Sam Harris and the Demarcation Problem

6a00e554e8195d883301a73d8ae293970dby Paul So

Sam Harris is known for many things, from being one of the leading figures of the New Atheist movement to a controversial critic of Islam. he is also known for arguing that science can provide answers to questions regarding morality [1]. For him, morality is within the domain of science.

How is this possible, exactly? After all, science deals with facts, not values. Harris proposes that the term science is far more inclusive than we normally understand. There is no fundamental distinction, for instance, between a scientist working in a laboratory and a plumber identifying problems in a plumbing system. The distinction between them is merely conventional, because what really counts is that doing science means using reason and observation. As long as a given domain can be the subject of reasoned inquiry and observation, it belongs to the broader domain of science.

Here is how Harris himself puts it in his essay responding to Ryan Born’s critique [2,3]:

“For practical reasons, it is often necessary to draw boundaries between academic disciplines, but physicists, chemists, biologists, and psychologists rely on the same processes of thought and observation that govern all our efforts to stay in touch with reality.”

Also:

Many people think about science primarily in terms of academic titles, budgets, and architecture, and not in terms of the logical and empirical intuitions that allow us to form justified beliefs about the world.” 

As well as:

“I am, in essence, defending the unity of knowledge — the idea that the boundaries between disciplines are mere conventions and that we inhabit a single epistemic sphere in which to form true beliefs about the world.”

It seems from the above that Harris thinks science is just the application of reason and observation in order to arrive at justified true beliefs about the world. To be more precise, what Harris would likely say is that science is conceived as consisting in applying reason and observation with the intention to acquire justified true beliefs (otherwise, every time a scientific notion turns out to be false we would have to conclude that it wasn’t science to begin with).

As long as we use reason and observation with proper epistemic intentions, we are doing science regardless of whether or not we really do acquire true beliefs. Even if we found out that some of our beliefs are false, we can always try to replace them with better justified ones. While this definition too is not without problems, I will assume this is what Harris has in mind. I’ll argue, however, that if science is conceived as just applying reason and observation with an intention to acquire justified true beliefs, this leads to one of the best known problems in the philosophy of science: the demarcation problem.

The demarcation problem is the problem of how we differentiate science from pseudoscience in principle. In other words, the demarcation problem consists in finding some principles, criteria, reasons, or conditions to place something like astronomy under “science” and place its counterpart astrology as a pseudoscience. However, for every proposed claim about what distinguishes science from pseudoscience, there’s a counter-example. For example, Karl Popper proposed that falsification is the criterion for distinguishing science from pseudoscience. If any set of claims or theory is falsifiable, it belongs to the domain of science. But if any set of claims or theory is unfalsifiable, it belongs to the domain of pseudoscience. However, this criterion is too strict because some untestable scientific claims ranging from string theory to the many-worlds interpretation are not considered pseudoscience.

How is the problem of demarcation relevant to Harris’ definition of science? If science is any activity that relies on reason and observation (or empirical and logical intuitions) with the intention to produce justified true belief, then the concept includes many things that are considered to be pseudoscience or non-science. Consider three examples.

First, phrenology. Phrenology is now relegated to pseudoscience, but during the 19th century many people took it seriously. Phrenology claims that personalities, emotions, talents, and such are caused by the activity of very specific regions of the brain. The theory of Phrenology was developed by Franz Joseph Gall, on the basis of his observations of the size of many skulls. Harris’ definition of science seems to force him to accept that phrenology is in fact a science.

Second, Intelligent Design (ID). Many people like to ridicule proponents of ID as mindless buffoons, but in fact the public figures of ID like Stephen C. Meyers and Michael Behe are well-educated and thoughtful people. This doesn’t mean that their claims are true. After all, it’s possible to be well-educated, thoughtful, and yet fundamentally misguided. But ID proponents like Stephen C. Meyers do in fact use reason and observation to support their claim. They give arguments and provide what they think of as empirical evidence for their conclusion that there must be an intelligent designer. In effect, they are doing science according to Harris’ definition.

As a side note, someone could object that ID proponents are using reason and observation too poorly for what they do to be considered science. Moreover, what they are doing goes against the established body of knowledge. Yet, Harris’ definition of science does not really include any qualification concerning the quality of using reason and observation. Harris could propose to amend his definition to say that reason and observation need to be used well. I shall address this later. As to the second point, going against the body of established knowledge may seem irrational, but we want to be careful because many scientists who initiated a breakthrough were going against established the then accepted body of knowledge. Albert Einstein’s General Relativity went against Newtonian Mechanics, which was an established body of theoretical knowledge. However, we certainly don’t want to say that Einstein was being irrational.

Third, consider Natural Theology. Regardless of what one may think of Natural Theology, we can all agree that it is not a science. However, natural theologians use observation and reason to support their claim that God exists. One notable example is the fine tuning argument. Natural theologians observe that the values of the cosmological constants are conducive to the existence of life, and they make an inference to the best explanation (at least in their view) that God is responsible for so structuring the universe. Whether or not this is a convincing argument, natural theologians are indeed using both observation and reason to support their claim. According to Harris’ definition of science, Natural Theology is therefore a science.

What I’m trying to argue by way of these counterexamples is that Harris’ conception of science is far too broad. It readily includes a number of notions that most of us wouldn’t consider to be within the domain of science, and reasonably so. In fact, it seems to include things that are considered to be downright pseudoscience, or theology. It should therefore be apparent that Harris’ definition of science is not very helpful, as it exacerbates the demarcation problem.

Harris could reply by arguing that he wants to make a distinction between a rigorous and reliable use of reason and observation and a loose and unreliable use of reason and observation. Anything that counts as science involves a rigorous and reliable use of reason and observation, whereas pseudoscience involves a loose and unreliable use of reason and observation, although both have the intention to produce a justified true belief. With this new distinction, Harris could exclude ID, Phrenology, and Natural Theology from the domain of science because they involve a very sloppy and unreliable use of reason and observation.

However, even Harris’ improved definition wouldn’t work. Even if it succeeds in excluding ID, Phrenology, and Natural Theology, it ends up excluding a lot of science. There are many scientific works that are not very rigorous and reliable. For example, more often than most people realize, peer review journals tend to publish scientific works afflicted by serious methodological problems.

One also has to consider the kind of scientific work at the frontier of knowledge. A lot of this works will turn out to be mistaken, because it is dealing with something that is barely within the grasp of science. For example, consider some cutting edge work on neuroscience. Despite the fact that neuroscience has made enormous progress of late, there is of course still a lot that neuroscientists do not know. Application of the scientific method in this domain began rather poorly (not rigorously, and somewhat unreliably), but eventually improved, and continues to improve. Still, even according to Harris’ augmented definition, neuroscience done poorly is not within the domain of science.

Harris may, of course, continue to modify and improve his definition, but he also wants to maintain it as broad as possible, in order to include ethics within the domain of science. This is a very difficult, if not impossible, challenge. What we have seen so far is that he has to narrow down his definition in order to avoid embarrassing counter examples. But if he is forced to continue on this path, there’s a potential problem that his eventual definition will end up either being beyond recognition and familiarity, or fail in its stated purpose to include branches of philosophy such as ethics.

Some readers may at this point conclude that this is merely a semantic issue. In an important sense,  they are correct. After all, Harris provides a definition of science, and I am disputing it. This is a discussion about the meaning of words, that is, about semantics. But contra popular understanding, semantic issue aren’t pointless. On the contrary, they are quite instructive. Mine is a cautionary tale on what happens when one broadens the meaning of an important word too much, leading straight into clearly unintended and perhaps even embarrassing consequences. One simply has to be careful with how one uses words, especially when one’s entire argument depends on it. Despite being a good writer, Harris, it turns out, is not careful with his words.

_____

Paul So is a graduate student studying for the Master’s program in the Philosophy Department at Texas Tech University. His main focus is Philosophy of Mind.

[1] The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values, by S. Harris, Free Press, 2010.

[2] Clarifying the Moral Landscape, by S. Harris.

[3] The Moral Landscape Challenge: The Winning Essay, by R. Born.

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103 thoughts on “Sam Harris and the Demarcation Problem

  1. These objections seem spot on. Without a solution for the demarcation problem SH’s idea about ethics becomes very woolly.

    The idea that ethics can be dealt with by science (presumably by ‘natural’ science) appears to be a metaphysical conjecture. No? It leaves me totally confused, as is usual for the ideas of SH. To be honest, it appears to be just plain idiotic. But then I haven’t read his justification.

    Schopenhauer explains altruism as the ‘breakthrough of a metaphysical truth’. I’d be interested to see how SH would refute this idea while not doing any metaphysics.

    I share his view that knowledge is one and that the boundaries between specialisms are notional, but it would not follow that science can or should include ethics.

    Better to argue that metaphysics is a science of logic and then it can be included under ‘science’, and then science can deal withy ethics. But I rather suspect SH would prefer to see an end to metaphysics as it is an obstacle to the freedom of his wilder conjectures.

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  2. I cringe as I type this but in some way I agree with SH regarding the continuity of science to other domains, I just wouldn’t call it science but rather “inquiry” or “empirical inquiry”.

    SH seems to be using the term “science” as a more generic term for epistemic phrase, assuming that all good inquiry is what science is. This is apparent when you read his dizzying writings on morality, where he retreats in his claims from sciences (physics to psychology) can determine morals to the claim that good moral philosophy is science.

