Here are the slides from my presentation (May 17) at the Scientism workshop in NYC. (They’re sketchy since we were trying for 25-30 minutes.) Below them are some mini notes on some of the talks.
Firday, May 16 (pm): Carol Cleland argued that inference to possible worlds is the best explanation for how we commonly assign truth conditions to counterfactual conditionals, yet these are not reducible to empirical science. (Physicists seems perfectly happy with multiverses, unfortunately.) Noretta Koertge wonders why hard-headed Susan Haack is concerned to combat scientism, especially given that the general public seems “increasingly reluctant to employ even the simplest principles of scientific reasoning”. Koertge certainly agrees that we should avoid faux trappings of science, but thinks philosophers of science should lean more closely to the side of the sciences, rather than the science-doubters. I suggested in the discussion that I thought Haack was concerned (among other things) with overreliance on quantified science in judicial rulings on expertise (e.g., applications of Daubert), when it might seem preferable to use a more qualified, flexible sense of “weight of evidence”. (My own view is that judges should study “statistics in the law,” as taught, for example, by Nate Schachtman, who attended my talk.[i]) Tom Nickles argued against scientism viewed as strong scientific realism because it downplays or ignores historical dependencies of science, and tends to assume context-free “end-of-history” conclusions. (I share Nickles’ preference for a philosophy and history (PHS) perspective, which I like better than HPS, but I find that strong scientistic arguments are generally non-realist, if not radically instrumentalist, if only because arguments for realism are philosophical and not purely scientific.) Rik Peels argued against the kind of scientism that says only the natural sciences provide reliable knowledge (“epistemological scientism”) by questioning several empirical arguments purporting to show that introspection is not a reliable source of knowledge. (I think the upshot, going by his blurb, was that “epistemological scientism about introspection as a common sense source of knowledge should be rejected”.) Saturday, May 17: Massimo Pigliucci said that scientistic types harken back to extreme, naïve logical positivism, and I agree (compare with Nickles above). I agree as well on the importance of demarcation projects (see my slides above). He discussed, as did the next talk by Justin Kalef, the way the “is/ought” distinction argues against reducing value questions to science, especially in the land of ethical judgments. (The reductionists like to argue that since “human flourishing” is a factual matter, we can answer even ethical questions scientifically. My problem is that for any non-trivial question, these applications are invariably imbued with ideology; so they fail on methodological grounds. Admittedly, almost all of the meta-ethical philosophers I know are naturalists of some sort, which for some reason always strikes me as kind of a cop out.) Moti Mizrahi said that if you object to defenses of scientific induction on grounds of circularity, then you should realize that even modes ponens is defended circularly. (My own view is that inductive accounts that must be defended circularly are not worth defending.) Don Ross argued that the tendency of economists like Leamer to deny economics is a science is based on “the fact that economists do not produce timeless generalizations” like the physicists do, but Ross thinks such economists are assuming a wrong-headed view of science. (Is this really a “rhetoric of modesty” as he claims, as opposed to a way to deflect blame for their lack of clear policy guidance, especially in the past decade? There was a lot more to his rich paper, which I will study more carefully later on. That goes for the other papers as well.) Mariam Thalos argued that if we view science as theoretical reasoning, searching for truth, as distinct from practical reasoning and common sense, then there should be no concern about science encroaching on any area. (But if one requires this distinction, isn’t one back to an anti-scientism position, reflecting concerns about science encroachments similar to those arising from the is/ought distinction? I agree with Thalos that anyone worried about scienticism should care to identify demarcation of science, in contrast to what Haack apparently suggests.)
[i]Schachtman has often been at odds with Haack on legal points,judging from his blog (see [ii]). I am not familiar with those cases. I have my own disagreement with him on the Harkonen case, and in this connection I found it interesting that the audience laughed when I mentioned the Supreme Court turning down Harkonen’s appeal on grounds of free speech. Search this blog under Harkonen for details.
[ii] See for example: http://schachtmanlaw.com/haacks-holism-vs-too-much-of-nothing/ I entirely agree with Haack’s anti-probabilism, as readers to this blog know: http://schachtmanlaw.com/haack-attack-on-legal-probabilism/