Steven Pinker's "Scientism."

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    Aug 08, 2013 3:07 PM GMT
    One of the NY Times bloggers wrote an opinion piece on Steven Pinker's "Scientism" which I think is worth sharing.

    http://douthat.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/08/07/the-scientism-of-steven-pinker/

    "This is an impressively swift march from allowing, grudgingly, that scientific discoveries do not “dictate” values to asserting that they “militate” very strongly in favor of … why, of Steven Pinker’s very own moral worldview! You see, because we do not try witches, we must be utilitarians! Because we know the universe has no purpose, we must imbue it with the purposes of a (non-species-ist) liberal cosmopolitanism! Because of science, we know that modern civilization has no dialectic or destiny … so we must pursue its “unfulfilled promises” and accept its “moral imperatives” instead!"

    I am actually quite fond of what I've read from Mr.Pinker (and of the utilitarian view in general). Reading such articulate criticism is challenging; I am not sure what to make of it, ultimately.
  • Kazachok

    Posts: 415

    Aug 08, 2013 3:38 PM GMT
    To be honest, I don't really understand the point of this article.
    Pinker is overstepping:
    "In other words, the worldview that guides the moral and spiritual values of an educated person today is the worldview given to us by science. Though the scientific facts do not by themselves dictate values, they certainly hem in the possibilities."
    Science has nothing to do with morality. It doesn't dictate it on us, but rather we dictate morality on science. That is, we place restrictions on what experiments can take place (especially in biology) based on our morality.
    Science simply involves looking at the evidence and seeing if it confirms or refutes a hypothesis. All else is beyond science's scope.
    Nature really doesn't give a damn about how we think she operates.
  • The_Guruburu

    Posts: 895

    Aug 08, 2013 4:27 PM GMT
    Kazachok saidTo be honest, I don't really understand the point of this article.
    Pinker is overstepping:
    "In other words, the worldview that guides the moral and spiritual values of an educated person today is the worldview given to us by science. Though the scientific facts do not by themselves dictate values, they certainly hem in the possibilities."
    Science has nothing to do with morality. It doesn't dictate it on us, but rather we dictate morality on science. That is, we place restrictions on what experiments can take place (especially in biology) based on our morality.
    Science simply involves looking at the evidence and seeing if it confirms or refutes a hypothesis. All else is beyond science's scope.
    Nature really doesn't give a damn about how we think she operates.

    Eh, you're painting an overly simplistic view of science. Scientists choose what evidence to look at and what hypotheses to test; those are colored to some extent by morals or certain values. Then there's the issue of funding and the strings attached (and even what kind of research can be done). Scientists may study vacuums, but they certainly dont live in one. Albeit, the practice of science tries to be "objective" and "neutral", but as human beings we can never attain true neutrality and objectivity, no matter how many decades are spent in academia.
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    Aug 09, 2013 12:30 AM GMT
    I think Pinker's point regarding science's impact on morality is that empiricism can ultimately be used to deconstruct social conventions, and consider what organic factors confers value onto them. Basically: that science has a way of discrediting the non-essential. Like "traditional family values."

    I suppose that may be a somewhat subjective and reductionist understanding of value -- and a presumptuous extension of the scientific agenda -- but it's not like Deutsche Physik. I'd cut Pinker some slack, personally. I guess you don't get published in the Times for cutting folk slack.