigorous philosophical definition that only reputable (his word) writers use. The problem is that Pinker is dealing with the charge of scientism as encountered in the outside world where few writers are reputable and they do not make such fine distinctions as philosophers do, but use the charge of scientism as a cudgel to put scientists in their place. For all his exactitude Maverick still does not give real life examples to show the falsity of scientism. It is still all truth is beauty and defend the barricades.

    It is true that Pinker himself does not give a good alternate definition of scientism, but personally I think that is because a useful definition does not exist. Even the philosophical definitions that Maverick gives do not seem useful to me. Who can even remember them let alone use them. Next, on to TOF.

  14. Finally: On TOF the fourth I found it rambling and my brain froze up. So, no comment. TOF the fifth was good and I think that he is correct – Pinker has over reached on this one. Of course, I haven’t read “Better Angels …” yet and may not. As to the YOS TOF I’ve only skimmed it but it does not seem to add anything to Maverick and thus my previous comment stands. I think that his genetic fallacy comment misses the point. Like a dictionary TOF needs to address all the uses of the term otherwise there is a tendency to fly from one to the other when challenged. I believe that I have made this point before. There is the philosophical definition and the “boo” definition and one needs to be more careful in their use than most people are. I can not guarantee that this is Pinker’s position but it is mine.

    I saw a reference to a comment from this website (Briggs’) at TOF, so I guess you have a mutual fan. He may be reading right now and getting ready to pounce! By the way I don’t think that the comment really supported the use of the term scientism over any other type of shortsightedness or arrogance.

  15. Not sure why the imprecise use of one term by creationists and scientists is an argument that the term’s referent does not exist. After all, one may point to similar abuses of “evolution” or “quantum mechanics” or “medieval.” But that some folks use “medieval” as a “boo word” or that a random assortment of folks scraped up off the street will provide a random assortment of opinions about it is no argument that there is not something meant by “medieval.” Or even that we ought not look to professionals for a reasonable account of it. It is not, after all, a new thing. Here is a comment from the atheist Left in 1959:

    “The modern esteem for science has long been merely assumed, but now the technological ethos and the kind of engineering imagination associated with science are more likely to be frightening and ambiguous than hopeful and progressive.… In the meantime, philosophers who speak in the name of science often transform it into ‘scientism,’ making out its experience to be identical to human experience, and claiming that only by its method can the problems of life be solved. With all this cultural workmen have come to feel that ‘science’ is a false and pretentious Messiah…”
    Source: C. Wright Mills – The Sociological Imagination (1959), page 16

  16. David Berlinski seems to be the Robin Williams of philosophy, funny but incoherent. I like this passage:

    But to tell you the truth, I’m not at all sure I understand my own views, remarkable as they are.

    … I’m sure that in this you are not alone, Mr. Berlinski …

    Indeed.

  17. You are right YOS it isn’t, but then that is not what I said. See my previous comments on this thread.

  18. RE: “But then someone who believes that the Church in the mid-1600s had “overreaching power” anywhere outside the Papal State might also believe that there was compelling empirical evidence for geomobility at the time.” (@ Ye Olde Topologist [YOT])

    I’m not sure of YOT’s point there, but, in France during Blaise Pascal’s life Roman Catholicism reigned supreme. French Protestants, Huguenots, suffered ongoing deadly persecutions during & after Pascal’s life there (’til ’bout the formal establishment of the USA as an independent recognized country); many, maybe most, fled to other countries.

    The Roman Catholic opposition of the Huguenots — what can be called, because it is, an example of Christian-on-Christian persecution — is hi-lited by St. Bart’s Massacre with some 5000-30,000 Christians being killed by Christians with the “right” belief.

    Given such, it seems a very safe conjecture that for one wanting to get along in France at the time espousing the religion du jour was a wise course of action, regardless of what one actually believed.

    Pascal, as it turns out, is said to have endorsed a variant of belief (Jansenism, based on subscribing to Augustine!) that included predestination–at odds with free will it turns out. In 1653 the Catholic Pope condemned five cardinal doctrines of Jansenism as heresy!! Come 1713 the Pope the bull Unigenitus ending Catholic toleration of Jansenism in any form. Interesting….especially how those facts (insofar as Wikipedia is accurately reporting this as “fact”) comport with Briggs assertion that Pascal “…was deeply, deeply Catholic.”

    See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jansenism in response to the observation that Blaise Pascal was a practitioner in 1646 per Wiki’s third paragraph, first sentence at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blaise_Pascal

    If Wikipedia is right, Pascal gave up science for the soon-to-be-rejected-in-total Jansenism doctrine and lived out his life as a full-fledged philosopher.

    Which begs the question, can a R. Catholic in good standing stay in good standing by consulting and accepting and espousing [lending credibility to] doctrinal values derived from views the R. Catholic Church has deemed heretical? The R. Catholic church says (or used to say) its members are to avoid attending the services of another faith….here’s an example from Catholic Answers, where it’s noted someone appears to be “church shopping”: http://forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=92880 Seems that here we’ve got a blogger doing something similar with matters of faith–grabbing philosophies that appeal, perhaps over those that fit correctly within the espoused doctrine?

  19. RE: “But then someone who believes that the Church in the mid-1600s had “overreaching power” anywhere outside the Papal State might also believe that there was compelling empirical evidence for geomobility at the time.” (@ Ye Olde Topologist [YOT])

    Ken: I’m not sure of YOT’s point there, but, in France during Blaise Pascal’s life Roman Catholicism reigned supreme.

    Actually, in France at the time the Bourbons reigned supreme and had by means of a Concordance arrogated various churchly powers to themselves. (Nominations of bishops to sees, release of papal encyclicals in French, etc.) The State was so firmly Catholic that France intervened in the Thirty Years War on the “Protestant” side. (So, too, in fact did the Papacy!) Europe was sliding from the worship of Christ to the worship of the Nation. Even the Huguenot wars could with much justice be labeled the Wars of the French Succession, the root cause of which was the jostling for the crown among three Great Houses as the Valois line died out. Cuius regio, eius religio, and all that. Kings have always wanted conformity as an outward sign of political loyalty and will use “Perfidious Huguenots!” as easily as “Perfidious Albion!”

