“Defending the Humanities”

There’s a wonderful article that compares science-as-method vs. science-as-religion called Defending the Humanities:

Science is based on love of the truth for its own sake, on going wherever your method, your experimental results, your empirical evidence lead you. Science is wonderfully self-correcting, and scientists are ever-conscious of the limits of what they really know. Scientism is a comprehensive, one-dimensional explanatory scheme of all that exists. It is, as some say, a “worldview,” an ideology, an aggressive and empirically sketchy effort to dispel all doubt from the world in the service of conscious manipulation in the service of wisdom. Scientism​—​as an ideology​—​attempts to obliterate its rivals, discrediting all other claims for truth.

The article posits a contrast between “the humanities” vs. “scientism” – using the specific examples of Marxism and transhumanism as examples of scientism. The humanities are defined in terms of a a search for wisdom:

But for the philosophers, reason opens each of us to the truth about all things, including who we are, and there’s a lot we can comprehend that we can’t and would never want to control. Reason, for the philosophers, has a moral dimension​—​it’s about knowing and doing good, and knowing and avoiding evil.

For the philosophers, the why took precedence over the how for all sorts of reasons. Here’s one of the most important: If you have the why​—​the point of your life​—​you can get by, you can be happy, with almost any how, as did, for example, the anti-Communist dissident Solzhenitsyn in the Gulag. But if you don’t have the why​—​what your life is for​—​no amount of how, no amount of techno-generated stuff, is going to make you all that happy.

It’s a wonderful defense of humanism as humanism was once understood:

The most controversial claim for the humanities Wieseltier makes is that it’s the job of philosophy to determine the limits of science in any particular society. The place of natural science in human existence​—​in who we are​—​is not a question our natural scientists are competent to address. The relationship between science and the humanities is a humanists’ question, a question that has to be answered by determining the true place of the various forms of human knowing. Philosophers have to stop tinkering and fiddling with tiny questions and assume their proper role in a full articulation of what it means to be a reasonable, self-interpreting being born to die.


I have tended to use humanism to mean what he calls scientism; this author uses scientism as the antithesis to humanism:

For the humanities to reassert themselves, they have to reasonably be able to distinguish between what scientists know and what they don’t. The distinction between science and scientism turns out to be indispensable for reinvigorating liberal education as a genuine​—​meaning truthful and responsible​—​counterculture to rein in the twin ideologies of technologism and scientism. Humanists should never miss an opportunity to out scientism for the ideology it is.