    As for demarcation problem in general, I’ve shifted more and more towards the view that it’s not the most important problem and often times can be misleading people into thinking science is the only form of good inquiry.

    Why not focus more directly on epistemology and what good inquiry is, what evidence looks like? Pseudohistory and and pseudophilosophy are also recognized terms but ones that don’t really come up in conversation among academics and instead, the actual work in question is directly criticized as either good or bad inquiry, with specific reasons given for why.

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  3. It strikes me that what is missing from Paul So’s report of Harris’s definition of science is the presence of quantification and other guarantors of objectivity. Adding those, Harris’s scientification of ethics is perfectly understandable as utilitarianism. As naive and open to criticism as it is, this position is not unreasonable, and under the regime of data and statistics already provides the ethical justification for much social policy.

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  4. Nice article, I enjoyed it! 🙂

    The more I read about Sam Harris the more I am convinced it is best to just ignore him. I just don’t see his views worth commenting.

    But I do have a serious question regarding the demarcation problem, both for the author and all other philosophers. As far as my philosophy education goes, I was under the impression that it was Paul Feyerabend who put a final nail in the coffin for the demarcation problem, basically arguing that it has no solution, and moreover cannot have one. Or in other words, science cannot be sharply distinguished from either pseudoscience or other (nonscientific) human activities. So, my question is: do Feyerabend’s criticisms represent the current state of the art in philosophy on the question of the demarcation problem? Or has anyone managed to circumvent his criticisms recently? And if so, how?

    As a scientist, I largely agree with Feyerabend’s views about this topic, so if there is some progress in philosophy beyond them, I’m really curious to see how his criticisms could possibly be worked around, and I’d appreciate some references. 🙂

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  5. One reason this is important is because people are wooed by “Science!” (say it like the guy in the song “she blinded me with science”) This is why when philosophers talk about philosophical issues they don’t draw attention. But when a scientist talks philosophy he gets attention even though he is not as learned in the issues as philosophers are. People are wooed.

    Should we be surprised that the person who defines the “moral good” as “well being” is also quite vague in how he defines science? I mean the terms can be interchangeable but without any explanation of what “well being” is it adds nothing to our understanding of ethics.

    Now I think there can be moral facts, but that is because I am a moral realist. But I recognize that the rightness or wrongness of an action can not be identified directly through empirical means. That is you can take any morally controversial action, killing a cow, abortion, various forms of sex, etc etc. It’s not like if these actions are videotaped you can somehow slow down the tape and point out to the other side – “see right here at this frame the wrongness is appearing in the upper right part of the screen!” People can understand entirely everything that can be directly observed with our 5 senses and still disagree about whether these actions are right or wrong. This is why science can only play an indirect role in sorting these disagreements out.

    As to how to define science I do not think we have a precise definition. But I also agree that “reason and observation” is way too broad. Adding relative terms like “quality reasoning” just muddies waters further. Because I think there is another important aspect about “observations” and “evidence.” What people reason from them will be quite subjective. And by that I mean what people take away from observing a piece of evidence will depend on their background beliefs. This is in part what is happening with arguments from cosmological constants. But a more clear example is the evidence that humans evolved from apes. For some people this will be strong evidence against the existence of God. For others it will not.

    It’s important to understand that this happens all the time in law. Alan Dershowitz thinks it is relevant evidence that Mike Tyson and Desiree Washington were kissing passionately before she went up to his hotel room with him. The judge in Tyson’s rape trial did not think that testimony that this occurred would be relevant to whether she gave consent at the time in question. There is no shortage of these sorts of situations where it is very unclear whether some fact or observation is evidence for something, let alone whether it is strong evidence.

    I wonder if those who share views with Harris think historians are scientists as well? Reading different writings and using reasoning to determine what happened. If they are not scientists can we gain any knowledge about history? Are lawyer’s scientists using observable documents testimony and other objects to reason to a conclusion?

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  6. Just reflecting on what I spent my professional career in — artificial intelligence (AI) — I would say that the boundary between science and philosophy in that field is not something that is thought of as being well-marked. (In the labs where I worked, there were math, computer science, and philosophy Ph.D.s. all doing development.) Now one might argue that AI is not science, it’s engineering, so what Harris is talking about could apply to engineering and philosophy, but not to science and philosophy. But I don’t know if that helps.

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  7. Thank you Paul So for bringing us such an important topic to consider, and done without obvious logic related errors. I believe that I have some better ways for us to think about this demarcation problem.

    First let’s formally consider definition, as you somewhat have, to be arbitrary. There is no “true” definition of science, philosophy and so on, but simply more and less useful ones. Second, we must begin from a useful definition for the term “reality.” I believe it most useful to accept a purely physical definition, where effects are mandated to occur purely through their causes. This would ontologically mandate that we live under a perfectly determined existence, though certainly NOT epistemically. (The quantum physicist’s “natural uncertainty” (or perhaps “UNnatural uncertainty”?) will be physically mandated to occur exactly as it does occur from a true physicalist perspective.)

    From here I think it’s important for us to acknowledge that there is ultimately just ONE method that the human can use to figure anything out: It takes what it thinks it knows (for it’s certainly just an idiot) and then uses this to tests various models of reality that it isn’t so sure about. As a given model continues to stay consistent with what it thinks it knows, the model does then tend to become accepted. We do this for EVERYTHING — science, philosophy, cooking, taxes, sports… The only real difference regarding “science,” is that in the past few centuries we’ve developed an associated community which has achieved various generally accepted understandings that have made us amazingly powerful. Will the field of philosophy ultimately achieve a community with associated accepted understandings, to then strengthen science in this manner? Yes I do believe so.

    The greatest obstacle that is see to this end, concerns standard notions of “ethics,” “morality,” “values,” and so on. I see general notions in this regard as a social tool from which to encourage a fundamentally selfish creature, to not act selfishly. I’d have us instead begin with the punishment/reward dynamic of reality (qualia I think) and thus have us build such understandings from a non socially tainted position. Sam Harris has failed to do so, I think, because he doesn’t yet understand what I’ve told you here today. If I were in his position however, I’m quite sure that I could help the field of philosophy achieve generally accepted understandings regarding the nature of reality, or thus have the field enter the realm of science.

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  8. Paul So writes “It seems from the above that Harris thinks science is JUST the application of reason and observation in order to arrive at justified true beliefs about the world.” (Emphasis added.)

    Science has become, over the last 5 centuries or so, an extremely rigorous and difficult pursuit, and the astonishing results speak for themselves. Gazing at the evening news (observation) and reasoning about it certainly does not meet common sense standards of scientific research.

    The sine qua non of scientific research is application of something that resembles the ‘scientific method’. No one should confuse casual observation or unjustified speculation and extrapolation with science. All scientific reports have limitations that are, or should be, duly noted by the investigators and/or their peers. Paul So seems to skim over this aspect of ‘science’. In science the data speak for themselves. If the data are not trusted, the experimented could be repeated.

    I like the Harris quote in the OP: “I am, in essence, defending the unity of knowledge — the idea that the boundaries between disciplines are mere conventions and that we inhabit a single epistemic sphere in which to form true beliefs about the world.” This theory is not new at all, but with avalanches of new data arriving each day almost, things are certainly beginning to look that way. The gaps are slowly filling in, leaving less and less space for those that hold ‘unscientific’ views. On the other hand, our speculations and dreams now have acquired some semblance of being connected to reality.

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  9. Sam Harris (from “Clarifying the Moral Landscape): “‘You shouldn’t lie’ (prescriptive) is synonymous with ‘Lying needlessly complicates people’s lives, destroys reputations, and undermines trust’ (descriptive). ‘We should defend democracy from totalitarianism’ (prescriptive) is another way of saying ‘Democracy is far more conducive to human flourishing than the alternatives are’ (descriptive).”

    The first statement if simply false – were we to assume Harris is intentionally trying to mislead us, we would properly call it a lie. (That would be a bit of low irony!)

    The second statement is not only false, but uses rhetorical manipulation of the common value assumptions in this country to subvert our critical thinking on the matter. In other words, the claim is written in such a way to shut down dissent by implying that dissent would violate one’s own cultural-political values.

    This is the tactic of a social manipulator making a political case. Despite Harris’ dry, non-committal prose, this is not the cool, reasonable argument it is presented as; it is more reminiscent of Marc Antony’s address to his “Friends, Romans, and countrymen,” attempting to incite them to riot by implying through irony that the Ides of March conspirators are not at all the “honorable men” that they have insisted they are. The curious thing here is, of course, that Marc Antony knows the kind of propaganda he is engaging in – does Harris?

    It is notable that Harris spends most of his reply to Ryan Born sending up a smoke screen of equivocation, without addressing Born’s point. Admittedly Born’s point, a broad but rather clear recitation of the ‘fact/value’ distinction, is neither original nor profound. But one would have assumed that Harris might have replied along exactly those lines, claiming that Born was addressing a superficial complaint that Harris could have claimed he already dealt with. Instead – equivocation, evasion and, finally, falsification and rhetoric. And of course the semantic redefinition for self-serving purposes of which Paul So rightly complains. (Such redefinition is another common rhetorical ploy, by the way.)