    But recall that the problem was the citation of the Galileo Myth rather than the actual history of the affair.

  20. Francisco,

    Love it! Had no idea he was such a wit.

    “What a question! I feel like I’m being interviewed by the Dean at some horrible community college.”

    “But that’s a journalist for you: all zeal and no content. No, no, not you, of course. You’re not like the others.”

    So quotable!
    ——————
    Yes, that last sentence also made me smile. There is a slight echo of that quirk (no, no, not you, you’re not like the others) in Boswell’s biography of Samuel Johnson. It goes like this:

    […] This reminds me of the ludicrous account he gave Mr. Langton, of the despicable state of a young gentleman of good family. “Sir, when I heard of him last, he was running about town shooting cats.” And then in a sort of kindly reverie, he bethought himself of his own favorite cat, and said, “But Hodge shan’t be shot: no, no, Hodge shall not be shot.”

    – James Boswell, the Life of Samuel Johnson

  21. I have had an epiphany. It is not what you may be thinking Briggs, but a possible explanation as to why the use (misuse) of the term scientism bothers me. It is that there is no corresponding term for the inappropriate use of the humanities to intrude on scientific matters. We could call it humanism if the term wasn’t already in use to mean something else. If fact we should wonder why humanism has positive connotations whereas scientism has negative ones. Before anyone claims that people in the humanities do not intrude in science they should read the book “Higher Superstition” by Gross and Levitt first. In the same vein we could have religism and politism as well. The fact that we don’t strongly implies, despite the attempt to come up with rigorous philosophical definitions, that the term scientism is meant primarily to signal disaproval without the inconvenience of debate (philosism?). If a claim is wrong it is wrong in itself and does not depend on the background of the claimant, i.e. scientism as ad hominem. Here I will quote a passage from the Pinker article that started it all.

    “I can testify that this recrimination is not a relic of the 1990s science wars. When Harvard reformed its general education requirement in 2006 to 2007, the preliminary task force report introduced the teaching of science without any mention of its place in human knowledge: “Science and technology directly affect our students in many ways, both positive and negative: they have led to life-saving medicines, the internet, more efficient energy storage, and digital entertainment; they also have shepherded nuclear weapons, biological warfare agents, electronic eavesdropping, and damage to the environment.” This strange equivocation between the utilitarian and the nefarious was not applied to other disciplines. (Just imagine motivating the study of classical music by noting that it both generates economic activity and inspired the Nazis.) And there was no acknowledgment that we might have good reasons to prefer science and know-how over ignorance and superstition.”

    It is this rather grotesque double standard that is behind the sensitivity to the word scientism exhibited by Pinker and myself. So you see if an historian dismisses archeological evidence in favour of ancient manuscripts no one says that he is guilty of historism, they only debate whether he is right or wrong to do so. But heaven help the scientist who questions the work of an historian using some new fangled technique. He is guilty of scientism, the cad!

    I really must collect all my thoughts on this subject and write it up.

    Cheers, all.

  22. OTOH, an historian would know enough to conclude that no physical artifact unearthed by an archeologist is self-explanatory. Meaning is not a physical property. However, an ancient manuscript gives him an insight into the minds of the people who made or used the artifact. We know more about the Peloponnesian war from the writings of Thucydides than from fragments of triremes of the unearthed Long Walls of Athens. The historian knows further that one cannot always take a manuscript as naively literal, which someone raised to follow lab procedures to the letter may not appreciate.

    Then too there are those of us who applauded Higher Superstition when it came out and who also roll eyes at egregious scientistic claims. But it would be helpful if one could cite particular examples of humanists attempting a titration or running a particle accelerator experiment. Most of what I’ve run across are things like philosophers pointing out bad logic, or critiques of buried patriarchal thinking or of environmental degradation. Such critiques may be well taken in some instances and in others as wrong as phlogiston and epicycles.

    Thirdly, there are legitimate uses of the metrical properties of physical bodies (i.e., of science) in the humanities. Radiocarbon dating is useful in archeology; acoustics in music. There have been recent applications of chemistry in haute cuisine (over and above the traditional scope of descriptive chemistry). But these are not scientism. They are actually science.

    ; but there are also cases of politicians funding favored lines of research and writing reports before the studies are completed.

  23. YOS, I’m not sure whether you are agreeing with me, disagreeing, or merely missing my point. The world won’t come to an end if people state exactly what has got their knickers in a twist and avoid the cop out term of scientism.

    Quote: “But it would be helpful if one could cite particular examples of humanists attempting a titration or running a particle accelerator experiment.” I never play by others rules. The Humanities, almost by definition, are more into theory than experiment.

  24. The Humanities, almost by definition, are more into theory than experiment.

    The contention was that the humanists were also intruding into the sciences just as scientists were intruding into the humanities. I was wondering about specific empirical examples of humanists trying to do science rather than, say, history-of-science or philosophy-of-science. We will leave “theory” for another day.

  25. YOS, your caveats seem crafted to exclude any examples. Remember that most of the cries of scientism are in these same areas. It really is a turf war. No one complained about Feynman playing the bongos or Asimov writing fiction and no one complains about amateur scientists. It is in the border states that the battle is fought with cries of scientism. But the book “Higher Superstition” is full of examples and I will add the latest shenanigans of Dan Kahan, James Burke, Chris Mooney, and of course Al Gore.

    From a different tack we could examine many of the articles posted in WUWT by amateur scientists, often of an humanities background. Most are very good (i.e. Willis, Monckton) and some comments do commit the logical error of damning the article based on the author’s lack of formal training. But there isn’t a special name used to justify this criticism as there is for scientific forays into the humanities. It is just that for some unfathomable reason bashing science and scientists is in vogue and thus this is overlooked.

    As I have said before it is certainly possible to tighten up the definition of scientism so that it seems to make sense, but the tighter it is the more it resembles a null set, and it would not then reflect how the term is used in practice.

  26. No one complained about Feynman playing the bongos or Asimov writing fiction

    For the excellent reason that they knew how to do those things. Asimov doing history or Feynman doing philosophy are different kettles of fish entirely. (Unlike, say, Duhem, who really could do history, or Einstein, who really could do philosophy.) Remember, the charge of scientism is not “scientists doing non-scientific stuff.” It is “applying the tools of natural science to that which is not the proper object of natural science.” A good example would be Michael Schermer analyzing the mutiny on HMS Bounty as the inevitable result of Darwinian principles, or P.Z.Meyers critiquing Roman Catholic theology.

