Thursday, May 10, 2012

Nielsen on Scientism

Where I conflict with Quine is over his scientism. I do not think that he or Russell are right in believing that what science (natural science?) cannot tell us, we cannot know. There are all sorts of common-sense knowledge and social, political, and moral knowledge that science can tell us little (if anything) about:

that human beings stand in need of love,
that promises are generally to be kept,
that justice involves reciprocity,
that respect for others is, or at least should be, a central feature in our lives, and
that indifference to one's fellow humans is evil

are good examples. People who have no understanding of science---who even lived before the rise of science---can understand them and know them to be justified. And things are no different for us moderns. We need not wait on science to confirm or disconfirm them and for most of them at least we have no understanding of how science could confirm or disconfirm (infirm) them.

--Very slightly redacted from Kai Nielsen, Atheism and Philosophy, New York: Prometheus, 2005, page 11, "Preface to the Paperback Edition". This book (ISBN: 1591022983) was originally published in 1985 as Philosophy and Atheism (ISBN: 0879752890). Get this one, the paperback, since it's much cheaper and has the new (and very long) preface from which I have redacted the quote.