Science is, without a doubt, the most reliable way that human beings have to obtain knowledge, since it tries to demonstrate them empirically. However, it is not the only one: there are endless “truths”, such as human consciousness or possessing a soul that cannot be scientifically proven, but must be somewhere. Scientism definition
Well, there is a position that considers that anything that is not scientifically demonstrable is either an illusion or its existence is irrelevant: scientism . This position holds that only the scientific method is capable of providing us with pure and objective knowledge, and any other way should be ignored.
Below we will delve into this position, its use as a pejorative term, its origins and some scientific exponents.
What is scientism?
Scientism, also called scientism or scientism, is the belief that the scientific method can be applied to any problem of human knowledge, whether they are directly related to the positive sciences or not. This position starts from the idea that the scientific method is the only way that allows us to achieve knowledge in a pure and genuine way . It states that science is the only option available to obtain valid knowledge.
We can’t go on talking about scientism without talking a little bit about what positive science is. Positive science is one that is oriented to study an empirical reality, that is, based on experience, on facts. Experimentation makes it possible to confirm or refute a hypothesis and, based on the results, make interpretations about the phenomenon studied. Many natural sciences are considered positive, some examples being biology, mathematics, physics, and chemistry.
Due to its rather inflexible conception that science is yes or yes the only way to obtain valid knowledge, scientism has been a highly criticized and debated current, being outlined as a radical and extremist line of thought . In fact, the term “scientism” is used on many occasions as something pejorative, referring to an inappropriate use of scientific statements and using it as a criticism that there are aspects of science that interfere in religious, philosophical and metaphysical issues. . Scientism definition
A derogatory example of the term is when, for example, the theory of evolution is explained and some of the doctrine of creation questions the facts that are demonstrated in this theory, saying that there are things that science cannot prove and that they affirm that the human being is the product of millions of years of evolutionary adaptations is a scientistic position. It is quite common for the term to be used inappropriately, especially when science refutes a self-knowledge of some pseudoscience or fundamentalist doctrine.
It is important to note that scientism itself is neither a science nor a branch of knowledge, much less a set of scientific statements or demonstrations of facts , but a position, a philosophical position on how human knowledge should be obtained. Scientism consists of statements related to science and in favor of it as the only way to obtain knowledge, being related to epistemology, that is, the search and validation of knowledge.
The origins of scientism can be traced back to the times of the Enlightenment in the mid-sixteenth century with the scientific revolution experienced in Europe. It was a time when new sciences were emerging, including modern mathematics and physics, which used empirical methods, avoiding philosophical conceptions and metaphysical interpretations of reality.
This era was characterized by being the moment in which hundreds of scientific discoveries were made, discoveries that overthrew some of the most solid dogmas of religiosity and spirituality that until relatively recently, just a few centuries earlier during the Middle Ages, they were understood as unquestionable truths. Since religion erred on many issues, science began to impose itself as a new way of seeing the world, more grounded in facts. Scientism definition
As a result, between the 16th and 17th centuries science acquired a new way of being conceived. Nature, understood as the phenomena that occur in our reality, ceased to be seen under the vision that the Greeks had had, very mixed with philosophical conceptions, and gives rise to science understood in its most modern sense, which had a clear functionality in favor of the betterment of society.
Another aspect that contributed to changing the vision of nature has a lot to do with changes at the educational level. Abstract reasoning began to be seen as a new form of common sense, and nature came to be seen more as a mechanical entity , a perfectly calibrated machine, rather than an organism with a soul.
But the most important aspect of this era is the rise of experimentation and the consolidation of the scientific method. If one wondered about what a certain phenomenon was like, it was best to verify it empirically, answer the questions and theories that the scientist made by checking and obtaining facts. The new criterion for explaining the world did not focus on the why of things, a question typical of philosophical and Aristotelian thought until then, but on the how.