  27. YOS, Quoting “applying the tools of natural science to that which is not the proper object of natural science”. Who determines what is the proper object of natural science? A serious claim could be made that a great deal of scientific advance has been made by studying matters which are not the proper object of scientific research, according to some one at some time. This quote really confirms that it is a turf war as I have stated and are you really accusing Asimov of scientism for daring to write popular history books.

    An interesting aside is the history of Captain Bligh and the Bounty. There was an interesting television special co-narrated by a descendent of Christian and a descendent of Bligh each attempting to defend the honour of their respective ancestor. I think that Bligh’s descendent made the stronger case. The movie versions seem to be based entirely on a book written by one of the surviving mutineers and ignore Bligh’s own records. The Darwinian principles approach sounds promising, but you need Dawkins not Schermer. 🙂

    The charge of scientism is many things to many people, but it is rarely the pure thing that you want it to be.

  28. YOS, Quoting “applying the tools of natural science to that which is not the proper object of natural science”. Who determines what is the proper object of natural science?

    Natural science in the modern Baconian tradition means the study of the metrical properties of physical bodies. Hence, when the object of study is not a physical body, the methods of the scientific revolution do not properly apply. When the properties are not metrical, the application is problematical. For example, “red” is not a metrical property of the body (in Modern science) but is a subjective impression that takes place in the mind of the observer. Science can study the wavelengths of reflected light and has redefined “redness” to mean this. The scientism comes in when one assumes that the only thing about redness is this metrical aspect.

    are you really accusing Asimov of scientism for daring to write popular history books.

    No. Only that he did so badly. He would have exhibited scientism had he claimed that the scientific method [sic] was the only proper way to study history or that his status as a [former] scientist is what qualified him to write history. But he did not. A scientist can easily be qualified to write history — Pierre Duhem comes to mind — but it is not his training in the measurement of physical bodies which so qualifies him. Similarly, Stanley Jaki and William Wallace held doctorates in theology, but they also held doctorates in physics.

  29. Ken.

    “Considering that the “science” ole Blaise pondered in the mid-1600s was quite a different thing than “science” is today,”

    Have you read any Mile Mathis and others who disagree with the current CONSENSUS science that exists on virtually all fields?? If not you really do not have a knowledge base ot make any statements on whether the Science being done now is different that what was being done then.

    The basic issue is how people act and react, tribalism and protecting their turf, influence and money.

    Nope, very little difference between then and now.

  30. YOS, I think that we are hitting the end of the road again. I only understood three things from your last post, that you have personally taken on the task of defining the proper object of natural science whereas I recognize no such limits, that your definition of scientism is a null set and therefore not useful, and that you dislike Asimov’s history books whereas I greatly enjoyed them. I am curious though. What is your objection to Asimov’s history series?

  31. I only understood three things from your last post…
    that you have personally taken on the task of defining the proper object of natural science whereas I recognize no such limits

    So do you believe or feel that natural science deals with non-physical bodies or with non-measurable properties? For further details, see: Stanley Jaki, The Limits of a Limitless Science.
    http://www.amazon.com/Limits-Limitless-Science-Other-Essays/dp/1882926463

    …that your definition of scientism is a null set and therefore not useful

    Not my definition. See C.Wright Mills, Wittgenstein, Feyerabend, Hayek, et al. For details: Mary Midgley, Science as Salvation
    http://www.amazon.com/Science-Salvation-Modern-Myth-Meaning/dp/0415107733/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1382382244&sr=8-1&keywords=science+as+salvation

    …and that you dislike Asimov’s history books whereas I greatly enjoyed them. I am curious though. What is your objection to Asimov’s history series?

    Superficial and story-booky. (A wonder that George Washington’s cherry tree didn’t show up.) Full of geography and word trivia. Not wretched, understand. Just nothing to get any genuine understanding. Maybe OK for kids, but I was already past high school when they came out.
    http://www.nytimes.com/books/97/03/23/lifetimes/asi-r-roman.html

  32. YOS, I believe that the limits to science should be determined in the same manner as the limits to all human endeavors are, by the praxis. The activity of free people who are not constrained by the opinions of others. When mistakes are made these should be pointed out and corrected where possible, but the blanket condemnation of scientism should never be made. It is not necessary unless the real object is a turf war as I keep saying to no avail. What I personally may or may not think are the limits to scientific inquiry are as pointless as the thoughts of anyone else except as they guide my own and their research.

    It doesn’t matter whose definition it is, it is still a null set. I find it some vindication that both I and Pinker have come to the same conclusions independently. I didn’t get it from him or anyone else.

    Of course Asimov’s history is superficial and story book, that was his intent. It was meant to give a basic background to the scandalous lack of high school instruction and possibly encourage people to read further for a more advanced treatment. In that he succeeded admirably and it is too bad that the books are no longer in print. The link that you reference misses this point as well. Don’t criticize an author for not writing the book that you would write. The greatest complement that Asimov could have received is to say that because of this book I have moved on to greater things. The same thing applies to his many general works on science. No doubt Asimov had flaws enough but I don’t think that this was one of them.

  33. Scotian
    I believe that the limits to science should be determined in the same manner as the limits to all human endeavors are, by the praxis. The activity of free people who are not constrained by the opinions of others.

    They are however constrained by the definitions of the terms employed. No matter how you cut it, the preparation of salami is not the proper object of musicology, no matter how ambitious the musicologists may be.

    Have you come up with a non-physical body or a non-measurable property that would be a proper object of natural science?

    It doesn’t matter whose definition it is, it is still a null set.

    You have consulted the works in question? Was Mills talking about nothing? Wittgenstein discussed the null set? Better yet, drop in on P.Z.Meyers blog and actually see scientism in action. Its most egregious practitioners are often not even scientists. (Most scientists are comparatively modest and do not make pronouncements in history, art, philosophy, etc. except as the laymen they are.)

