scientism

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scientism

any doctrine or approach held to involve oversimplified conceptions and unreal expectations of SCIENCE, and to misapply ‘natural science’ methods to the social sciences, including overconfidence in the capacity of science to solve social problems. Thus the term is mainly a pejorative one.

The notion that the success of the physical sciences could be readily repeated in the social sciences became well established in the 16th and 17th centuries and is seen later in COMTE'S POSITIVISM. Claims to a 'scientific basis’have been a feature of many other approaches in sociology, including MARXISM. Whether or not such approaches are held to be 'scientistic’, however, is not a straightforward matter, since it depends on what one regards as proper or appropriate 'science’ -both in general and in the context of social studies – and this, itself, is controversial. Thus at one extreme, accusations of 'scientism’ have been associated with wholesale dismissals of natural science as a model for social science, whilst on other occasions they merely involve a repudiation of obvious excesses.

Scientism

 

a world outlook which holds that scientific knowledge is the supreme cultural value and that it provides a sufficient basis for man’s orientation in the world. Scientism takes as its model not any and all scientific knowledge, but rather the results and methods of the natural sciences. It is precisely this kind of knowledge, in the view of proponents of scientism, that amasses in itself the most significant advances of culture as a whole and that is sufficient for substantiating and evaluating the fundamental problems of human existence, as well as for developing effective programs of action.

Scientism took hold as a conscious orientation in bourgeois culture in the late 19th century. This period also saw the emergence of antiscientism, an opposing world outlook that emphasizes the limited potential of science and, in its most extreme form, regards science as an alien force hostile to man’s intrinsic nature. The controversy between scientism and antiscientism, which became particularly acute in the framework of the modern scientific and technological revolution, essentially reflects the complex effect of science on the life of a society. On the one hand, scientific progress opens up ever greater possibilities for the transformation of nature and of social reality; on the other hand, the social effects of scientific advances are far from simple, and in modern capitalist societies they often tend to exacerbate the fundamental contradictions of social development. It is precisely the contradictory nature of the social role of science that creates a favorable climate for scientism and antiscientism.

Scientism promotes science as an absolute standard for culture in its entirety, whereas antiscientism does its best to denigrate scientific knowledge, holding it responsible for various social antagonistic contradictions. Specific manifestations of scientism may be found in concepts of science developed within the modern neopositivist schools of thought, the technocratic biases peculiar to certain strata of the bureaucracy and of the scientific and technical elite in contemporary bourgeois society, and the drive by certain exponents of the humanities to develop the social sciences strictly along the lines of the natural sciences. The viewpoints of antiscientism find support in certain trends of contemporary bourgeois philosophy, particularly in existentialism, as well as among representatives of the bourgeois intelligentsia in the arts and humanities.

Marxist philosophy repudiates the primary importance that both these viewpoints place on the social role of science. While emphasizing its unique role in society, Marxism-Leninism considers science in relation to other forms of social consciousness and demonstrates the complex, many-sided nature of this relation. From this point of view, science is seen as a necessary product of the development of human culture and at the same time as a principal source of and stimulus for the historical progress of culture itself, in the material as well as in the intellectual field. Hence the profound interrelation between science and world outlook and also the enormous influence exerted by the social sciences on the entire course of social development and on the ideological struggle being waged in today’s world. In Marxist-Leninist philosophy, the social role of science is evaluated within the actual context of particular social systems, the latter being the main factor of the substantially different, often opposing social roles of scientific knowledge.

REFERENCES

Shvyrev, V. S., and E. G. Iudin. “O tak nazyvaemom stsientizme v filosofii.” Voprosy filosofii, 1969, no. 8.
Shvyrev, V. S., and E. G. Iudin. Mirovozzrencheskaia otsenka nauki: kritika burzhuaznykh kontseptsii stsientizma i antistsientizma. Moscow, 1973.
Snow, C. P. Dve kultury. Moscow, 1973. (Translated from English.)
Chelovek—nauka—tekhnika. [Moscow, 1973.]

E. G. IUDIN

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