on December 23, 2014
"Scientism: Philosophy and the Infatuation With Science" by Tom Sorrell. Routledge, London and New York; (c)1991, hardcover, 206 pages.
In response to the questions "Do you think science is more good than bad?" and "Will tomorrow be better than today?", the housewife from the Eisenhower era saw science as mostly good and the future as better. Today, most households polled see science more bad than good, and would prefer to freeze time─no more "advancement." Anti-science is the philosophy of the U.S. common man and at science conferences, I hear some colleagues cautioning: "Science is only one way of knowing"---a minor way by their tone.
Tom Sorrell's book is not blue-collar anti-science; he attacks with great intellectual rigor "scientism" as "a matter of putting too high a value on science in comparison with other branches of learning or culture." He disputes Nehru's statement that "The future belongs to science and those who make friends with science." And he provides a rigorous dissection of five claims about science: it is unified; there are no limits to science; science has been enormously successful at prediction, explanation and control; the methods of science confer objectivity on scientific results; and science has been beneficial for human beings.
His philosophical arguments require a close acquaintance with Kant and Bacon. He concludes "It will be clear that according to me scientism in philosophy is something to be combatted; at one time I should have said the same thing about scientism outside philosophy as well. But in the wider world, critics of scientism run the risk of helping those who are simply anti-science, or who peddle supposed `alternative' science, such as `creation science.' It may be that with all this to contend with, genuine science needs the support of scientistic rhetoric to keep it ahead of the competition."
Supposedly, a science teacher can be an enthusiastic advocate of science in order to oppose shallow anti-science, but in the end, Sorrell contends we are philosophically bankrupt! This is hardly the case, but if we don't read the opposition, our own position will be weak and hard to defend. A science teacher should not read this book as a first venture into philosophy, without having pursued some broader study of philosophy. Most scientists indeed are not heavy into philosophy and work as "logical positivists" although philosophers have concluded that logical positivism is untenable.
However, "scientism" also refers to the inappropriate application of science methods to all realms of human behavior outside of natural phenomena, such as the solving of problems in human relationships or the value fo money. That type of scientism, can be found in recent books such as "Solving Everyday Problems with the Scientific Method: Thinking Like a Scientist"...see Amazon.com reviews.