About Me

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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019); AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021); and HOW WE BECAME POST-LIBERAL: THE RISE AND FALL OF TOLERATION (2024).

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Currently writing ...

... a piece about scientism that is getting too long. Although I think the situation with allegations of scientism is simple enough in principle, I see so much confusion around that it's hard even to know where to start in trying to clear it up.

Oh well, this thread over at Jason Rosenhouse's place is interesting, intellectually rich, very long, sometimes, heated, and still continuing. I find myself nodding along at Richard Wein's comments in particular, but a lot of people are making strong arguments for their various corners.

And so, again, although my approach to this is fairly simple (you don't have to believe anything contrived or overreaching about the nature of science to conclude that spooky ways of knowing are unreliable, and to realise that both the sciences and the humanities tend to undermine religion), sorting out all the issues could take a book. Unfortunately, books on that subject tend to get written mainly by religious apologists and accommodationists.


K said...

I wonder how much there is a disagreement in application of various forms of knowledge (is science being applied incorrectly), and how much of it is just bickering over what constitutes "science".

Russell Blackford said...

Arguably I'm doing that myself. :)

But I do think that some of my friends and allies act at times ... I dunno, almost as if they need to defend the honour of science by slapping down any idea that the it is not the whole story about how we identify true propositions.

I think that can end up just looking contrived, and it can also cause totally unnecessary aggro as when there was a hostile response over on RD.net to a light-hearted post that I wrote about various things that I know through means that are not especially scientific.

I can't remember what the examples were now, but one example might be that the play Macbeth has a character called "Macbeth". No one should freak out that you can discover things like that without using a scientific methodology, but some folks actually did get cross about such examples. In another case on Jerry Coyne's blog one commenter was upset at the idea that someone who is skilled in Shakespearean English (and perhaps I should have added in English prosody) might thereby be able to work out how to say a line from a Shakespeare play without using any scientific methodology. He or she recommended that we instead do some sort of sociological study to work out what way of saying the line is most pleasing to an audience.

I think there's a great story to be told about what's so great about science without getting too hung about wanting to extend science to cover anything meaningful that is done in the humanities. There's a great story about what's so great about rational inquiry in general - both science and the humanities.

There's also a story to tell about why the sciences and the humanities are continuous with each other and can draw on each other. We distinguish them for perfectly good practical purposes (particularly pedagogical ones) that should not simply be brushed aside, but they are not totally alien to each other. Where we put the boundary between them is, to some extent, arbitrary and dependent on our particular purposes.

Again, though, telling this story properly would take a whole book, and I'm not sure that that's the next book I want to write.

Russell Blackford said...

And off it goes! I've just submitted the piece after spending the last few days working on it whenever I could. Hopefully it will see the light of day in a few months' time.