The charge levelled at the New Godless is that, with their rigorous reasoning, testing and experimentation, they are making a religion out of the scientific method. “It’s an all-purpose, wild-card smear,” retorts Dennett. “It’s the last refuge of the sceptic. When someone puts forward a scientific theory that they really don’t like, they just try to discredit it as ‘scientism’. But when it comes to facts, and explanations of facts, science is the only game in town.”
Tag Archive: scientism
But I should go even further and accuse at least some professional historians of ‘scientism’: of trying to copy the method of natural science, not as it actually is, but as it is wrongly alleged to be. This alleged but non-existent method is that of collecting observations and then ‘drawing conclusions’ from them. It is slavishly aped by some historians who believe that they can collect documentary evidence which, corresponding to the observations of natural science, forms the ’empirical basis’ for their conclusions. …
Worse even than the attempt to apply an inapplicable method is the worship of the idol of certain or infallible or authoritative knowledge which these historians mistake for the ideal of science. Admittedly, we all try hard to avoid error; and we ought to be sad if we have made a mistake. Yet to avoid error is a poor ideal: if we do not dare to tackle problems which are so difficult that error is almost unavoidable, then there will be no growth of knowledge. In fact, it is from our boldest theories, including those which are erroneous, that we learn most. Nobody is exempt from making mistakes; the great thing is to learn from them. 
Thus I oppose the attempt to proclaim the method of understanding as the characterisitic of the humanities, the mark by which we may distinguish them from the natural sciences. And when its supporters denounce a view like mine as ‘positivistic’ or ‘scientistic’,* then I may perhaps answer that they themselves seem to accept, implicitly and uncritically, that positivism or scientism is the only philosophy appropriate to the natural sciences. 
* The term ‘scientism’ meant originally ‘the slavish imitation of the method and language of [natural] science’, especially by social scientists; it was introduced in this sense by Hayek in his ‘Scientism in the Study of Society’, now in his The Counter-Revolution of Science, 1962. In The Poverty of Historicism, p. 105, I suggested its use as a name for the aping of what is widely mistaken for the method of science; and Hayek now agrees (in his Preface to his Studies in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, which contains a very generous acknowledgement) that the methods actually practised by natural scientists are different from ‘what most of them told us … and urged the representatives of other disciplines to imitate’.
Questions of ultimate ends are not amenable to direct proof. Whatever can be proved to be good, must be so by being shown to be a means to something admitted to be good without proof. The medical art is proved to be good by its conducing to health; but how is it possible to prove that health is good? … There is a larger meaning of the word proof, in which this question is as amenable to it as any other of the disputed questions of philosophy. The subject is within the cognisance of the rational faculty; and neither does that faculty deal with it solely in the way of intuition. Considerations may be presented capable of determining the intellect either to give or withhold its assent to the doctrine; and this is equivalent to proof. [ch. I, 157-8]
Some of the things which put me out of step and which I like to criticize are:
(1) Fashions: I do not believe in fashions, trends, tendencies, or schools, either in science or in philosophy. In fact, I think that the history of mankind could well be described as a history of outbreaks of fashionable philosophical and religious maladies. These fashions can have only one serious function—that of evoking criticism. Nonetheless I do believe in the rationalist tradition of a commonwealth of learning, and in the urgent need to preserve this tradition.
(2) The aping of physical science: I dislike the attempt, made in fields outside the physical sciences, to ape the physical sciences by practising their alleged ‘methods’—measurement and ‘induction from observation’. The doctrine that there is as much science in a subject as there is mathematics in it, or as much as there is measurement or ‘precision’ in it, rests upon a complete misunderstanding. On the contrary, the following maxim holds for all sciences: Never aim at more precision than is required by the problem in hand. 
If Popper is right about science then his is also the only genuinely scientific political philosophy; and also, most importantly, the hostility to science and the revolt against reason, both of which are so prominently expressed in today’s world, are directed at false conceptions of science and reason. 
[Hans Albert: Kleines verwundertes Nachwort zu einer großen Einleitung]
Eine Dialektik, die der Logik entraten zu können glaubt, scheint mir einen der gefährlichsten Züge des deutschen Denkens zu unterstützen, vermutlich ganz im Gegensatz zu den hinter ihr stehenden Intentionen: die Tendenz zum Irrationalismus. 
Labouring the difference between science and the humanities has long been a fashion, and has become a bore. The method of problem solving, the method of conjecture and refutation, is practised by both. It is practised in reconstructing a damaged text as well as in constructing a theory of radioactivity.