    Sometimes, a scientist may also be an accomplished bongo player, and should be listened to respectfully when he speaks of the bongo. Pierre Duhem was not only a physicist, but also a top-notch historian — meaning he could read and analyze original sources in Latin etc., not simply organize digests of what others have said — and a good water colorist, as well. Jaki held a PhD in physics as well as in theology. OTOH, there are those who play off their white lab coats to be taken as experts in fields in which they have no grounding at all, as when Dawkins speaks on theology — and gets the arguments entirely wrong! Deming tells of a company that tasked a computer programmer to plan a sample study. “Why as a computer programmer,” Deming wondered. “Why not ask a dentist?”

    Of course Asimov’s history is superficial and story book, that was his intent.

    Yes. He was not engaged in scientistm, though he was trading on his reputation as a polymath and prolific author. I only mentioned him as writing history badly, not as writing badly. That is, he was not writing as an historian. Compare: Duhem or Wallace who really were accomplished historians, specifically in the history of science. Sagan was far more egregious.

  34. YOS quote “They are however constrained by the definitions of the terms employed.” As hard as I try I can get no sense out of this. Reality may be described by language or mathematics, but how is it constrained by it? Your example doesn’t help and you still seem determined to tell other people what they can and can not do. Scientific advances occur by going beyond the limitations others would put on us. Science is sufficiently limited by physical reality that there is no need to add human created barriers as well. I can see how we are limited by the laws of thermodynamics whether we are doing science or anything else, or would you call my saying that scientism?

    I had a quick look at the last dozen or so Meyers’ posts (Pharyngula?) and I didn’t see any scientism, but then again I still am not sure what you mean by the term. Is it simply that he has opinions outside his educational background?

    Quote “Dawkins speaks on theology — and gets the arguments entirely wrong!”. If Dawkins is wrong he is wrong, but I don’t see how this makes him guilty of scientism. By your definition he would have to mistakenly apply science to theology to be guilty of scientism, simply being wrong is not enough. I don’t think that you are using your preferred definition of scientism at all in your examples since most of your complaints involve those people who work in fields outside their expertise whether they mistakingly use science or not. On the other hand if they have dual expertise they are given a pass. This is a perfect example of the heart of my complaint of the use of the term, which is that it is one thing to have a gussied up definition for public display but in private no one (even you) uses it that way.

    Quote “Why not ask a dentist?” This is a complaint of a turf defender not a charge of scientism.
    Quote “taken as experts in fields in which they have no grounding at all”. Again this is irrelevant to the charge of scientism (public definition) but is understandable using the private one of turf war.

    I don’t believe Sagan deserves to be called egregious unless you mean the archaic definition. You leave yourself no room for someone that you really dislike.

  35. YOS quote “They are however constrained by the definitions of the terms employed.”

    As hard as I try I can get no sense out of this. Reality may be described by language or mathematics, but how is it constrained by it?

    Because if folks are going to communicate at all, they must use words of agreed-upon definitions. “Natural science” is the knowledge gained by study of the metrical properties of physical bodies. This is distinct, for example, from mathematics, which studies the properties of ideal bodies and uses different tools. Consequently, when scientists put on their white lab coats and bear their instruments of valor to make pronouncement on barbecue sause, theological arguments, historical understanding, aesthetic values, and the like they are outsid their narrow training — unless they have been more liberally educated — and when they declare that these things are simply specialized branches of natural science they are committing scientism. For example, when P.Z.Meyers derided philosophers for taking note of the distinction between facts, laws, and theories:
    “Philosophers, sweet as they may be, are most definitely not the “arbiters” of the cognitive structure of science. They are more like interested spectators, running alongside the locomotive of science, playing catch-up in order to figure out what it is doing, and occasionally shouting words of advice to the engineer, who might sometimes nod in interested agreement but is more likely to shrug and ignore the wacky academics with all the longwinded discourses.”
    Perhaps he was unaware of the contribution of scientists like Mach, Poincare, and Einstein to this dialogue, in the last generations of scientists to be liberally educated in the humanities.

    Scientific advances occur by going beyond the limitations others would put on us.

    Name one scientific advance that goes beyond the metrical properties of physical bodies.

    Science is sufficiently limited by physical reality

    Yes, that’s what I’ve been saying.

    I had a quick look at the last dozen or so Meyers’ posts (Pharyngula?) and I didn’t see any scientism […] Is it simply that he has opinions outside his educational background?

    No it is the presumption that things outside his expertise are really just matters of science. For an example, see this commentary: http://m-francis.livejournal.com/101180.html

    Quote “Dawkins speaks on theology — and gets the arguments entirely wrong!”. If Dawkins is wrong he is wrong, but I don’t see how this makes him guilty of scientism.

    Everyone is entitled to stupid opinions. It is a statement like
    Dawkins: Questions about the existence of the supernatural are actually scientific questions. I don’t think philosophers have any particular expertise to bring to bear. Certainly theologians haven’t any expertise to bring to bear on anything. These are largely questions that scientists should be able to deal with.
    that are markers of scientism. It is his mistaken assumption that he can apply science to theology that makes him prone to scientism. Simply being wrong is not enough.

    Quote “Why not ask a dentist?” This is a complaint of a turf defender not a charge of scientism.

    No, it’s a sardonic comment on qualifications and expertise. Deming’s point was that a computer programmer is no more competent than a dentist to design a sample study.

  36. YOS, it is interesting that you should mention Mach and Einstein together since Einstein came to reject Mach and his principle. Einstein was initially influenced by Mach’s ideas in the development of general relativity but had to abandon them as unworkable. Mach also refused to believe in the reality of atoms, but no one is perfect and he did good work in other areas. I don’t dispute the value of a liberal education, but I note that it has been close to an hundred years since the liberal arts have been taught.

    The P.Z. Myers and Dawkins quotes clearly do not bother me as much as you. I think that the opinions expressed are at least worthy of debate. The charge of scientism is a refusal to debate.

    After all this I am still not sure whether we disagree at a fundamental level or only at the margins.

  37. it is interesting that you should mention Mach and Einstein together since Einstein came to reject Mach and his principle.

    C’est le guerre. Surely you cannot equate competence with infallibility and uniform agreement! Two competent physicists can disagree about physics and both will be instructive to listen to. Laplace and Lagrange disagreed on the nature of pressure such that the very same experiment would prove for one the same hypothesis that it disproved for the other. I mentioned these folks because along with Poincare, Heisenberg, and the rest, they belonged to the last generation of scientists to receive a well-rounded education. Not coincidentally, that was the generation of scientists that overturned the world.

