Paper: Scientism and liberal naturalism

by Massimo Pigliucci

[Part of an occasional series presenting academic papers I have published but that may be of general interest. Full list with links here.]

Liberal naturalism as understood within the context of this volume is an approach that attempts to strike a reasonable balance between a philosophy that is simply a handmaiden to the natural sciences and one that rejects them. While relatively new on the modern philosophical stage, liberal naturalism builds on a long tradition in philosophy, one that loosely connects Aristotle, Spinoza, Hume, Kant and Quine, among others, without necessarily agreeing in full with any of the views put forth by those thinkers.2 As such, liberal naturalism squarely puts itself at odds with the emerging phenomenon of scientism, to which this chapter is dedicated.

Here I will (1) discuss what scientism is, (2) provide a few examples of it, (3) explore some excesses on the other side of the debate, where “scientism” is used as a generic (and unwarranted) trump card to defend irrational or antirational views; (4) connect scientism to our conceptions of what science itself is and then (5) adopt a more organic view of the relationship between science and the humanities, with particular reference to philosophy, based on the much underappreciated framework proposed in mid-twentieth century by Wilfrid Sellars and his “stereoscopic” view of what he called the scientific and the manifest images of the world. I will suggest that, just as Sellars himself envisioned (and contra some of his own disciples, both those of the so-called “right wing” and those of the so-called “left-wing”), it is a major and crucial task of philosophy to continually monitor and negotiate our conceptualization of the relationship between the two images. …

[From: The Routledge Handbook of Liberal Naturalism, edited by Mario De Caro & David Macarthur, Routledge, 2022. You can ask for a free reprint by using this Contact Form.]

2 Comments

  1. I have only come across Sellars twice, once here and once in a passing reference in one of your other articles, but would like to hear a lot more about his work, since the tension between manifest and scientific views of the world seems central to such important matters as causation (as in Russell’s rejection of the concept) and hence agency, the nature of time, free will, qualia (I know that you regard that as a pseudo-problem), and the status of contrafactual hypotheticals

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