    Of course Harris cannot properly deal with the fact/value distinction, since he simply wants it to go away. Stripped of its rhetoric, Harris’ argument is really a meta-ethical theory of the way in which normative ethics are formed. As such, it is weak, because derived from only one culture, Harris’ own. But he doesn’t want meta-ethics to be theoretical discourse on the origins of ethic, he wants to use it to claim the ability to judge and determine actual ethical behavior. That’s not only misguided, it’s dangerous. If we begin assuming our values are facts, because there is supposedly only one means of determining them, ethical dialogue and political debate come to an end. That is not democratic, it is totalitarian. That would make Harris’ political argument, discussed earlier, a totalitarian argument for democracy. That’s not only high irony – it’s absurd.

    (BTW, I admit I haven’t read Harris’ book; and this discussion convinces me not to bother.)

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  10. Hi Paul,

    I disagree with Sam Harris on a lot, but on some of this he is right.

    Harris thinks science is just the application of reason and observation in order to arrive at justified true beliefs about the world.

    Yes. Science is not limited by subject area, it encompases all domains of knowledge.

    Now, obviously one needs to include a quality criterion in the definition (if Harris didn’t state that, perhaps it’s because it’s too obvious to need stating?). The best ways to apply reason and observation have been developed and refined into “the scientific method” (to use a shorthand). There is no neat and simple statement of that set of methods, but the general idea can be summed up in Feynman’s maxim: Take care not to fool yourself, realising that yourself is the easiest person to fool.

    Doing “reason and observation” badly doesn’t count, and nor does arguing towards a wishful-thinking conclusion. That disposes of phrenology, intelligent design and Natural Theology.

    … it ends up excluding a lot of science. There are many scientific works that are not very rigorous and reliable.

    Equally obviously, “quality” is not binary, it is a continuum. Thus, yes, of course much “science” and much that is published in peer-reviewed journals falls below the best standards. Since “quality” is a continuum, what then counts as “science” is fuzzy edged. One has to adopt some (likely ill-defined) quality threshold.

    But, still, life’s like that, and a fuzzy-ish quality threshold on what counts as science solves the “demarcation” complaint about Harris’s definition.

    Note, by the way, that physicists are fond of accusing each other of being “unscientific” or (an even worse insult) “theological” if they consider that someone is possibly letting their wishful-thinking fondness for their own theory get the better of their objectivity. Thus “science” can be regarded as an ideal, from which fallible humans often fall short, but also often-enough come close-enough.

    For [Harris], morality is within the domain of science.

    Well he’s right on that, but for the wrong reason. Harris tries to get moral realism from scientific facts, which is a non-starter as known since Hume.

    But, moral realism is also a non-starter; it’s a simple category error. Terms such as “should” and “ought” don’t mean anything in the abstract, they only mean something in relation to specified goals. Thus the whole search for “moral facts” or a prescriptive morality that tells us “what we should do” is a delusion.

    [Those declaring that science cannot tell us “what we should do” are entirely right; they then go wrong, though, if they suppose that it is a meaningful question in the first place. Harris goes badly wrong on this point, but so do all moral-realist philosophers.]

    That leaves only descriptive morality. And science excels at describing the natural world, which is why the subject of morality is entirely within the domain of science.

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  11. Hi Paul So, well I agree of course. I made a similar point in an earlier essay at Scientia Salon dealing with Sam’s “clarification”.

    From the essay (https://scientiasalon.wordpress.com/2014/07/24/clarifying-sam-harriss-clarification/):

    Harris is right that the choice of calling TML theory a science (or not) is a semantic issue, which would not touch the validity or practical utility of his theory. However, that does not mean the decision is without serious consequence.

    Harris’s expanded definition of “science” relies on a loosening of criteria that can become problematic for those in traditional scientific fields such as physics and biology. His most questionable claim is that the existence of answers in principle provides sufficient grounds for defining something as scientific. If that were true, Intelligent Design (ID) theory would become classified as a legitimate science, as there are answers in principle to the questions they ask. The difference between ID theories and traditional scientific theories is that the methodology underlying ID cannot generate answers in practice. For many that is a critical distinction (and Harris admits his approach may not meet that criterion).

    If we decide to accept a broad definition of science (just to let Harris’s moral theory “in”), future court cases regarding science education may then hinge on being able to explain the difference between science (for people in lab coats) versus science (for everyone else) such that they shouldn’t be taught together in a “science” class. Why make the difficult job of protecting legitimate science education any harder than it already is?

    Harris should concede that TML theory is not science as most people use the term, perhaps adopting “scientia” instead, as Massimo Pigliucci advocates, as a term covering the building of rational knowledge beyond strict empirical approaches.

    I also address his moral theory itself in my submitted essay and a larger work (referenced links found at the above article). If you are interested, have a peek 🙂

    Hi ejwinner, I wouldn’t bother reading Sam’s book as he ended up undercutting his theory during his “clarification” (including the relevant quotes you gave). As it is, has anyone seen him use it… ever? The position he took with Chomsky, where intent matters more than results for moral judgment is in direct conflict with the theory laid out in his book. If a moral theorist doesn’t care about his own theory, there isn’t much reason for you to care either.

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  12. Marko,

    good question about Feyerabend and all that. No, his word was not the last one. The demarcation problem, however, was supposed to be laid to rest by a classic paper by Larry Laudan in the early ’80s.

    But a couple of years ago Maarten Boudry and myself put out a new collection on the issue for Chicago Press, which includes several rebuttals to Laudan (and, more indirectly, Feyerabend). Here it is: http://goo.gl/uCaFjS

    The consensus, if that’s the appropriate term, now is that “science,” “pseudoscience,” and so forth are Wittgensteinian, “family resemblance,” fuzzy concepts, which do not admit of clearcut definitions in terms of necessary and jointly sufficient conditions. Which is not to say that there are no differences between those concepts, or that we don’t know the difference when we see it (you know, sort of like pornography…).

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  13. holmes,

    “The position he took with Chomsky, where intent matters more than results for moral judgment is in direct conflict with the theory laid out in his book. If a moral theorist doesn’t care about his own theory, there isn’t much reason for you to care either”

    I’m glad someone else noticed! And yes, I couldn’t have put it better myself. The real question, of course, is why so many people, especially in the so-called skeptic movement, give so much credence to someone like Harris’. As you probably know, I sketched my own answer here: https://goo.gl/e1i7Gh

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  14. Many domains have demarcation problems. We might ask where poetry becomes prose or where philosophy becomes mere whimsical reflection. But for some reason such lines are considered unimportant compared to those that circumscribe science. Given this, it seems the leading question of *the* demarcation problem is why the relevant demarcation is so important. Once this is understood, semantics can be rallied to serve that sense of importance in a direct way.

    I suspect the reason the demarcation problem is important is that the distinction with regard to purported knowledge between science, non-science, and that which is merely put forth as science is of great practical import. One wouldn’t want to fly on jet that was engineered “mostly” on the basis of science.

    So perhaps rather than fields or methods the primary subject of the property “being science” should be knowledge. On this approach, “science” would be an honorific status of some knowledge as opposed to a nebulous vocation that includes plumbers, detectives, and moral philosophers. Once we know when knowledge is science, we can identity fields and methods as science on the basis of their propensity to produce science in the knowledge sense.

    As to when knowledge is science, I wouldn’t pretend to know in detail; my point has been merely about framing the issue in terms of knowledge. I can put forth a few ideas on this, however.

    One point is that ‘knowledge’ in ‘scientific knowledge’ must be the looser sense of ‘knowledge’ as opposed to the epistemologist’s strict sense that requires knowledge to be true. Being true is too strict given that “scientific knowledge” is properly conceived of as provisional. So perhaps ‘true’ in the epistemologist’s strict formulation could be replaced with something like “closest truth” or “best approximation of truth.” Note that this property of closest truth wouldn’t be one conferred by scientific authority but one realized or acknowledge as such by such; that is, closest truth is an independent fact about available theories as opposed to a function of authority. This implies that scientific authorities can be wrong about what purported knowledge is science.

    Other properties of scientific knowledge would be being empirical–i.e. being justified by observation–and having a certain degree of complexity. The complexity condition is what keeps a count of the number cars in a parking lot from being science. Counting cars in parking lots certainly can be science but presumably there would have to be more than one parking lot.

    The above conception of science might explain the ambivalence that attends whether, say, string theory is science. The sense that it isn’t science might come from the fact that the propositions of string theory are not science in the knowledge sense, in their present form at least. The sense that it is science might come from fact that such propositions issue from a field with a good track record of producing science.

    Coel,

    “Science is not limited by subject area, it encompases all domains of knowledge.”

    As in the case of Harris, this expansive conception of science seems to undermine and/or neglect the very reason for a concern with the demarcation problem. Is distinguishing “scientific knowledge,” as the phrase is commonly used, from other purported knowledge unimportant?

    Philosophy, witchcraft, and Buddhism are domains of knowledge that are not necessarily inconsistent with science in the conventional sense. Would you call the knowledge produced by these domains “scientific knowledge”? If not, why would you call these knowledge domains science? That is, it seems that unless you want to be very generous with the term “scientific knowledge,” you must concede that some domains of knowledge are not science.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. “But contra popular understanding, semantic issue(s) aren’t pointless. On the contrary, they are quite instructive.”

    Exactly! As I’ve tried in vain to explain in on-line debates. People ask why I’m quibbling over such silly things as what Merriam-Webster says about this or that word, and never mind that words are what we use to cyber-communicate. It’s like asking what water has to do with swimming. Or money with commerce. Or sound with audio.