    I don’t dispute the value of a liberal education, but I note that it has been close to an hundred years since the liberal arts have been taught.

    Which neatly coincides with the collapse of the Modern Ages.

    The P.Z. Myers and Dawkins quotes clearly do not bother me as much as you. … The charge of scientism is a refusal to debate.

    No, it is a description of the kind of amateurishness both engage in when they go off the reservation; foolishness that well-educated scientists did not make. What sort of debate is it when one must correct elementary errors of fact and logic on the part of the other. Laplace and Lagrange could have a lively debate on the nature of pressure because they both knew what they were talking about. Heisenberg argued that the hule prote was mass-energy. He might have been wrong, but he knew what the hule prote was and why it mattered (pun intended) — and he could made a credible case for his proposition. Because he knew what he was talking about.

  38. For this discussion, I think it would be helpful to more carefully define what is meant by term “scientism”. I would define in two closely related ways. First, scientism is the belief that science provides the only legitimate, objective source of knowledge about reality. Second, one engages in scientism when attempts to apply the scientific method to answer questions that the scientific method was not design to answer. An example of scientism would be the statement that “science reveals that we live in a universe that has no ultimate cause and that has no purpose, values or objective morality.” A theist would obviously disagree with these statements and would argue that science reveals no such thing, because the scientific method cannot be applied to determine whether reality includes the supernatural. The question of whether God exists and whether the life has any meaning or purpose are metaphysical questions rather than scientific questions and cannot be answered one way or the other solely by an appeal to scientific evidence.

    A similar example, are statements made by Jerry Coyne that science reveals that we have “no free will” To support this position, he argues that:

    “Your brain and body, the vehicles that make “choices,” are composed of molecules, and the arrangement of those molecules is entirely determined by your genes and your environment. Your decisions result from molecular-based electrical impulses and chemical substances transmitted from one brain cell to another. These molecules must obey the laws of physics, so the outputs of our brain—our “choices”—are dictated by those laws.” http://chronicle.com/article/Jerry-A-Coyne/131165/

    Mr. Coyne might reasonably believe this statement is true, but he cannot reasonably assert that it science that compels his conclusions. He cannot reach this conclusion without first addressing the arguments put forth by many philosophers of the mind who make metaphysical argument that the human mind exhibits many undeniable properties that cannot in principle be reduced to physical explanations. Moreover, most theists would disagree with Coyne’s statement and assert that human beings are created in the image of God and have a soul that can exercise libertarian free will outside the constraints of the laws of physics. Coyne may, of course, disagree that the theists have a correct view of reality, but to do so he must appeal to metaphysical arguments, not scientific arguments. In his statement quoted above, Coyne assumes without argument that his metaphysical view of reality is true (i.e. philosophical materialism)

    It is helpful to clarify that scientism is not that scientists express opinions outside of the field of science. They like anyone are entitled to express their own viewpoints. Scientism becomes the problem when the scientist state that science has determined something to be true that is in principle outside the scope of what science can determine.

  39. YOS, quote “they belonged to the last generation of scientists to receive a well-rounded education. Not coincidentally, that was the generation of scientists that overturned the world”. I doubt if this correlation is causal. You surely don’t expect the world to be overturned every generation. After the low hanging fruit is picked it becomes more and more difficult, and people turn to epidemiology. 🙂

    The “amateurishness” comment I can agree with and Dawkins should be more careful, but I don’t see much in the way of correcting elementary errors by his opponents. It is mostly anger and name calling.

    An aside: I am not familiar with the Laplace-Lagrange debate. Do you have a reference?

    Pauld, the first shall be last. Quote “one engages in scientism when attempts to apply the scientific method to answer questions that the scientific method was not design to answer”. There are two problems with this statement. There is no single well-defined scientific method and there is certainly no design procedure to create them. Therefore you can not claim that certain questions are out of bounds. This is very much like the expression that there are things that man was not meant to know. If you have a particular scientific method in mind please tell me what it is.

    Quote “scientism is the belief that science provides the only legitimate, objective source of knowledge about reality”. This is the turf war definition – the get off my lawn approach. Science, to be science, must proceed as if this is true or it can not be science, but to call this scientism is just name calling. Why should anyone outside of science care?

    Quote ““science reveals that we live in a universe that has no ultimate cause and that has no purpose, values or objective morality.” A theist would obviously disagree with these statements and would argue that science reveals no such thing”. Why should a theist disagree with this? The theist should take the position that beyond science there is the religious dimension and not debate the science at all. This is an example of religism (my word) and not scientism.

    Quote “cannot be answered one way or the other solely by an appeal to scientific evidence”. How do you know this?

    I will agree that there is insufficient evidence to resolve the free will debate at present, using either scientific or non-scientific means. Mr. Coyne may have simplified the question excessively but this is not an example of scientism simply because others disagree with him. I can not help but notice that you only require disagreement from one side and proof from the other.

    Final quote “Scientism becomes the problem when the scientist state that science has determined something to be true that is in principle outside the scope of what science can determine”. As I have said to YOS, why do you get to determine what is outside the scope of science?

  40. After the low hanging fruit is picked

    Maxwell, Einstein, Heisenberg, et al. were hardly picking low-hanging fruit.

    I don’t see much in the way of correcting elementary errors by [Dawkins’] opponents.

    Look further.

    I am not familiar with the Laplace-Lagrange debate. Do you have a reference?

    I ran across it in a collection essays by Pierre Duhem.

    There is no single well-defined scientific method […] Therefore you can not claim that certain questions are out of bounds.

    I’m going to go wild and suggest that pulling theories out of sacred texts is not a scientific method. In fact, I suspect all such methods at some point have to touch bases with empirical evidence. And they combine induction from observed facts with deductions from proposed theories. An example of a question that is beyond the bounds of science is “Whether SQRT(2) is irrational.” The methods of mathematics are distinct from those of the natural sciences and deal with entities that do not exist in nature.

    This is very much like the expression that there are things that man was not meant to know.

    It is only like it if what “man is not meant to know” is equivalent to “beyond the scope of natural science.” Such an equivalence amounts to “if science can’t do it, man cannot know it” is a nice formulation of scientism.

