Professional Philosophy, Scientism, and Frankenscience.

An edgy essay by Z

Originally published 10 December 2015: Re-Edited December 2017.

The truly apocalyptic view of the world is that things do not repeat themselves. It isn‘t absurd, e.g., to believe that the age of science and technology is the beginning of the end for humanity; the idea of great progress is a delusion, along with the idea that the truth will ultimately be known; that there is nothing good or desirable about scientific knowledge and that mankind, in seeking it, is falling into a trap. It is by no means obvious that this is not how things are. (L. Wittgenstein, Culture and Value, trans. P. Winch (Chicago, IL: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1980), p. 56e)

1. By scientism, I mean the four-part philosophical ideology consisting of:

(i) scientific naturalism as a metaphysical thesis, namely reductive or non-reductive physicalism, plus universal natural mechanism (= everything is either naturally deterministic or naturally indeterministic, but in any case necessarily causally fixed by the general causal laws of nature, especially including the Conservation Laws, together with all the settled quantity-of-matter-or-energy facts about the past, and also Turing-computable from that nomological/factual base),

(ii) epistemic empiricism (whether classical empiricism, as per Locke, Hume, and Mill, or radical Quinean empiricism),

(iii) the Lockean epistemological “underlaborer” conception of the relation between natural science and philosophy,[i] such that philosophy is the underlaborer of the sciences, which is also re-affirmed in Wilfrid Sellars’s mid-20th century slogan that “science is the measure of all things,”[ii] and

(iv) the Baconian and Cartesian technocratic conception according to which, as natural scientists, we are “the lords and masters of nature.”[iii]

I call scientism a “philosophical ideology” as opposed to a “philosophical doctrine” or “philosophical thesis,” because scientism is never–or almost never–actually argued-for, only dogmatically asserted.

2. Contemporary professional academic philosophy is deeply scientistic.

My evidence for claim 2 consists in these four sources:

(i) an up-close-and-personal acquaintance with professional academic philosophy from 1980 onwards, together with

(ii) the 2009 PhilPapers Survey, whose results are summarized in David Bourget’s and David Chalmers’s 2014 Philosophical Studies article, “What Do Philosophers Believe?”

Here are the most directly relevant results of the Survey, by question number, and boldfaced result:

7. Free will: compatibilism 59.1%; libertarianism 13.7%; no free will 12.2%; other 14.9%.
8. God: atheism 72.8%; theism 14.6%; other 12.6%.
10. Knowledge: empiricism 35.0%; rationalism 27.8%; other 37.2%.
15. Metaphilosophy: naturalism 49.8%; non-naturalism 25.9%; other 24.3%.
16. Mind: physicalism 56.5%; non-physicalism 27.1%; other 16.4%.
25. Science: scientific realism 75.1%; scientific anti-realism 11.6%; other 13.3%.

(It’s true that professional philosophers will sometimes argue for compatibilism, atheism, empiricism, scientific naturalism, physicalism, and scientific realism.

But in all honesty, have you ever actually encountered, or heard of, or read about, a professional academic philosopher who ever seriously considered giving up any of these views in the face of even very strong arguments against them, or, upon serious reflection, ever actually gave up any of them?

No?

Well OK, maybe one or two, e.g., the later Putnam. But that’s only one or two out of thousands.)

(iii) Philip Kitcher’s influential 2012 article, “The Trouble with Scientism.”

(iv) Susan Haack’s important 2017 book, Scientism and its Discontents.

Therefore, contemporary professional academic philosophy is deeply scientistic.

3. By Frankenscience, I mean the deep, seemingly irreversible, and indeed hegemonic sociocultural/political and ideological connection between modern and contemporary natural science, the military-industrial complex, mastery-of-nature technology, global corporate capitalism in the post-Cold War age of neoliberalism, and the apocalyptic threat of permanent eco-disaster (whether by nuclear holocaust, biochemical holocaust, slow-moving global-warming-driven disasters, or whatever).[iv]

4. It seems self-evident that Frankenscience is profoundly bad, not only for people, other animals, and the rest of physical nature on Earth, but also, if compelling science-fiction scenarios such as that described in Stanislaw Lem’s amazing novel Fiasco were to come true, then also profoundly bad for alien people, alien animals, and alien ecosystems on other planets.

5. Now scientism either fully or at least significantly supports Frankenscience, and contemporary professional academic philosophy is deeply scientistic.

6. Therefore, contemporary professional academic philosophy, to that Frankenscientific extent, is profoundly bad too.

NOTES

[i] See J. Locke, Essay Concerning Human Understanding (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1975), “Epistle to the Reader.”

[ii] W. Sellars, “Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind,” in W. Sellars, Science, Perception, and Reality (New York: Humanities Press, 1963), pp. 127–196, at p. 173.

[iv] See, e.g., F. Bacon, Novum Organum, available online at URL =
<https://archive.org/stream/baconsnovumorgan00bacouoft#page/n3/mode/2up>; and R. Descartes, Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting One’s Reason and Seeking the Truth in the Sciences, in R. Descartes, The Philosophical Writings of Descartes, 2 vols., trans. J. Cottingham et al. (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1984), part 6, p. 142/AT VI, 62.

[v] See, e.g., B. Olivier, “Nature, Capitalism, and the Future of Humankind,” South African Journal of Philosophy 24 (2005): 121–135, available online at URL= <http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.4314/sajpem.v24i2.31420>.

***

AGAINST PROFESSIONAL PHILOSOPHY RETROSPECTIVE 52

W, X, Y, & Z, Wednesday 27 December 2017

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Formerly Captain Nemo. A not-so-very-angry, but still unemployed, full-time philosopher-nobody.

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