    Yes, indeed–what do words, letters, spaces, punctuation, etc. matter when your medium for communicating is a typewriter attached to a screen? It’s not like we’re writing each other or something. Semantics, schemantics.

    On a pop level, “science,” like “art,” has two completely unrelated (and regularly swapped) meanings. Art can be a painting or novel; or it can be the art OF something–e.g. sewing, wood-working, yodeling, cat care, flying a kite, gargling a tune, balancing a ladder on your nose. But are any of those things art? No, they’re arts. Meanwhile, we have the science OF music or teaching or pole-vaulting, but are any of these actual areas of science? Nope.

    Worse than the “science/science OF” dilemma is the currently popular notion that, for example, space=science. You know, the received weirdness that subjects of science ARE science. When that meteor shower hit Russia, Google Images was filled with shower pics accompanied by the charming meme, “It’s science, bitch!” Actually, my understanding is that meteors are space rocks, whereas science is a method of studying the natural world, including space rocks. Bitches, meanwhile, are “the female of the dog or some other carnivorous mammals” (Merriam-Webster). However, mere semantics.

    (I’ve got to stop using words in my posts….)

    Liked by 3 people

  16. There are lots of things where I disagree with Sam Harris, but in this case I do not find the post’s argumentation to work. Being unburdened by US-American tactical considerations regarding the first on the list, I at least have no problem with seeing ID, phrenology and Natural Theology as science, only they are outdated, superseded science. They do not provide a counterexample any more than a static universe or spontaneous generation of microbes: at some point they were reasonable-sounding scientific ideas, now we know better.

    I assume that part of the confusion here comes from a conflation of pseudo-science as deliberately bad practice (because the practitioner is biased) and pseudo-science as false beliefs. That we know now that special creation is nonsense doesn’t mean that somebody couldn’t have considered it a valid scientific conclusion given what was known in the early 18th century. In fact if I found another planet now where there was abundant and diverse life, no phylogenetic structure to that life, no trace of any fossil history before 6,000 years ago, and genetic data in accordance with complete absence of deleterious alleles ca 6,000 years ago, I would surely be justified to tentatively conclude just that: ID by some mysterious alien intelligence, perhaps as part of some terraforming project. If ID is pseudo-science today it is not because we know it turned out to be wrong for our planet but only because its proponents are totally unreasonable, and that means they blatantly fail the “reason” part of Harris’ definition. It is as easy as that.

    Harris’ blind spot is is-ought, but I cannot see a problem with the claim that all application of reason to empirical data is science. Some people seem to be afraid of a situation where the scientismists are trampling dirt all over the carpet of the philosophy department; I am more afraid of the situation where Joe Average thinks that scientific insights can be safely ignored because science is seen as some kind of obscure ivory tower activity totally disconnected from and alien to being reasonable and commonsensical about what happens around us.

    I remember reading an anecdote of an evolutionary biologist talking to a creationist plumber who found the great flood convincing, and the biologist thought afterwards: funny how he would disbelieve vast quantities of water appearing completely out of nowhere in his daily job but does not consistently apply the same logic elsewhere… Really, there is one world around us, and there is one set of tools that works to understand it. It doesn’t magically become a different set just because you don a white coat.

    Liked by 3 people

  17. I agree with the criticisms against SH’s definition of science. Mainly because I think our scientific method itself is an approximation of probability theory. If humans were instead artificial intelligences, we could just be programmed to be perfect Bayesians and update accordingly whenever we encountered new evidence or incorporate some manner of Solomonff Induction to generate hypotheses when attempting to solve some problem.

    But we’re not machines, so we fumbled around until we came up with the scientific method to account for our faults and biases as humans. Whatever the line is that separates science from pseudoscience, it would probably be whatever methodology pushes us further away from being perfect Bayesians. The plumber fixing your sink also follows probability loosely, insofar as s/he is trained to generate hypotheses (based on prior knowledge) and test them when fixing your sink. The plumber just doesn’t have the entire edifice of checks and balances that our scientific method has to systematically weed out human error to the same degree.

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  18. Coel (again),

    “But, moral realism is also a non-starter; it’s a simple category error. Terms such as “should” and “ought” don’t mean anything in the abstract, they only mean something in relation to specified goals. Thus the whole search for “moral facts” or a prescriptive morality that tells us “what we should do” is a delusion.”

    The notion of a morality that makes no judgements of moral right and wrong contradicts the very meaning of morality, unless we want to consider nihilism a special case of morality. If you believe that moral prescriptions are categorically invalid, then you’re a nihilist. But what nihilist would say that morality is in the scope of science? Very odd.

    You seem to hold that moral inquiry proper is invalid and that scientific study of moral phenomena is the only kind of morality we can have. But scientific study of morality is not a morality any more than scientific study of religion is a religion. Did you mention category mistakes?

    Anyway, I take you to be a nihilist who believes we can get insights about morality from the scientific study of morality. This makes little sense. While science can tell us what people believe about morality and the biological underpinnings of such belief, it cannot tell us anything about *morality itself* if we believe moral prescriptions are nonsense. This is like an atheist claiming that science can tell us about God.

    So, it seems you should say simply that you don’t believe in morality but do believe science can tell us about the phenomenon of morality. The notion of a purely descriptive morality is incoherent.

    Liked by 4 people

  19. There is lots of discussion of this in economics, which does not seem to be a science. Or at least it is a social science which is not quite the same as science. Yet there are those who study economics in a way which can be called scientific. A sub area of this is economics and math. Much of the math in economics is badly done, and is never tested by empirical observations. Several economists have called that ‘mathiness’. Likewise there are some really good scholars who have studied religion, ethics, and morality. Evolutionary, historical, and anthropological approaches have shone a lot of light on these fields. These scholars often are using rigorous protocols in their analyses.

    What is common in these social sciences is that there are no overarching theories. Information and understanding is as yet piecemeal or fragmented. Of course medicine and nutrition are kind of in the same boat.

    Until there are tested unifying theories, bodies of data which can be largely understood within those theories, and it is all generally supported by consensus many field lie outside the boundaries of science, how far differs.

    Like

  20. I liked Alex SL’s point about superceded-protosciences as one way of retaining a unity of science in view of the demarcation problem. One definition of a science mixes social characteristics of the practitioners with matching epistemological criteria

    universalism, disinterestedness, organized skepticism, and epistemic communism ­- the sharing of methods and findings with the scientific community [a la Merton]…changeability, compatibility with the bulk of the antecedent knowledge, partial overlap with at least one other science, and control by the scientific community.

    A pseudoscience can then fail either at the level of facts or at the level of social organisation. Phrenology’s modularity of brain function is not a bad start on the truth of the matter, but at the level of practice rapidly devolves (based on my slight understanding of its history). ID and natural theology lack organised skepticism (well not that kind 😉 ), and don’t give anything back to the sciences they overlap with – biology, geology in the former case. Maybe the strong anthropic principle is a gift from natural theology to cosmology.

    At that broad level, there is a science of history that partially overlaps with sociology, psychology, economics, genetics, linguistics, with a useful back and forth between the disciplines.

    Scientism is then “the idea that the spirit and the methods of science should be extended to all walks of intellectual and moral life without exception.” [Lalande 1938].

    My only thought re Harris is to look at his prototype, the practice of medicine – an art and a science. Public health has a “simple” goal of maximizing “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being”. But what a can of worms that is. Is a cochlear implant “therapy or cultural alienation?” Does $50000 spent on a single renal transplant do more for well-being than 20000 treatments of respiratory tract infection in Pakistani children? We can use scientific methods to find out peoples’ preferences, and even to change them, but we can’t reach a scientific consensus on well-being.

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  21. But, moral realism is also a non-starter; it’s a simple category error. Terms such as “should” and “ought” don’t mean anything in the abstract, they only mean something in relation to specified goals.

    So what you’re saying is that if there are such things as universal goals, then there’s such a thing as a moral reality. Hm…. I wonder if all living organisms share any universal goal in common….

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Well, I would say the following:

    The demarcation problem is a serious one, and people often overlook this point. Yes, at a very, very superficial level, you can say that “All human knowledge is predicated on reason and evidence.” But the whole story begins to quickly unravel as soon as you’re forced to actually define and defend your construal of the words “reason” and “evidence”, once someone actually calls you on the appeal to the nebulous, vague, colloquial interpretation of those words.

    It shouldn’t be a surprise to any academic why this is a rather facile equivocation. This is especially obvious after listening to someone who has no inkling of what it is that you do) start making arguments about why they think what you’re doing is wrong; I suspect every academic has experienced this. The reality is that interpreting evidence, gathering evidence, understanding the history of failures and successes of your field, and so on lead you to have a deep appreciation of why certain “reasons” are profoundly misguided. And while “Reason and evidence” has lead communities to think about things differently than one’s inexperienced intuitions would have you believe, it’s wildly naive not account for and appreciate the nuances and subtleties in how and why the tools and understandings currently in place in a discipline are what they are. The tools that philosophers use do heavy-lifting for philosophical problems, and the tools that biologists use do heavy-lifting for biology problems. But don’t mix them up!