    Quote “scientism is the belief that science provides the only legitimate, objective source of knowledge about reality”. [But] Science, to be science, must proceed as if this is true or it can not be science

    So, some dude with test tubes and a particle accelerator will tell us if the David is a beautiful statue? He will tell us if the defendant had the necessary mens rea? He will tell us whether is it dulce et decorum pro patria mori?

    Quote “science reveals that we live in a universe that has no ultimate cause and that has no purpose, values or objective morality.” Why should a theist disagree with this? The theist should take the position that beyond science there is the religious dimension and not debate the science at all. This is an example of religism (my word) and not scientism.

    Agreement or disagreement ain’t in it. What measurements or tests did the scientist perform to discern the lack of purpose or ultimate cause? How much should an ultimate cause weigh that he was unable to detect it? You probably mean that most Modern scientists simply assume this; but it is well-known that an underlying assumption of a method cannot be a conclusion reached by that method. That is called “begging the question” or “circular argument.”

    Mr. Coyne may have simplified the question [of free will] excessively but this is not an example of scientism simply because others disagree with him.

    It’s an example of scientism because the object (the Will) is not a physical body and its freedom cannot even in principle be weighed, measured, or counted. The freedom of the will (liberum arbitrium) follows from the incompleteness of the intellect. I have never understood the anxiety of those who are determined to use their minds to prove that they do not have one.

    why do you get to determine what is outside the scope of science?

    If you define “science” broadly enough to encompass “military science,” “political science,” or the “sweet science” of boxing, this may be partly defensible. Theology is also a science under this Medieval usage, and so the question of the will’s freedom is determinable by a science; viz., theology. But if you mean what Moderns have meant — natural science, specifically — then you are talking about the measurement of objective properties of physical bodies. That’s not YOS, that’s Galileo, Descartes, Hume, and the rest of the revolutionaries and their successors. They specifically excluded “subjective properties” from the realm of scientific inquiry.

  41. YOS, round and round we go, but I suppose it is fun and helps to sharpen the intellect and hold back the ravishes of approaching old age. Of course Maxwell et al were picking low hanging fruit, fruit that had newly ripened after a hundred years of the industrial revolution. The glory years may come again but at the moment new discoveries are thin on the ground in physics (mixed metaphor). A similar comment was made by Le Fanu about medicine.

    Quotes “I’m going to go wild and suggest that pulling theories out of sacred texts is not a scientific method”. Here at last we agree. “The methods of mathematics are distinct from those of the natural sciences and deal with entities that do not exist in nature”. We have had this debate before, but they are not as distinct as you say. “David is a beautiful statue?” This is a limitation that you may want to be true, but the whys and hows of beauty have been well studied and science has as good a chance of understanding them as any other field. “How much should an ultimate cause weigh”. What an odd thing to say. There is no ultimate cause or purpose in the current scientific theories of the universe and it is not wrong to point that out. What our understanding in the future will be, who can say. If you want purpose you have to add it, but you shouldn’t call this another way of knowing and shout scientism. “The freedom of the will (liberum arbitrium) follows from the incompleteness of the intellect”. I got to see this.

  42. “David is a beautiful statue?” This is a limitation that you may want to be true, but the whys and hows of beauty have been well studied and science has as good a chance of understanding them as any other field.

    Science can study the dimensions of the David. Can weigh it, measure its Rockwell hardness. It can measure the proportions, and so on. But that it is a beautiful statue must be a given. The scientific method talks about mass, duration, length, candlepower, current, temperature, or moles of substance and it is not clear which of these apply to beauty. The alternative of course is to measure the mass, duration, length, candlepower, current, temperature, or moles of substance of the David and declare that those define its beauty, much as modern phrenologists measure fMRIs and declare the bright spots to be “thoughts.”

    There is no ultimate cause or purpose in the current scientific theories of the universe and it is not wrong to point that out.

    But that is an assumption, not a conclusion of the scientific methods. You are thus yourself pointing out a non-scientific proposition. If an ultimate cause of the universe (UCU) were discernible to scientific methods, then it would have mass, duration, length, candlepower, current, temperature, or moles of substance. Hence, my question of how much the UCU would weigh.

    “The freedom of the will (liberum arbitrium) follows from the incompleteness of the intellect”. I got to see this.

    1. The will is the intellective appetite, analogous to the emotions (which are the sensitive appetites). That is, the will is a “hunger” for the products of the intellect (concepts) just as the emotions are hungers for the products of the senses (percepts).
    2. It is impossible to desire (hunger for) that which you do not know.
    3. Therefore, to the extent that your knowledge is incomplete, your will is not determined to one particular thing.

    Example: In the expression “2+2=4” (the symbols having their usual meaning) our knowledge is complete and so our wills are completely determined toward it. The will cannot withhold its consent. However, “world peace” is known only inchoately and incompletely. Of what exactly does it consist? What are the steps required to achieve it? Therefore, the will is not determined to this or that course of action. There are “degrees of freedom” (or “play” to use the engineering term).

    *Liberum arbitrium is better translated as “free judgment”.

  43. YOS, the beauty is in the proportions. This has great predictive power. Is the ultimate cause or purpose of the universe discernible by any method? Your free will proof looks a lot like an ontological argument and as such could be used to prove anything.

  44. the beauty is in the proportions. This has great predictive power.

    And the meaning of a word is in the squiggles of the ink. Sure. Predictive power requires only correlation; but did Michelangelo use those proportions because he sought beauty or did he achieve beauty because he used those proportions? “X is beautiful” AND “X has these proportions” ≠ “beautiful≡these proportions.” Would the David be just as beautiful of those same proportions had been achieved by molding chopped liver into the same shape?

    Is the ultimate cause or purpose of the universe discernible by any method?

    “Universe” is an abstraction, not a thing. Asking for its “cause” is like asking for the “cause” of the Scotianaples, which is the mereological sum of Scotian and the city of Naples. A set exists insofar as its members individually have existence.

    Much also depends on the meaning of “discernable.” Or “ultimate.” But that an ultimate cause might not be discerned by scientific means can be seen by measuring all the components of a jet engine. In no way will these measurements reveal the existence of Frank Whittle.

