Contra Sola Scientia

James Chastek, commenting on a debate between James Ladyman and Raymond Tallis on ‘Human Nature is Better Understood through Science than Philosophical and Artistic Reflection’ makes four important points when critiquing the scientism of Ladyman: firstly, that “Science, philosophy, and art are not more or less perfect instances of one method“; and secondly, “Science” lacks sufficient definition to divide itself from its own philosophical bases”. But it is his third and fourth point that are worth extracting in full. He writes:

3.) Human thought is not a process in search of an ideal method, but an exitus-reditus structure of mutually ecstatic modes of knowing. The sola scientia movement is part of a larger mistake that takes the unity of the mind to require a unity of method in reasoning, as though reasoning were like a golf-swing or producing a tire and could be done by some maximally efficient single method. But human thought arises from one type of knowledge before leaving it to return to it again: we start from insights, develop them through reasons, and then use the reasons as confirmations or developments of the insights. Again, we need theories in which various things can appear as facts, and facts which can be used as support for theories; we need paradigms that can order masses of data and experience and experience and data that can be the basis of seeing the paradigm. Science does not start from a hypothesis as though from some randomly asserted claim made with no insight, but from a partial insight that works its way back to my confirmation or denial. This partial insight which starts and completes the scientific process is itself a part of a larger whole which both gives rise to science and which science serves to flesh out and confirm. All this leads to the main point, which is

4.) The sola scientia movement entirely overlooks wisdom while always speaking from within an instance or corruption of it.  Wisdom and science are fundamentally different sorts of knowledge, and philosophy and art are above all advances or corruptions of wisdom. We entirely miss the character of philosophy or art when we want them to achieve widespread consensus, to be acknowledged by many, and so to have the “successful track record” of explanation that science is supposed to have.** No one has ever assumed that wisdom could be common or widespread; nor for that matter do we expect the same of good taste, and for the same reason.*** Wisdom has no savants that can shortcut around long experience, and the arguments in its favor are not things that first-timers can divide from the objections to it. There are no wisdom algorithms or universal methods. Wisdom and science are rather the fundamental elements of the mind’s exitus-reditus. Both wisdom and science are ecstatic into each other: wisdom seeks to go outside of itself in search of concretion, detail, consensus; science seeks to go outside of itself in search of transcendental foundations but can only do so by leaving the very concretion, detail, and consensus that drives wisdom to it.

h/t: Ed Feser

As an aside, Ladyman in the video refers to the example of Aristotle as the quintessential arm-chair philosopher by referring to his error in claiming that men have more teeth than woman, but the assertion that this mistake evinces Aristotle’s non-empirical approach is exploded when we observe what Aristotle wrote:

”Males have more teeth than females in the case of men, sheep, goats, and swine; in the case of other animals observations have not yet been made.

These are hardly the words of a philosopher opposed to, or uninterested in, science or observations of the natural world, but it’s always instructive to see someone repeat an error of this sort on the word of another philosopher he was reading while in his arm-chair.

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