Can Science Replace Metaphysics?
Separating the Scientific from the Scientistic
The scientific method is perhaps one of the most groundbreaking applied discipline to the inquiry into the question of what is meaningful versus what is not meaningful in the pursuit of knowledge.
That being said it is the argument that scientism is created when anyone attempts to eliminate the significance or even relevance of Metaphysics that I am going to defend in this paper.
I will start by addressing a problem I have attempted to address before. And that is the question of why Atheists allow Theologians to define Metaphysical Questions.
To clarify I am including anyone in the Atheistic spectrum that is without a theistic system of beliefs or is free of a dogmatic or theological bias.
My main concern are of course those who enter into philosophical debates.
It is my contention that the only way to seriously address a Metaphysical question is to first address a topic completely separate from what may appear to be related.
So if for example you want to address the Metaphysical question of God you must address this question with no relation to the Soul or Freewill.
But more importantly and this is key you must address this question without trying to make the Metaphysical question integrate with completely unrelated fields in Philosophy such as Moral Philosophy as an example.
In this way we can learn to separate Philosophy from Pseudo Philosophies like Theology.
In fact I question whether Moral Philosophy itself should be considered a proper discipline of philosophy. To bring a little more clarity to this statement I will address the problem in which Moral Philosophy brings a lot of the same problems with it that Theology does, in that Moral Philosophy often involves evaluating systems of beliefs.
Perhaps if we can find a way of separating Philosophy from Theology in all the Philosophy Disciplines including that of Moral Philosophy it is possible that the emerging discipline will justify itself by actually helping us to resolve Moral questions. Or at least better help us get to the root of what we call Morality in the same way that we attempt to get to the root of knowledge within the discipline of Epistemology.
And so I think the best way to get to the crux of what is Scientistic and therefore Scientism is differentiate the Scientific Method from a movement known as Logical Positivism.
Ironically the movement known as Logical Positivism had very similar goals of separating the Sciences from Theological Speculation as I have hinted in this paper as my goal in relation to the pursuit of Metaphysics.
The reason why this movement ultimately failed is because it failed to attack the root of the problem of Theology as a Pseudo Metaphysics.
So now I must examine how Logical Positivism evolved into Neo Positivism and how this evolved into Scientism.
As you can see Logical Positivism was essentially a way to help the sciences continue to advance by giving the sciences a philosophical foundation that shields the discipline from unwarranted attacks from those outside the Scientific Disciplines.
This all started with “Ludwig Wittgenstein's philosophy of language”.
From Logical Positivism Neo Positivism was born. To clarify Neo Positivism is a Philosophy of Science that can be reduced to the “givens”.
What distinguishes neo-positivism from the older positivism is the ‘method of logical analysis’ and hence the focus on the language of science. According to Otto Neurath, neopositivism is 'characterized by the reduction through logical analysis of the meaning of sentences to the simplest statements about something empirical. Scientific knowledge thus derives from experience which in turn rests on what is immediately given. Social Research Glossary Neo-positivism
So let us examine the roots of Neo Positivism further.
Oxford Index (2011) describes neopositivism as follows:
A movement in early 20th-century American sociology which blended together the three themes of quantification, behaviorism, and positivist epistemology. Its principal proponents were Franklin H. Giddings and George A. Lundberg, although the mathematical sociology of writers such as George K. Zipf (1902–50) can be seen as a development of neo-positivist theory.
In his Studies in the Theory of Human Society (1922), Giddings offered a qualified defense of behaviorism, arguing that ‘psychology has become experimental and objective. It has discriminated between reflexes and conditioning’.
He also insisted that ‘sociology [is] a science statistical in method’ and that ‘a true and complete description of anything must include measurement of it’.
Similarly, Lundberg maintained that sociology could be modelled on the natural sciences, and should observe the behavior of human beings in social situations but without reference to concepts such as feelings, ends, motives, values, and will (which he described as ‘the phlogiston of the social sciences’).
Like Giddings, Lundberg argued that science dealt in exact descriptions and generalization, both of which required ‘the quantitative statement’. He emphasized the importance of attitude scales in this context, and insisted (in common with earlier positivists) that science cannot formulate value statements, and that sociology must be a science in this mould…
Social Research Glossary form same article
I cannot entirely dispute this reasoning that we should attempt to study the psychology of human beings without reference to value judgements based on feelings in relation to will.
But again as you can see this maneuvers around any actual Metaphysical questions including the Metaphysical Question of Freewill.
The explanation of why I am not going out of my way to dispute this reasoning is because it is not clear that Lundberg is dismissing Metaphysical questions.
If science cannot formulate value statements then it cannot dispute them either.
If I am to accept one definition of Scientism namely …
- The belief that the investigative methods of the physical sciences are applicable or justifiable in all fields of inquiry American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. Copyright © 2011… then I will ultimately have to admit that my thinking is also Scientistic biased.
That is I do accept that the investigative methods of science are indeed applicable to all fields of inquiry.
But I do not conclude that therefore a philosophical investigations are somehow invalid. And I do not assume that any Metaphysical question can be completely resolved by scientific investigation into one or more aspects of the question we are addressing.
Can Science Replace Metaphysics? By Brian Gordon Copyright 2015
This is an essay I am currently working on to clarify my thoughts for the book I am currently working on “The Man Delusion”. If you would like me to continue to publish the results as I expand this paper please send me a message on LinkedIn. If you would like to become involved with this project or have questions on this project please feel free to contact me.