    Your free will proof looks a lot like an ontological argument and as such could be used to prove anything.

    It’s not; so it can’t. It’s a simple modus ponens that follows from the nature of the will as an appetite, and its subordination to the intellect. I don’t see where it can be used to prove “anything”. Can it prove the delicious smack of Schafer’s Bologna.
    http://leidys.com/bologna/schafer-bologna-alderfer-s-schafer-style-beef-bologna

  45. I agree with much of what yos has said in my defense, although his argument for the existence of an immaterial will is one with which I am not familiar and one I would need to ponder before rendering an opinion. 🙂

    I think that we can all agree that science is based on the assumption that the only thing that exists is matter or energy; that all things are composed of material and all phenomena are the result of material interactions.

    I think that yos is exactly correct that one cannot use science to prove that this assumption is true. It is a useful assumption to make when studying material things and when seeking natural explanations for what we observe in the physical world.

    However, since science assumes but cannot prove that matter and energy are all that exists, this would suggest an absolute boundary for any scientific method. Science is not useful in principle for answering questions involving the supernatural such as ‘does God exist?’

    On another point I am not suggesting that Mr Coyne must disprove the position of those who disagree with him. I am merely suggesting that if he wants to argue for the position that humans have no free will he should at least engage the arguments of serious philosophers who disagree. He does not. He simlpy assumes that philosphical materialism is true. Given this assumption it reasonably follows that libertarian free will is not possible or at least not explicable given our current knowledge

  46. YOS & pauld,

    “Can it prove the delicious smack of Schafer’s Bologna”. Of course.

    1. The delicious smack is the intellective appetite, analogous to the taste of Schafer’s Bologna which is the sensitive appetite. That is, the will is a “hunger” for the product of the intellect (smack) just as the emotion is the hunger for the product of the senses (taste).
    2. It is impossible to desire (hunger for) that which you do not know.
    3. Therefore, the delicious smack of Schafer’s Bologna must exist.

    I detect a tendency to make your non-scientific alternatives so vague and slippery in order to exclude scientific analysis that they are becoming indistinguishable from non-existence. I can understand a separation of techniques across intellectual disciplines and even fideism but not this.

  47. 1. The delicious smack is the intellective appetite, analogous to the taste of Schafer’s Bologna which is the sensitive appetite. That is, the will is a “hunger” for the product of the intellect (smack) just as the emotion is the hunger for the product of the senses (taste).
    2. It is impossible to desire (hunger for) that which you do not know.
    3. Therefore, the delicious smack of Schafer’s Bologna must exist.

    ?

  48. “I detect a tendency to make your non-scientific alternatives so vague and slippery in order to exclude scientific analysis that they are becoming indistinguishable from non-existence. I can understand a separation of techniques across intellectual disciplines and even fideism but not this.”

    What you describe is simply the limits of discussing metaphysics in comment boxes. If you want an example of a dualist’s metaphysical arguments for an immaterial mind I would suggest as a readable intoduction Edward Fraser’s book, The Philosophy of the Mind

  49. If your not interested in reading a book, Edward Feser’s blog is a good place to start as it includes many posts on mind/body issues. See http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/ . Mr. Feser provides here (http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/08/fodors-trinity.html )what I think is a nice thumbnail sketch of the current mind/body issues in the philosophy of the mind relating the positions of dualists and materialists:

    “When light strikes your retinas, a complex series of neural processes is initiated which may result in one of a range of possible behaviors – taking steps to avoid an obstacle, sorting red apples from green ones, or saying “It’s sunny outside.” When light strikes an “electric eye” or photodetector of some sort, electrical processes are initiated which also may result in one among a range of possible behaviors – the setting off on an alarm, for example, or, if the device is associated with a robot, perhaps behavior similar to the sort you might exhibit, such as avoiding an obstacle, sorting objects, or declaring (through a speech synthesizer) that it is sunny. Now, in the case of the electric eye and its associated robot, what we can observe going on in the system is presumably all there is. The system has no “inner life” or conscious visual experience associated with the electrical activity and behavior. But we do have conscious awareness; we do have an “inner life.” There is “something it is like” for us to see things, whereas there is nothing it is like for the robot to “see” something. Or as contemporary philosophers like to say, we have qualia while the robot appears not to. So, what accounts for this difference? It does not seem plausible to hold that it can be accounted for merely in terms of the greater complexity of the human brain, because the difference between conscious systems and unconscious ones seems clearly to be a difference in quality and not merely of quantity. This is the problem of consciousness.”

    “Then there is the problem of intentionality, which concerns, not just intentions, but meaning in general. (The technical term “intentionality” derives from the Latin intendere, which means “to point at” or “to aim at,” as a word or thought points to or aims at the thing that it means.) Suppose we say that within the robot of our example there is a symbolic representation that means that it is sunny outside. Though the representation has this meaning, it has it only because the designers of the robot programmed the system so that it would be able to detect weather conditions and the like. The electrical processes and physical parts of the system would have had no meaning at all otherwise. By contrast, the thoughts of the designers themselves have meaning without anyone having to impart it to them. As John Searle has put it, the robot’s symbolic representations – like words, sentences, and symbols in general – have only derived intentionality, while human thought has original or intrinsic intentionality. What can account for the difference, especially if we assume that human beings are no less material than robots? That, in a nutshell, is the problem of intentionality.”

    “Consider also that we are able not only to have individual meaningful thought episodes, but also to infer to further thoughts, to go from one thought to another in a rational way. This is not merely a matter of one thought causing another; a lunatic might be caused to conclude that mobsters are trying to kill him every time he judges that it is sunny outside, but such a thought process would not be rational. Rather, we are able to go from one thought to another in accordance with the laws of logic. Now, it might seem that the robot of our example, and computers generally, can do the same thing insofar as we can program them to carry out mathematical operations and the like. But of course, we have had to program them to do this. We have had to assign a certain interpretation to the otherwise meaningless symbolic representations we have decided to count as the “premises” and “conclusion” of a given inference the machine is to carry out, and we have had to design its internal processes in such a way that there is an isomorphism between them and the patterns of reasoning studied by logicians. But no one has to assign meaning to our mental processes in order for them to count as logical. So, what accounts for the difference? How are we able to go from one thought to another in accordance, not just with physical causal laws, but in accordance with the laws of logic? That is the problem of rationality.”