And it is in this context that the ideas that would give rise to scientism arise. For example, it was even affirmed that mathematics, as an exact and positive science that it was, could serve as a model of science that would serve others to conform themselves as sciences themselves. It is also at this time that the idea arises that any conception of reality that is not accessible through the scientific method cannot be considered important or is even nothing more than a mirage, a meaningless abstraction. Scientism definition
But despite the fact that the idea of scientism itself seems to emerge in the middle of the Enlightenment, the popularization of the term is much more recent, specifically at the beginning of the 20th century. Many consider that the merit of having spread this term belongs to the French philosopher of science and biologist Félix-Alexandre Le Dantec , in addition to being the one who associated scientism with empiricism and positivism and the use of the scientific method as the only valid way to demonstrate theories and find the truth.
Although the idea that the scientific method is the preferable way to obtain new knowledge, it can be said that the radical and extremist position that scientism implies has been diminishing since, in itself, it is nothing more than an arbitrary form of establish this method as something that is above any other process of obtaining knowledge, although these forms have also been effective.
The funny thing is that scientism has run into its greatest limitation in its own claim that experimental and empirical science is the only way to obtain objective knowledge. Based on this same argument, any idea or theory that comes from a scientistic stance would have to be subject to scientific experimentation to find any validity. If you claim that science is the only way to get valid knowledge, then you would have to prove it, which brings us into a paradox . Scientism definition
Another limitation of scientism is its argument that knowledge can only be achieved through empiricism, that is, through “physical”, factual experience. If a phenomenon or cause cannot be experienced then its existence should be denied according to this view. However, it really could happen that experience tells us that there are certain issues that cannot be grasped by experimentation, but that does not mean that they do not exist.
For example, the idea of consciousness . Many thinkers with a scientific vision consider living beings as machines whose operation does not depend on any metaphysical entity such as the soul, since as it has not been possible to extract or analyze such a thing experimentally, that subjective experience could not exist. In this way, scientism “invalidates” the concept of mind understood as a subjective entity, a properly human idea.
Basically, any scientist who says that only the scientific method is capable of proving knowledge as true can be considered a scientist. However, we can highlight two great thinkers who consider themselves scientist and talk about their perspectives in particular.
Mario Bunge (1919-2020)
Mario Bunge was a philosopher, scientist and physicist of Argentine origin whose perspectives could be considered scientist , being one of the best known defenders of these ideas in contemporary times. In his book “In Praise of Scientism” he affirmed that this position represents a preferable alternative to the humanist one, since science is capable of giving more results.
According to Bunge , humanism grants alternatives based on tradition, hunches and trial and error, while the more purely empirical science allows obtaining objective truths . In addition, he stressed that science has the ability to grow exponentially through what he called “positive feedback”, a process that allows the results of a scientific procedure to be reused for new experiments. Scientism definition
Nicolas de Condorcet (1743-1794)
Marie-Jean-Antoine Nicolas de Caritat, Marquis de Condorcet, was a French mathematician and philosopher whose works were closely related to highly debated issues in the Enlightenment, including politics, morals, and economics.
In his writings he spoke of progress within the world of science and stated that it contributed to progress in other sciences related to morals and politics, less empirical aspects. He considered that evil within a society was the result of ignorance .
Conclusions on scientism
Scientism is the philosophical position around science that defends that the scientific method is the only way to bring valid knowledge. This position values the natural sciences above the other disciplines. Although she is in favor of the scientific method and is an advocate of science, her claims, in themselves, are not scientific.
Its purpose is to promote the scientific method as the only way to obtain knowledge, otherwise such knowledge should not be taken into account .
Its origin is related to the birth of modern and positive sciences between the 16th and 17th centuries, within the framework of the Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution. Being a time when religion ceased to have so much weight when many beliefs were shown to be false, the idea began to flourish that any explanation from the spiritual, metaphysical and religious, if it was not empirically demonstrable, should be rejected. Scientism definition