Wednesday, June 27, 2018

The Future of Philosophy, the Seduction of Scientism
Susan Haack
[Susan Haack is a highly respected philosopher specializing in philosophy of logic, epistemology and philosophy of science. Emphasis is mine. ]
Science is certainly a good thing .But, of course, it’s not a perfectly
good thing, much less the only good thing, or even the only legitimate form of inquiry. It’
Is a human enterprise and, like all human enterprises, fallible, imperfect, and incomplete; moreover, there are many legitimate questions beyond its scope. The sciences have achieved remarkable things; but we shouldn’t allow respect for those remarkable achievements to transmute into uncritical deference to anything and everything bearing the label, “scientific”.
That is scientism. Of late, the scientism that now seems ubiquitous in our culture has come to threaten philosophy too. Self-styled “evolutionary philosophers” and “neuro- philosophers” try to colonize ethics, epistemology, and philosophy of mind; self-
styled “experimental philosophers” try to squeeze substantial philosophical results out of psychological surveys; “radically naturalistic”
Metaphysicians urge that the sciences hold exclusive authority on all legitimate empirical questions; and evangelical atheists claim that physics fixes all the facts, so that values
ethical, political, legal, aesthetic,  epistemological, etc.
can be nothing but illusion. But scientistic philosophy is badly flawed: at best, it ducks or flubs key philosophical questions; at worst, it undermines the very science on which it relies, by denying the legitimacy of standards of better and worse evidence or the reality of the human capacities necessary for the scientific enterprise to be even possible. Why, then, has it proven so attractive to so many? A key part of the explanation seems to be
an inchoate sense that something’s badly amiss with our discipline, that we can’t just go on with philosophical business-as-usual. And, indeed, something is rotten in the state of philosophy: the discipline becomes every day more specialized, more fragmented into cliques, niches, cartels, and fiefdoms, and more determinedly forgetful of its own history. More and more journals are crammed with more and more unread  and all too often, unreadable articles about what X said about Y’s interpretation of Z’s response to W. Anyone with enough frequent -flyer miles to upgrade to publication-by-invitation is relieved to bypass a relentlessly conventional peer-review process often crippled by tunnel-vision, cronyism, and self-promotion. I won’t even mention the decades of over-production of Ph.D.s, or the disastrous effects of that horrible, and horribly corrupting, “ranking” of philosophy graduate programs.
Combine this with the fact that the neo-analytic philosophical establishment, though institutionally still pretty firmly entrenched, seems close to intellectual exhaustion, and
it’s certainly no wonder that many are bored and restive, casting around for something
new; and no wonder, either, that we’re beset by passing fads and fashions—
prominent among them the scientistic fads and fashions. Unfortunately, far from solving the problems of our profession, this hydra-headed scientism makes things, not better, but worse; it seems to offer quick and easy solutions to long-standing, knotty problems, but in the end it is nothing but a confession of philosophical failure. None of this is very surprising. For, these days, almost everything about the way universities are organized conspires against the spirit of serious inquiry. The professional administrators who now manage universities stress productivity, the need for everyone to be research-active, and above all, anything and everything that could possibly be described as “prestigious”……

Excerpted and adapted from Susan Haack,
Scientism and Its Discontents
(2017),downloadable free at University of Chicago Press,1998),188-208