    To put them all into the same pot is basically a step away from appreciating nuance and trying to understand how and why different perspectives exist for different problems (Again, this whole idea that morality = science is a great example). And so, in my opinion, attempting to treat these things as the same by expanding your definition of science is just an invitation for conceptual confusion, category errors, misunderstandings, erroneous interpretations of data, and so on. Specialization is a good thing, at the end of the day, not a bad thing (At least with humanity’s current level of intelligence).

    Liked by 2 people

  23. Coel,

    Apparently you don’t like people debating differing ethical positions, and you’ve some resistance against stating your own ethical positions.

    There’s only one problem – politics is about the conflict between differing ethical positions and the debates between these that ensue. Those debating such differences in politics may not be philosophers, yet they are involved in philosophically grounded discourse concerning ethics nonetheless. If not, then perhaps it would be better for them to keep their mouths shut and let elections proceed as mere popularity contests.

    Then we would have to dismiss as irrational and ‘unscientific’ the author of the following ethical-injunctive political arguments:

    “Religious people should not get extra consideration, the non-religious should matter just as much.”

    “We should reject the idea that a desire to do something owing to one’s religion counts for more than a desire to do something for any other reason. Aren’t we all equal? If it is considered that a rule would be too burdensome to impose on a religious person, then we should conclude that it is too burdensome to impose on anyone.”

    “In these days of secular equality we can’t have rules predicated on the truth of any religion, nor should the state presume that religion is an automatic Good Thing that must be indulged.”

    “We should fully support religious toleration — the freedom to practice one’s religion with the same freedoms to speak and act that anyone else has — but we should also insist on equality under the law and stand firm in denying requests for religious privilege.”

    I’m sure you will agree… oh, wait a minute – the source:

    https://scientiasalon.wordpress.com/2014/11/28/three-cheers-for-religious-toleration/

    Oops. As dbholmes notes, “If a moral theorist doesn’t care about his own theory, there isn’t much reason for you to care either.”

    None of this is science, these seem to be personal feelings you have. I sympathize. Unfortunately neither science nor philosophy are domains appropriate for personal prejudice.

    Rhetoric is inevitable in human communications – much of what we say and write is manipulation of language in order to persuade others to respond and behave as we wish – so that Harris indulges in it is not itself a fault. But critical thinking demands that we be able to discern the logic that needs to convince us from the rhetoric that persuades. Harris apparently cannot make that distinction; no meta-ethics, even asserted as an ethics (as with Harris), can. Rhetoric is the underbelly of language that neither science nor logic can reach. That is its inescapable power – and the hungry maw awaiting the unwary.

    The art that both science and philosophy share is precisely the careful distinction between the language we want to use, to feel better about our beliefs, and the language we must use, in order to explain the world we know, like it or not. Neither pseudoscience nor scientism properly allow that art. That’s why we know we can’t trust them.

    Liked by 3 people

  24. Marko,
    “I was under the impression that it was Paul Feyerabend who put a final nail in the coffin for the demarcation problem, basically arguing that it has no solution, and moreover cannot have one. Or in other words, science cannot be sharply distinguished from either pseudoscience or other (nonscientific) human activities. So, my question is: do Feyerabend’s criticisms represent the current state of the art in philosophy on the question of the demarcation problem? Or has anyone managed to circumvent his criticisms recently? And if so, how?”

    Feyerabend’s argument that there is no solution to the demarcation problem would be correct if finding *necessary and sufficient conditions* is the only way to differentiate science from pseudoscience. As Massimo already pointed out, this isn’t the only way to demarcate science from pseudoscience. There are other ways such as finding frequent properties in science that are infrequent in pseudoscience and vice versa. In other words, we can find rules of thumbs or heuristics than strict criteria. Perhaps a proper diagnosis as to why the demarcation problem persists is that the necessary/sufficient condition approach usually does not work on problems of vagueness. For example, the boundary between baldness and having hair is vague because the difference between them is a continuum or degrees than strict binary differences. The difference between black and white is another good example of vagueness. Black and white are two poles of the same continuum where there are countless of shades in between. Applying necessary and sufficient conditions to differentiate black from white assumes that there exist some discrete value for differentiation. Unfortunately, there probably isn’t one. Likewise, I think the demarcation problem is another problem of vagueness in which the boundary between science and pseudoscience isn’t precise, so the necessary/sufficient approach has extremely limited application there. Overall, the demarcation problem still stands and Harris’ definition of science only exacerbates the problem.

    Liked by 2 people

  25. I find the discussion as it proceeds here very odd. For many people it seems to go like this:

    1. Agree with Massimo that there is no sharp demarcation between science and pseudoscience,

    2. then argue that Sam Harris’ definition of science doesn’t work because…

    3. … it fails to provide a sharp demarcation.

    Am I the only one who sees an issue with this argumentation?

    There is also a lot of conflation going on between (a) the claim that science deals with everything that is empirical, (b) the claim that scientific observations have something to contribute to ethics, and (c) the claim that science is the sole arbiter of ethics and philosophers are all useless. No two of these are the same, and it is perfectly possible to argue in favour of a while rejecting b and c, or to argue in favour of a and b while rejecting c, as I would.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. A lot of people consider string theory and many-worlds to be pseudoscience. Yes, the lack of any falsifiable hypotheses is a crippling flaw. So is the failure to address any real-world problem. Those fields make phrenology seem like legitimate science. At least phrenology was based on some plausible assumptions, some physical models, and some testable hypotheses. String theory and many-worlds lack all of these.

    Einstein’s General Relativity did not really go against the established body of knowledge at the time. The theory was a completely mainstream way of reconciling accepted ideas. As a recent essay here explained, Wegener was a much better example of going against prevailing wisdom.

    It would be more useful to criticize Harris’s conclusions, rather than his definitions. Criticism of a definition is especially ridiculous from philosophers who, as Massimo informs us, have a consensus that science has no clearcut definition.

    I suspect that one reason the skeptics like Harris is that he has the guts to criticize Islam. Others keep quiet because they do not want to be beheaded, or called bigots.

    Liked by 1 person

  27. If, as Massimo and others claim, that there is no necessary and sufficient conditions for the concept of science, and that the concept must be based on family resemblance, and a certain conceptual fuzziness, then why is Harris being criticised for arguing that our concept of science is not as clear cut (with necessary and sufficient conditions) is many think it is? 

    If there is no necessary and sufficent conditions for science, can we just say that ID etc etc is just bad science or failed science? (as Harris himself says.)

    Instead of excluding certain arguments, schools, positions etc because it does not fit into this or that conceptual box, can we simply not ask: is it true? Is there reasons to believe that it is true? 

    Conceptual issues over what is and is not science is like confusing one’s finger and what one’s finger points to – the moon. 

    2:

    If  Harris is such a philosophical waste of space why are there so many articles on this website that continually state that he is an idiot?

    Because he is influential? Influential on who exactly? politicians, philosophers? Probably not. The philosophical plebs then? Where the evidence of this excatly? (except the fact that Harris is a reasonably successful writer)? 

    Me thinks he doth protest too much…..

    Liked by 1 person

  28. Coel

    Nice to speak to you again. I have a few comments and questions for you.

    Firstly, I agree with you over the of the categorical imperative (absolute shouldness scale as you call it).   

    So, that leaves hypothetical imperatives. If-then. If you value X then do Y. 

    Now, my question, do you think that what people value can be judged reasonable or unreasonable? I.e, from reflecting upon their experience, paying attention to consequences, harmony with other, perhaps more important, values. So, do you think that the grounds upon which some people hold their values can be criticised using the concepts – experience, consequences, coherence (and others)  – that I have outlined? 

    If the answer is yes, then the next issue is what role does non-moral facts play in the possible criticism of our values? Here are some possibilities:

    1: Non-moral facts can supply better means to our values. (and so we should value these means.)
    2: Non-moral facts can supply us with secondary values that serve our primary (foundational) values.  
    3: Non-moral facts can undermine or constrain our secondary and primary values.  
    4: Non-moral facts, in conjunction with primary or secondary values, can supply us with new secondary values? 

    Do you agree with these possibilities? 

    (note, if you agree, this gets us close, but not the summit, of Harris is arguing for – that science can determine our values.)

    If so, then, on the assumption that X desires to be moral, can we not define “ought” as – if you want to be X and if you reason carefully you should value A? (This is a hypothetical imperative.)

    If you agree, then the final question is it reasonable to be moral? If so, and if morality really is about happiness and suffering, do you not think that, at least a certain (Dennett style conceptually cleaned up) moral realism is possible?

    Like

  29. I also agree with Alex SL, and find Paul So’s argument completely unpersuasive.

    Here’s where the error lies. So says:
    “As long as we use reason and observation with proper epistemic intentions, we are doing science regardless of whether or not we really do acquire true beliefs.”
    But then:
    “But ID proponents like Stephen C. Meyers do in fact use reason and observation to support their claim. They give arguments and provide what they think of as empirical evidence for their conclusion that there must be an intelligent designer. In effect, they are doing science according to Harris’ definition.”

    The second quote is simply untrue. ID proponents do not have proper epistemic intentions, because they would not be willing to admit a conclusion which ran contrary to their beliefs.

    Similarly, a phrenologist could be a scientist if she were willing to accept the null hypothesis as an answer: that in fact skull bumps have no connection to character or anything. Anyone who practices phrenology in the 21st century demonstrates by their action that she is not willing to accept that null hypothesis; therefore she does not have the proper intentions.

