PM5371: Against Scientism

Scientism (adjective scientistic) is the position that claims that the natural sciences are the only ultimate source of truth; whatever can be known, can be known scientifically — whatever cannot be known by science, does not exist. Scientism supposes that the scientific method is actually a universal method applicable to all human thought, and whatever it cannot be applied to is invalid.

One of the major flaws of scientism, is that it ignores that the scientific method and the mathematical method are very different. Science is based on induction, on observation and experiment; pure mathematics is based on deduction. The scientific method cannot be applied to questions of pure mathematics, nor can the mathematical method be applied to questions of science. While these two methods are very different, science is heavily reliant upon mathematics, as a set of tools that science can use. Thus can the position that all knowledge comes through the scientific method be refuted, since mathematical knowledge does not, yet is essential to science.

Another argument against that position, is that philosophical questions such as those at issue here — is there a single method applicable to all types of questions? or multiple types of questions, each with their own appropriate method? and if more than one, how many and which? — cannot be answered through the scientific method, nor through the mathematical method. There must be a third method, a philosophical method, that can answer these questions.

But, if at least three methods — scientific, mathematical and philosophical — why not more? Why not also a specifically ethical method, to answer ethical questions? Or a specifically theological method, to answer theological questions? These are questions for the philosophical method to answer — the scientific method cannot answer them. Since the scientific method cannot rationally justify scientism, scientism itself is self-defeating.