Friday, April 5, 2013

Scientism as Ressentiment

“Scientism” refers to the view that only scientific knowing is valuable or acceptable as truth. A problem with this view is that it devalues commonsense and every-day knowing, while treating all knowers as an average individual. However, the entire point of many philosophic traditions is to cultivate wisdom and expert knowing not captured by the statistical averages of science, as well as to address fields of study that cannot be a science.

For instance, the metaphysical foundations of science, which science must presume, cannot be a science, yet is the subject of philosophy. Likewise, analysis of science as a social practice reveals that science follows a regulatory ideal, yet the ideal is not the actual, although scientism treats pursuit of the ideal of scientific knowing as if it were its attainment. Hence, when someone denigrates philosophy as “fantasy” wishing it were science, I hear a resonance of ressentiment.

Ressentiment, per Friedrich Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals, is an inversion of value hierarchy. The inversion is both experiential and formal: a person of ressentiment both experiences and theorizes the weaker as the stronger.

I name scientism to be ressentiment because it disavows its own weaknesses and proclaims itself strong, yet it accomplishes this through illogical means that reveal its weakness. The logic is clear: scientific knowing is the best for predicting and controlling the world, yet there is more to nature than what yields to such treatment. Moreover, scientific practice cannot be made wholly transparent to itself, and scientific pretends, even when it insists otherwise, that any opaqueness in its practice is irrelevant. Such insistences become the subject of satire in works such as The Golem.

Scientism doubles-down on its ressentiment when it proclaims scientific naturalism, the view that only the objects of science are real. Rather than tacitly claim that only what can be predicted and controlled is real, it raises the proclamation to ontological doctrine—and often disavows metaphysics while performing this ontological move.

I will you with a concluding thought from Nietzsche. At the end of the Genealogy of Morals, he proposed that the ascetic will to deny life has become the ascetic will to truth. That is, Christian ressentiment, supposing that Christians deny nature for the world of the spirit, has become a denial of anything that cannot be purely represented as truth. Yet once again, the ascetic will to truth denies anything that does not meet its own standard, and does so from its weakness rather than its strength, since it cannot admit that there is more to truth than science can achieve.


  1. is apologetics like footnotes2plato practices the other side of the coin?

  2. I don't think Matt is a good example of the flip side, because he's aware and congenial about the rational status of the claims that he makes. Moreover, he's still giving rational arguments. In fact, can you explain how he is the flip side? What is on this side versus the other?

    The conventional sides are a "naive humanism" that gives humanity a special epistemic status (or denies that epistemic authority may exist such as in bad pomo) versus a scientism that so degrades the human that it is erased and becomes subservient to a method or ideal of practice.


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