    My view on Harris’s moral science is that whether or not he’s right that all morality is within the bounds of science, a proper approach to morality should include a lot more science than it currently does. For example, it would be very useful to know a lot more about pleasure and pain; about how inequality affects us psychologically; about the true consequences of burning carbon now; etc., etc. All of these questions are susceptible to scientific enquiry. It may be that there is some non-scientific philosophising to do in addition, but we might as well get on with the science in the meantime.

    Liked by 1 person

  30. Hi Paul Paolini,

    Is distinguishing “scientific knowledge,” … from other purported knowledge unimportant?

    Yes, it’s important, but the distinction is about quality of evidence/argument (judged against the best we can do today) and not about subject area. Alex is right that phrenology and Natural Theology are attempts that have been superseded and are nowadays “unscientific” because we nowadays can do better.

    This amounts to a unity-of-knowledge claim, that the basics of epistemology hold in all domains and that there are no domains of valid knowledge that are “outside science”.

    Of course, in everyday talk, distinguishing between “science” and (say) “history” is conventional and useful, but they’re part of the same ensemble. There is no date in the past at which epistemology radically changes and the study of humans stops being a “science” (paleontology) and starts being a “non-science” (history).

    The notion of a purely descriptive morality is incoherent.

    Not once one understands that “morality” is simply a term for feelings we have about how humans treat each other. Given that we evolved into a cooperative ecological niche (where, for example, we hunt communally) we then need rules about divvying up the meat and cooperation more generally. Thus evolution programs us with feelings of “fairness”, “loyalty”, “betrayal” etc.

    There is nothing “nihilistic” about that. The fact that our feelings do not reflect supra-human absolute standards does not negate those feelings nor make them unimportant. Nor is there anything incoherent in saying that science can study such human feelings: it is human psychology.

    This is like an atheist claiming that science can tell us about God.

    It can. Science tells us that God does not exist (see above superseding of Natural Theology!). Similarly the search for an absolute standard of morals that can prescribe “what we should do” is misguided because no such standard exists. It’s a category-error misunderstanding of what morals are and where they came from.

    Hi Asher,

    So what you’re saying is that if there are such things as universal goals, then there’s such a thing as a moral reality.

    No. Just as, if a liking for chocolate were universal, that would still not establish that liking as being independent of human feelings.

    Hi ejwinner,

    Nice try, but there is no inconsistency:

    None of this is science, these seem to be personal feelings you have.

    Exactly. I was giving my feelings on the matter. I was expounding on what sort of society I would like to live in. Humans have feelings and they seek to persuade each other!

    I was not under any delusion that my social advocacy reflects some absolute supra-human standard of how society “should be”, and thus I’m being fully consistent.

    Hi Michael Faulkner,

    … do you think that what people value can be judged reasonable or unreasonable?

    Sure, it can be judged so by other people, based on their own feelings and values, of which “reasonableness” is one.

    But, no, people’s values cannot be judged against any absolute standard because there is no such standard.

    Liked by 2 people

  31. That is a nice, clearly written article that neatly sums up the problem.

    The heart of the issue is this statement by Harris:
    I am, in essence, defending the unity of knowledge — the idea that the boundaries between disciplines are mere conventions and that we inhabit a single epistemic sphere in which to form true beliefs about the world.

    Scientismists, like Coel, use this to defend their claims. But where does this belief come from? As others have pointed out, it is a metaphysical claim that cannot be demonstrated by science itself. It is an article of belief, indeed, of faith.

    Historically this claim has its origin in theology and it can be traced back to the later Hebrew belief in YHWH, a single rational cause/ground of existence. This belief was further elaborated by the Augustinian-Thomists, becoming the foundation for Christianity. The belief in a single, rational cause of existence has as its natural corollary, the belief in the rational unity of knowledge. This in turn established a bedrock of belief, in  Europe, in the rational unity of knowledge, which gave birth to the scientific revolution in Europe.

    So Coel, I have bad news for you, you are appealing to a theological belief to justify your scientism. Now, as it happens, I agree with you on this point(for obvious reasons).

    But we part company on the consequences of this belief. For you, the consequences of this belief is that all domains of knowledge are open to human scientific enquiry. But are they? That has never been shown and there are several counter-examples. This is your second article of faith. For me it is ironical that a scientismist bases his position on two articles of faith(one of them theological) when he is so quick to condemn faith on the part of theists. It is a selective application of logic.

    The clearest example of the failure of your second article of faith was your earlier claim that science can solve moral problems. You were challenged and you replied by asking for examples of moral problems. I gave you the list of moral problems from the NY Times Ethicist column. Despite a repeated cycle of challenges you were unable to show even the smallest shred of evidence that science solves moral problems. You could not cite a single peer reviewed paper.

    Of course that is another irony, that a practising scientist can make strong claims of scientific truth without the slightest shred of evidence.

    Naturally people like Harris have weasel clauses in the fine print. They claim it is descriptive(or weak) science. That is trivially true and not terribly useful. It becomes useful when it has explanatory, problem solving and predictive power. That is strong science and that is where their claims crash to the ground, as Coel found out. My challenge still stands, use science to solve the moral problems described in the Ethicist column. I need an algorithm that I could incorporate in my forthcoming Moral Guidance App.

    Liked by 1 person

  32. A pragmatist might be more concerned with “modeling” of something than whether something is “science” or “philosophy”: What is the modeling language for a specific domain? What is the measure for the usefulness of a particular model? etc.

    “Using Models to Represent Reality”
    Ronald N. Giere
    http://www.tc.umn.edu/~giere/UMRR.pdf
    In sum, scientific reasoning is to a large extent model-based reasoning. It is models almost all the way up and models almost all the way down.

    Like

  33. Alex,

    “I at least have no problem with seeing ID, phrenology and Natural Theology as science, only they are outdated, superseded science”

    I do, but they are different sorts of cases, and they are illustrative of why it is productive to think in a more nuanced way about demarcation issues. Yes, phrenology is a failed science; it would be a pseudoscience if some people insisted in promoting it as scientific after it has been shown to be groundless. Natural theology was never a science because it doesn’t invoke natural mechanisms and explanations. Indeed, it doesn’t “explain” anything, since it basically says that studying nature is a way to understand God, not the other way around. ID is in between, since there are both theistic and naturalistic versions of it (think Fred Hoyle’s panspermia hypothesis). These distinctions are, I think, useful, and would be blurred or downright obliterated if we called everything “science.”

    “Am I the only one who sees an issue with this argumentation?”

    Perhaps. Maybe because there is no issue. One can consistently argue (as I do) that science is a family resemblance concept without because of that agreeing that it is the sort of expansive concept that Harris and others wish it to be.

    Jake,

    “You could replace “science” with “scientia” throughout this essay and you’d have the same problem”

    No, because “scientia” explicitly means knowledge in the widest possible sense, including the sort of understanding that comes from philosophical reflection, or the sort of non-factual knowledge that arises from math and logic. But of course even “scientia” does not encompass everything (or it would be meaningless). For instance, I don’t think it includes literature, poetry, or art. Not because they do not generate understanding, but because they are very different types of activities from the other mentioned, and they do not really generate “knowledge” in the same sense.

    field,

    “To put them all into the same pot is basically a step away from appreciating nuance and trying to understand how and why different perspectives exist for different problems”

    Precisely.

    schlafly,

    “Criticism of a definition is especially ridiculous from philosophers who, as Massimo informs us, have a consensus that science has no clearcut definition.”

    Do you? I’d really like to hear it. Please, indulge me, give it a try.

    “I suspect that one reason the skeptics like Harris is that he has the guts to criticize Islam”

    You mean his irrational rejection of an entire culture because of the pathological behavior of a small minority? Yeah, a got a problem with that. But no, I think his silliness concerning science and morality stands on its own.

    Michael,

    “If, as Massimo and others claim, that there is no necessary and sufficient conditions for the concept of science, and that the concept must be based on family resemblance, and a certain conceptual fuzziness, then why is Harris being criticised for arguing that our concept of science is not as clear cut?”

    See my response to Alex above.

    “If  Harris is such a philosophical waste of space why are there so many articles on this website that continually state that he is an idiot?”

    Because he is influential, with a good chunk of the public and the media. He’s not an idiot, just an arrogant, self-promoting author who has an amount of clout that is disproportionate to the worth of his writings.

    Liked by 3 people

  34. labnut: “I need an algorithm that I could incorporate in my forthcoming Moral Guidance App.”

    Aren’t “moral guidance” algorithms what the scientist Dr. Phil’s (e.g., “Life Code”), the pastor Joel Osteen’s, … books provide? They may not be the best or even good algorithms, but they are algorithms nonetheless.

    Like

  35. Hi Coel,

    Science tells us that God does not exist (see above superseding of Natural Theology!).

    As an agnostic I would be interested in finding out how science tells us that there is no God.

    I am assuming that you cannot cite any peer reviewed journal in which this demonstration occurs.

    That is the problem, as I see it. If someone says “Science tells us that the Universe is 14 billion years old” and someone else asked for that to be backed up, then some solid reasoning and evidence would follow.

    But following the claim “Science tells us there is no God” there can only follow some sort of metaphysical argument which cannot demonstrate the truth of its contentions.

    Natural Atheology is no better, not even any different, from the Natural Theology it claims to replace

    If we are to call this science, in just the same sense as we use the term for physics, cosmology, biology etc, then these fields will suffer.