    “Most contemporary philosophers of mind would, I think, agree with Fodor that this trinity of issues constitutes the mind-body problem, and I think they would also more or less agree with my statement of the problems. They do not necessarily agree about how difficult the problems are. Of the three, the problem of rationality seems to get the least attention from contemporary philosophers. Fodor himself thinks that this problem is the one contemporary philosophers have most plausibly been able to solve in a way that vindicates materialism, and that they have done so (contrary to what my statement of the problem suggests) precisely by thinking of rational thought processes as computational processes over formal symbols encoded in the brain. Most other contemporary philosophers of mind seem to agree with Fodor about this much, though there are prominent dissenters, such as Searle, Dreyfus, and defenders of the anti-materialist “argument from reason.” The greatest of the ancient and medieval philosophers would have sided with the dissenters; for Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, et al., rationality was the aspect of human nature that could not possibly involve a material organ. (We will come back to this point.)”

    “Contemporary philosophers, by contrast, are obsessed with the problem of consciousness, and in particular with “qualia” – something you do not see the ancients and medievals worrying about at all, certainly not as something that pointed to any immaterial aspect of human nature. Fodor, like many other contemporary philosophers of mind, regards this as “the hard problem” for materialism. The problem of intentionality also gets a lot of attention from contemporary philosophers. My sense is that in general they tend to find it more challenging than the problem of rationality but not as challenging as the problem of consciousness. My own view is that, at least as contemporary philosophers tend to understand the problem, it is in fact as great or even greater a difficulty for materialism than the problem of consciousness is. The ancients and medievals would, I think, have agreed, though they would have regarded the problem as pointing to an immaterial aspect of human nature only to the extent that it overlaps with the problem of rationality.”

    This is at best a thumbnail sketch of the issues. If you want a more complete elaboration of the issues, as well as the arguments and counter-arguments between the dualists and materialists, you will need a book such as the one I suggested.

  50. Pauld,

    Click on the Classic Posts above, then search for our extensive review of Feser’s book. See also today’s links.

  51. Pauld, as Briggs says you may be new here and not realize that we have covered Feser extensively in the past and I made my position quite clear at the time. I was not impressed.

    YOS, you’re no fun.

    As a compromise I might suggest that we define as scholarism the inappropriate extension of the techniques of one discipline into another, since I do not believe that there is anything peculiar to science in this regard. But on second thought I reject that as well. It has too much of the medieval guild about it. Ultimately all that matters is truth/falseness, success/failure, or what have you as appropriate to the matter at hand and there should be no restrictions passed down from on high.

  52. Ultimately all that matters is truth/falseness, success/failure, or what have you as appropriate to the matter at hand and there should be no restrictions passed down from on high.

    Truly. But success really is contingent on using the right tools for the right job. One may hammer a screw into place, but it will not hold as a screw. You may whack a nail with the handle of a screwdriver, but you will not seat the nail in a satisfactory manner. The work will not be true, i.e., “trustworthy.” The limitation is not “handed down from on high” that a saw is inappropriate for planing wood smooth, or that a plane will not cut boards to length. The limitations are inherent in the nature of the instruments.

    In similar wise, the methods of chemistry will not split the atom and the methods of biology will not refine petroleum. More broadly, the methods of natural science in general will not address mathematical or metaphysical questions. And again, these limitations are not “handed down from on high” but are inherent the definitions of the methods. [define (v.) via Old French from Latin de- “completely” + finire “to bound, limit,” from finis “boundary, end”

    Truly, to insist that the methods of natural science are unlimited in scope seems an odd way to deny that scientism exists.

  53. YOS “the methods of chemistry will not split the atom”. The methods of physics and chemistry are not so easily separated and there is a great deal of overlap. Do you think that when I do research I worry about where the boundary lies? There is no boundary, although it may appear that there is when viewed from a great distance. This is an excellent example of the point that I have been making all along. My research has always been in the chemical-physics physical-chemistry area and I don’t even think about it. I have publications in physics journals, chemistry journals, and journals of mixed providence.

    “to insist that the methods of natural science are unlimited in scope”. No one, to my knowledge, has ever said such a foolish thing – certainly not I. Read carefully what I say and see that my main complaint has always been to deny the right of anyone or any philosophy to a priori set specific and rigid limits to scientific (or human) inquiry.

    Briggs, a man has to have ambition but be careful not to set your goals too high. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_VrFV5r8cs0

  54. “Pauld, as Briggs says you may be new here and not realize that we have covered Feser extensively in the past and I made my position quite clear at the time. I was not impressed.”

    I did not cite Feser to fully endorse everything he says about metaphysics. As an amateur philosopher, I am not in a position to fully debate his entire metaphysical framework which is based primarily on the works of St. Thomas Aquinas. It might be completely defensible; it might not be. I agree with Feser to the extent that both he and I are theists. Beyond that I am not in a position to defend everything he says.

    From my perspective, I have quoted Feser simply to set out his clear description of the current debate within the philosophy of mind between the dualists and the materialists. His quote illustrates that there are at least three undeniable characteristics of the mind that do not neatly fit within a materialistic framework. A full describe the nature of these problems cannot be set out in a comment box. For that, I suggested you read his book where he more fully and I think fairly describes the back and forth arguments of the dualists and the materialists. I think it is fair to say that thoughtful “materialist” recognize that these are indeed unresolved problems for materialists. (e.g. Thomas Nagel, an atheist)

    But back to my main point, Coyne argues that we do not have free will because he cannot explain its existence within a materialistic framework; therefore, free will does not exist. I cite this as an example of “scientism” I.e. (If science cannot explain something, then it must not exist.)

    Coyne is free to maintain this position, but if he wants to argue in its favor, it is incumbent upon him to at least engage the arguments of those who disagree with him. He does not. He implicitly asserts without argument that “materialism” is true, an assumption that many philosophers would dispute. That is where the dispute lies, not whether free-will can exist, given the assumption that materialism is true.

    I agree with Feser that if materialism is true, then consciousness, intentionality, and rationality are impossible to explain, unless our current understanding of the nature of matter is deficient. I also agree with his position that it is impossible to coherently deny the existence of consciousness, intentionality and rationality.

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