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From scientism to PC

Conservatively-minded people who favor the scientific outlook to the exclusion of other sources of knowledge point out that PC, the insistence that human differences don’t exist or don’t matter or shouldn’t be allowed to matter, is anti-scientific.

That’s true, of course. It’s also true though that scientism—the view that knowledge is not knowledge unless it’s scientific—leads to PC, basically by causing impossible difficulties on the mind/body front.

Scientific knowledge is knowledge of mechanism that enables prediction and control. If you treat that kind of knowledge as adequate to all reality, which scientism has to do to be workable, then human agency disappears.

Human agency is nonetheless with us. We know ourselves as agents, we recognize others as such (if we are not psychopaths), and intelligent activities like science seem to require it.

The solution people adopt is to accept human agency as a reality but a very strange sort of reality about which nothing can be said. To say something about it would be to assert knowledge regarding it and therefore to attempt to subject it to a regime of mechanism, prediction, and control. That’s why it’s horribly wrong (in the current view) to classify people or to attribute significant qualities to them. Any attempt to do so is an attempt to enslave them.

Instead, each of us becomes equally an unknowable being transcending all reality about whom nothing can be said and whose will has a validity to which no limits can be assigned. But then science stops being the supreme standard. PC becomes the supreme standard. Each of us becomes a god, absolute and unknowable. If that conflicts with science, so much the worse for science, and that is where we are today.

The moral: science is a wonderful thing, but it’s a specialized part of more general human practices of knowledge, and when it tries to be the whole you get big problems.



The science fundamentalists are trying to kill human agency, so maybe there is something to the scientism -> PC assertion.

However, I can’t see an internal problem with a SF remaining agnostic about the claims of PC, given the current state of knowledge. Basically, not saying anything because we don’t know anything (yet, they say, if they’re honest). But an honest SF must be an empiricist, so he rejects limitation on classification because there is a fact here which must be explained, horrible or not. If he values his career he’ll toe the line or bury his research in unparsed analysis, but that isn’t scientism leading to PC, it’s PC triumphing over scientism as you say yourself.

Perhaps you mean that PC becomes a necessity once scientism is ascendant? This would be accurate, as otherwise you get eugenics, Logan’s Run, and Peter Singer running the show.

Just finished your essay on Emerson, who I have struggled with. Thank you for that. Illuminating and comprehensive, it was very helpful in wrapping my head around a slippery thinker.

The basic thought is that scientific fundamentalism is an account of reason, knowledge, and knowable reality that for its adherents is equivalent to reason itself.

Science doesn’t tell us enough to live by though. That especially applies in the case of morals. That’s a problem for scientific fundamentalists, because people can’t view their actions as simply random or arbitrary. They can’t help but think that on the whole they make sense and are rational.

For that reason a scientific fundamentalist is going to have moral principles that he claims are rational but obviously aren’t. He’ll adopt them on grossly insufficient grounds (e.g. “equality” looks like a minimal assumption so he’ll base them on equality), and he’ll refuse to discuss them and get angry if they’re questioned.

The entry is an attempt to explore how all that works out in one notorious instance.

Glad you like the Emerson piece.

Rem tene, verba sequentur.