    Liked by 3 people

  36. Hi Massimo,

    Natural theology was never a science because it doesn’t invoke natural mechanisms and explanations.

    I don’t agree that science has any a priori limitation to “natural” explanations that must exclude consideraton of gods. Indeed, I don’t see any sensible natural vs supernatural distinction that doesn’t amount to exists vs doesn’t-exist.

    Hi labnut,

    As others have pointed out, it is a metaphysical claim that cannot be demonstrated by science itself.

    No it isn’t, the “unity of knowledge” idea is itself the product of science. Science adopts the world-view models that work best, and unity-of-knowledge models simply work better.

    … your second article of faith was your earlier claim that science can solve moral problems.

    No, I did not claim that science can “solve moral problems”, I claimed that science can answer moral questions.

    You’ll now be thinking “what’s the difference?” because you’ve never understood my stance, to which that difference is crucial.

    The point is that if you ask a question that assumes moral realism, such as a “What should we do about X?” question that assumes that there is some Absolute Shouldness Scale against which different courses of action can be evaluated, then the answer: “There is no such scale, and your question is misconceived” is an entirely full and proper answer to your question.

    You, being a moral realist, will not like that answer, but that doesn’t stop it being an entirely good and valid answer that is provided by science (because science tells us what morals actually are, a variant of our evolutionary aesthetic programming).

    I gave you the list of moral problems from the NY Times Ethicist column.

    Exactly, you waved airily at large websites, and repeatedly refused to narrow down to one example question. If you actually want to pursue this you’re welcome to try *an* example question. Note that the answer will likely be as in the previous paragraph.

    I need an algorithm that I could incorporate in my forthcoming Moral Guidance App.

    If you think I am asserting that science can provide an algorithmic Moral Guidance App that can prescribe what you “ought” to do, by reading off how high the action ranks on the Absolute Shouldness Scale, then you have totally misunderstood my entire position — which is that your entire framing of the issue is a category error, and that *any* quest for a prescriptive moral-realist scheme that tells you what you “should do” is misconceived.

    This is the basic problem: people are so steeped in a moral-realist intuition that they simply don’t assimilate the position that morals are our evolutionarily-programmed feelings about how we treat each other, even though it has an honourable history back to Hume and Darwin.

    There are no good arguments against this idea at all, the only problem is that it is counter-intuitive. But then the real world often is counter-intuitive, as, for example, quantum mechanics and relativity have taught us! Science often is about re-programming ones intuition in such ways.

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  37. I’ve spread the “likes” around pretty liberally for this one so far, and simply because I do enjoy the types of thought that I’ve been seeing. They make me wonder if some will come around to the position taken in my first comment. If there is indeed only one method by which the human can figure anything out (beyond “faith” I suppose), then science might effectively be considered the product of *a community* which arose in recent centuries given its accepted understandings of how reality functions. By taking what it thought it knew as evidence from which to test such theory, it seems to have given us some amazingly powerful understandings. But the demarcation problem shall simply not be overcome in an ultimate sense. Observe for example that we may end up burning in Hell if we don’t repent our sins to Jesus Christ — it turns out that we simply can’t know this to be false. We must accept our ultimate ignorance, but still move on as best we are able.

    Furthermore, the problem with the tremendous power that science has provided us with, is that it seems to makes us quite vulnerable — science hasn’t yet given much in the way of theory addressing how we may use our tremendous power to lead our lives and structure our societies “properly,” (and no, by this I do not mean “morally/ethically”).

    Observe that existence can be very good for us, as well as very bad for us, but apparently not for a brick. Thus by “proper” I mean that science hasn’t yet provided us with theory regarding what it is that makes existence non inconsequential for us. Such an understanding should provide a solid ideology from which to “properly” lead our lives and structure our societies. This is something that would be based upon what we actually seem to be, not what we would like ourselves to be.

    I’d also like to cheer on Paul Paolini above for taking it to Coel! I’m very curious to see if Coel, whose position is already quite close to my own, does inch ever closer. (Actually, I now see that he’s responded.) For the moment I’m going to keep my own answers for Paul private, though I do hope that Coel (and others of course) will actively help complete the circle of science by endorsing a true ideology. Thus science would no longer just provide us with power, but also with understandings of how to properly use it.

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  38. The main focus here is on the nature and scope of science, but I think certain unwarranted assumptions are being made about ethics. Is ethics simply ‘a branch of philosophy’ as the author of the essay suggests? The question also arises (and not just because Paul So is employed in a school of religion within a Christian institution) as to whether we are talking about a purely secular version of philosophy here or one which sees ethics in a religious or theological context?

    Academic ethics in Western countries has for centuries had at least tenuous (and, especially in more recent times, not always obvious) links with institutional religion. (And, as I understand it, the man credited with creating the most notable secular approach to ethics, Jeremy Bentham, wasn’t interested in ethics per se, but in law, in the legal system.)

    So I am questioning (like some other commenters have) the assumption that normative ethics is the sort of thing that can form the basis for a solid, secular academic discipline.

    It’s interesting that even many religious people (fideists, Wittgenstein, for example) see normative ethics as something which is not amenable to academic treatment.

    My approach is decidedly nonreligious, however. As I see it, people have (and act on their) values, some of which may be characterized as ethical or moral (as distinct from aesthetic, etc.). But normative ethics is just not the sort of thing that can constitute the subject matter of a research or theory-based academic discipline, scientific or otherwise.

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  39. Sorry, but as a physicist, I’m pretty much a Popperian. I have a very narrow definition of what constitutes “science:” it is a methodology consisting of a systematic, iterative use of observation (all sense-data) and reason. Observations are used as hypotheses, reason generates models (mathematical in the advanced form) which are tested by prediction against additional observation. And Falsification is, indeed, the criterion which must be met by a model (theory) if it is to be judged part of science.

    And I’m not too sure about psychology: why is it obvious that a methodology created by the human intellect should obviously be applicable to analyzing the human mind? There’s a Doug Hofstadter strange-loop problem, potentially. And then there’s “political science,” “management science,” and other comic labels.

    So astrology, creation science, and natural theology are not sciences by the Popper test. Also, I would say that string theory is only a science if it generates a prediction that is at least IN PRINCIPLE falsifiable. It is near the margin, because, while there are in-principle observations that might test its predictions, these are not even close to practical. So it is certainly questionable as science. Many-worlds quantum mechanics is not science – UNLESS someone comes up with a way to test it. As I said, I have a narrow definition of the word.

    Harris’ problem is that he is a positivist, and thus anything of value must (in his view) be part of science. This forces him into a broad definition of the word – so broad that the word becomes meaningless.

    I, while holding a narrow definition of science, readily proclaim that much of value lies OUTSIDE science.

    Liked by 5 people

  40. Massimo,

    I think your reply doesn’t address the disagreement. You seem to say that important distinctions get lost if we subsume phrenology etc. under science – but again, is that not just because it is now known to be wrong? Harris’ claim as introduced above is not that everything you call pseudo-science is right, but merely that the stuff the pseudo-science is dealing with falls into the area of science. And that seems uncontroversial to me.

    Really it seems as if this will not go anywhere until the discussion about where wrong-science starts is separated from the discussion where not-science-even-if-done-honestly-and-well starts, and that in turn perhaps from the question where not-currently-science-but-would-be-science-if-people-got-their-act-together starts. This is a multi-dimensional space, not just a line.

    For example, I would argue that science can easily study ethics – in the sense of finding out what morals people have and why, even if not in the sense what morals they should have. So there I see a border between science and not-science that comes from the simple fact that science is descriptive instead of prescriptive, but a lot of confusion arises sometimes only because the first intention is taken to imply the second. (Of course, Harris has the second, I know.)

    Somebody further up mentioned economics as a not-science, but here I would argue that it is clearly an empirical science in potentia; the main problem bogging it down is massive, all-overwhelming ideological bias due to a lot of money being at stake and especially its distribution. Still, in principle it could be a science if the majority of economists were more open to admitting error and systematically used natural experiments to test their ideas, as a minority of them do. So here is a completely different dimension again, and it doesn’t seem sensible to argue that scientific modes of thinking could not be applied to e.g. the consequences of money printing in a liquidity trap just because many economists don’t want to do that. If we accept that logic, then fluid physics could be moved from the sciences into the humanities by a majority of the relevant physicists becoming unwilling to accept evidence that disproves their theories, and surely that doesn’t make sense?

    Sorry, this was perhaps a bit convoluted, but I guess what I want to say is that Harris’ and Coyne’s (and my) broad view of science is about what questions are addressable and best addressed by scientific approaches, not about whether they are currently addressed in that way, nor about whether somebody had or irrationally continues to promote a wrong answer to these questions.

    (The example of natural theology is indeed border-line, but once more depending on the intentions and willingness to be proven wrong of its practitioners. After all, if there were a creator god behind the world, how could studying its creation not be a reasonable idea for finding out something about that god?)

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  41. Science is the body of certain facts. Science is the body of facts which have been proven experimentally to be true.

    Curiously, many people do not get this simple statement. Is it because primary school is not taught adequately?

    Science is the body of certain facts. Science is the body of facts which have been proven experimentally to be true. How hard is it to understand this?

    Newtonian Mechanics for example is science because, within its domain of application, all its predictions are, and have been proven to be, indeed, what is observed.

