[hist-analytic] "The Devil of scientism"

Jlsperanza at aol.com Jlsperanza at aol.com
Thu Feb 11 18:43:56 EST 2010


--- where "Devil" is case-sensitive!
 
 
In a message dated 2/11/2010 5:41:17 P.M. Eastern Standard Time,  
rbj at rbjones.com writes:
Scientism is the systematic application of scientific  method
(at any level) beyond its effective scope, or an  excessive,
possibly utopian, conception of the potential of such  methods.

This is a pejorative construal of the concept.
I wonder, has  it always been a pejorative term or have
people sometimes thought it a  positive thing?

---- I'd leave others to drop in, but just to note that  the collocation 
used by Grice is strangely similar to the betes-noire thing: for  it's demons 
and perilous places in "Pilgrim Grice" and 'devil of scientism' in  1991. 
There was once a query about scientism and scientificism in CHORA-L, and I  
then searched for collocations in the OED.  

Scientism is the systematic application of scientific  method
(at any level) beyond its effective scope, or an  excessive,
possibly utopian, conception of the potential of such  methods.
 
--- right. This is just implicatural. I.e. what Carnap would have as an  
'unintended' pragmatic effect that an assertion may have on you.
 
   'devil' as used by Grice ("the devil of scientism") should not  be 
always negatively used. A devil is like a demon (which is how he describes  the 
betes-noires). But there are daemons and there are daemons. In fact, there  
are good daemons, which the Greeks (or Griceans) valued high enough as to 
call  'happy': rather the good daemon was the one that made _you_ happy (Grice 
quotes  his student J. L. Ackrill on this, Proc. Brit. Ac. 1975). 
 
   There shouldn't be such an implicature.

After all 'scientia' is just the abstract of 'scio' which is the  briefest 
statement a Roman could make about 'I know'. So 'scientia' becomes,  'things 
to be known'. (cf. sapientia, which is supposed to be what philosophers  
love -- philosophia, love of wisdom). The Grecians distinguished between  
'episteme' and sophia, but the Romans were never so genial.
 
--- So if scio is 'to know' one should think that the -ism indeed brings  
the 'minimalist' wrong connotation about it. There's a hybris, as Jones 
notes,  give science where no science is due, sort of thing.
 
But the _aim_ at _knowing_ ('scio') should not be termed 'devilish' per  se.
 
The dialectic here is between
 
                                       dogmatic
                                           those who know and know they know
 
   and the 
 sceptic (another bete noire for Grice)
 
-- these cannot be defined as 'those who know they don't' because this was  
the silly old Socratic paradox).
 
But Grice is playing on this:
 
the devil of scientism will want to have us say that
 
           not only we  don't know
but that we 
        don't know we know.
 
---- I'll see if I can retrieve the original quote. It's not vintage Grice, 
 though. He allows in a footnote it was George Myro's idea! ("the tenor of 
the  remark", Grice adds).
 
Etc.
 
The Grice reprint (1991) reads:

"We must be ever watchful against  the Devil of scientism, 
who would lead us into 
 
       myopic overconcentration 
 
on the nature and importance of 
 
 
                    knowledge, 
 
and of scientific knowledge"
 
 
--- slightly oxymoronic in Roman, scientia _is_ knowledge.
 
"in particular; the Devil who is even so 
audacious as to tempt us to call in 
question the very system of ideas 
required to make intelligible 
the idea of calling in question 
anything at all."
 
He may be thinking that, say, if a scientist says that all value-judgements 
 are _unscientific_ then the very proposition,
 
   _science is a valuable thing_
 
becomes meaningless. The appeal to external/internal, as per Carnap, may  
not do, nor his pragmatist bent as to, what works works. Etc, but of course 
we'd  need to elaborate on this.
 
"and who would even prompt us, in 
effect, to suggest that 
 
 
   since we do not really think but 
only think that we think, 
we had better change our minds without undue delay."
 
--- this is like a RAA i.e. reductio ad absurdum, which is indeed Grice's  
intro for "not", or elimination, rather.
 
For there is of course the blatant contradiction of a Neutral Monist who  
has us "changing our _minds_" when we are supposed to have none!

But also there's this doxastic version (alla Hintikka) of Socrates'  
originally epistemic paradox
 
    I know that I do not know
 
This cannot, alla Grandy, be understood self-reflectively (His review of  
Schiffer, JP)

(i) I know that I do not know that (i)
 
----
 
But Grice here -- while capitalising either devil or scientism, we can  
dismiss that -- has 'think', i.e believe:
 
"we do not really think"
 
where the devil is engaging in, to use Austin's artless sexism, as Grice  
has it in Gr01:3, a trouser-word, the 'real' (Austin's objections to the 
'real'  duck in Sense and Sensibilia -- the word that wears the trousers)
 
"but only think that we think"
 
 
    and what's wrong with that?

It's wrong in the epistemic context

I don't know. I only know that I know.
 
With 'think' Grice CANNOT be thinking of privileged access and  
incorrigibility which he has JUST introduced as pirotic advantages for  survival:
 
    if pirot thinks that p, ceteris paribus, pirot  thinks that he thinks 
that p.
 
----
"who would even prompt us, in  
effect, to suggest that 
 
 
   since we do not really think but 
only think that we think"
 
and this is supposed to be the protasis or premise to the conclusion of  
this argument that we are suggested to make, as prompted by the devil of  
scientism -- where 
here it is
 
scientism qua devil alla Descartes's malignant daemon of the Meditationes  
Metaphysicae.
 
--- i.e.
the modal conclusion:
 

   that "we had better change our minds without undue  delay."
 
Again, the argument being:
 
 
(A)
 
    We (the common man, etc)
           don't really  think
 
      but only 
 
      think that we think.
-----------------------------------------------
 
 
We had better change our minds without undue delay.
 
Since (A) is RAA absurd, a forteriori, the devil wins because he is having  
as proving something we cannot be prove -- or something!
Ever watchful against him, indeed!
 
JL Speranza
 
---
 

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