    Same thing for classical thermodynamics: facts are predicted, and observed to be true, time and time again. Same thing for continental drift: it is predicted continents are moving, and they are observed to move, indeed.

    Biological evolution, too, is science. It says species have evolved.
    This is indeed what is observed. Thus, evolution is science. Biological science says more: that species are still evolving, as observed.

    And so on:
    Science is the body of facts which have been proven time and time again, to be indeed, occurring.

    Then there are so-called “scientific” theories. Theory means a point of view. Theories are not just facts anymore, but a way to organize them according to a perspective. That calls onto pieces of logic which are not proven. A “scientific” theory can be made of a mumbo-jumbo of facts, and completely unproven, even outrageous hypotheses.

    String Theory, Supersymmetry, Multiverse, for example, are theories which include some “scientific” or “mathematical” facts. But they cannot even be checked, let alone capable of making predictions which are observed.

    So they are not “science”. They make a body of knowledge of some sort, like a game. But they are not allowing to make predictions observed in nature.

    There are demarcation problems, always. It happens within science: Newtonian Mechanics makes superbly exact predictions about where space probes go as engineers use planets as slings to launch them further. However, if one wants to find out about GPS drift, one has to use the more general version of gravitation of Einstein (the latter reduces exactly to Newtonian Mechanics inside the solar system).

    A more subtle demarcation is found, within bodies of science. For example, part of Einstein theory of gravitation is science, as it predicts exactly what is exactly observed. However, the same set of ideas when applied to, say, Black Holes, comes short: it runs out of enough ideas to make exact predictions, runs out of experiments to be checked, and observed facts.

    Thus the theory of gravitation is science (the closest one stays to Newton), and also a hoped-for scientific theory (but not as disconnected from reality as String Theory, Susy, Multiverse, etc.)

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  42. Robin Herbert,

    Will probably regret using my fourth comment for this side issue, but I can’t resist.

    Science can either tell us there is no god in the same way that it can tell us there are no unicorns, or it cannot tell us there are no unicorns and in fact cannot really tell us anything ever. Pick. If you pick the latter, then I’d say in a sense you are right: science cannot ever definitely prove a negative in a strictly formal-logic way because the unicorn or god or phlogiston or reptilian shape-shifter from hollow earth could always hide where the scientist isn’t looking, or it could be defined in a way that makes it invisible. But science never makes the claim of having that ability; science is an inductive heuristic, nothing more.

    And to the degree that you accept that science has shown that there are no dragons and that there is no luminiferous ether you should, for the sake of intellectual consistency, accept that science can show that there is no god: tentatively, and based on the principle of looking for evidence that should be there and not finding it, and also based on the principle that if you cannot distinguish A+B from A then B can be assumed to be absent. Everything else is special pleading.

    The peer reviewed journal argument is a popular one but the thing is, the conclusion is not based on one simple experiment that you can publish as a research paper in Science or Nature. It has been answered in the same way that the question of the existence of reptilian shape-shifters from Hollow Earth has been answered: literally centuries of research have accumulated a lot of data showing a complete absence of even the slightest bit of evidence that one would expect to find if such an idea were true. This is where god of the gaps arguments come from, after all: God has never made an appearance, but maybe he is hiding where we haven’t figured things out yet.

    If, however, you want something like a scientific overview of the case, you might want to pick up Stenger’s God – the failed hypothesis. Not a ten page peer-reviewed research paper, but he discusses at length what should have been observed but never was. Again, one can still postulate a god after subtracting all that, but it would be a god that is the B in an A+B that is indistinguishable from A.

    Liked by 3 people

  43. Coel,

    You, being a moral realist, will not like that answer, but that doesn’t stop it being an entirely good and valid answer that is provided by science (because science tells us what morals actually are, a variant of our evolutionary aesthetic programming).

    Can we get some peer-reviewed journal articles on science telling us what morals are and the claim that they are simply descriptive claims about people’s feelings rather than reasoned actions based on objective morality? I’d love to see the study that showed their is no normative morality and only descriptive one!

    It seems like you have basically made the claim that if descriptive empirical science cannot address something, than it can’t be true. That seems to be to be begging the question. The same could be said for logic and math.

    It also seems to me the only way you can make this claim is to deny that any form of normative truths can exist, and do make that claim, you’d also undermine normativity in epistemology, invaliding any claims of science (and other areas of inquiry) in general.

    Judging from the history of your posts here, you’ll simply claim that your right and that everything is in fact science and if it’s not, it doesn’t matter but just keep in mind, those are mere assertions that you actually need to back up (a normative notion of actually justifying your beliefs).

    Liked by 3 people

  44. Coel,

    “I don’t agree that science has any a priori limitation to “natural” explanations that must exclude consideraton of gods. Indeed, I don’t see any sensible natural vs supernatural distinction that doesn’t amount to exists vs doesn’t-exist.”

    I know you don’t, we’ve been over this a number of times before. And yet, just like you are shy to make positive claims about your conception of ethics, so here you tend not to put your money where your mouth is.

    How many scientific, peer reviewed studies of supernatural explanations can you cite, please? If you are going to respond that that’s because “science” has decided that there is no God, surely you can point me to a number of high profile papers in Nature or Science that clearly shows how such a conclusion was arrived at, scientifically.

    The truth, of course, is that you can’t do any of the above, for the simple reason that science deals in mechanisms and causes, and “supernatural” is an empty word from that perspective. “God did it” is a meaningful statement, but not a scientific one because there is no way to attach any substance to it, without which one cannot formulate, let alone empirically test, hypotheses.

    Liked by 4 people

  45. If I might offer a critique (my interpretation): Much of what Coel writes is pragmatist (consistent with Huw Price’s “Naturalism Without Mirrors”) while some is scientismist/positivist (what Richard Rorty opposes in “Consequences of Pragmatism”: Introduction – Platonists, Positivists, and Pragmatists). So a bit like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to me. 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  46. Hi Coel –

    “This is the basic problem: people are so steeped in a moral-realist intuition that they simply don’t assimilate the position that morals are our evolutionarily-programmed feelings about how we treat each other, even though it has an honourable history back to Hume and Darwin.

    There are no good arguments against this idea at all,…”

    Perhaps you need to review the literature. There are plenty of good arguments, I would reject your view utterly on the basis of one or two of them. No need to argue, Just pointing out that ignoring other ideas doesn’t make them go away.

    A plausible system of ethics will require an explicit metaphysical theory for its grounding axioms. It is no use proposing an ethical scheme with no metaphysical axioms concerning the nature of reality. Your axioms seem to include atheism, materialism and moral relativism for starters, all of which we can reject if we choose.

    To attempt to devise an ethical scheme prior to having created a metaphysical scheme on which it can rest is always going to be a pretty hopeless exercise. We cannot hope to define ethical behaviour for a creature whose full nature we do not know, whose world we do not understand and whose situation we therefore cannot comprehend. We can only devise scenarios. If (IFF) the world is like this then such and such would be implied for ethics.

    Your ethical idea (I’d call it an unethical idea) will only work if the world is the way you think it is. You would need a philosophical argument to support your view that the world actually is like this before expecting anyone to ‘assimilate’ it. I’d recommend treating it with great suspicion until then.

    Liked by 4 people

  47. Coel,

    “Terms such as “should” and “ought” don’t mean anything in the abstract, they only mean something in relation to specified goals.”

    “I was expounding on what sort of society I would like to live in.”

    Unfortunately this “society” you want to live in is itself an abstraction, an imaginative extrapolation from the reality at hand into an object of desire (otherwise, you would already be living in it). That’s the beginning of philosophy, not science.

    The other point to make here is that such generalized discussions of social norms we wish to live with will always involve – necessarily – the language of normativity – what we ‘should’ or ‘ought’ to do. It doesn’t matter whether we engage such a discussion in the academy or in the streets – it will be a discussion about ethics, and not meta-ethics.

    Your claim is that science can provide us a meta-ethic that makes discussion of normative ethics unnecessary and in some way undesirable. My counter-claim is to point out that people will continue to discuss normative ethics, because that is an inevitable social discourse. Consequently, no ethical position – realist, non-realist, or anti-realist – can be ruled out by fiat. Nor can such be redefined in scientific (or scientistic) terms (as we see with Harris) without obvious intention to close off debate rather than engage in it.

    The problem with scientistic efforts to close off ethical discussions is that it implies that science can get one ‘above’ such discussions, and thus superior to politics. That’s just nonsense. We are social animals, and politics is a primary means of interacting with others. Science will not get us above the conflict of interests that politics negotiates. That’s true even in totalitarian states.

    “Humans have feelings and they seek to persuade each other!” Of course; so why pretend that some scientific meta-ethic is going to put an end to this for those taking opposing positions?

    (BTW, from your remark to labnut: “(…) the ‘unity of knowledge’ idea is itself the product of science.” Obviously you’ve never read Hegel and are unaware of the enormous impact he had on 19th century thinking.)

    Hegel on phrenology: “When, therefore, a man is told, “You (your inner being) are so and so, because your skull-bone is so constituted,” this means nothing else than that we regard a bone as the man’s reality. (…) the retort here would, properly speaking, have to go the length of breaking the skull of the person who makes a statement like that, in order to demonstrate to him in a manner as palpable as his own wisdom that a bone is nothing of an inherent nature at all for a man, still less his true reality.”

    What presents itself as science stands revealed as pseudoscience by making claims it cannot support, and promises it cannot deliver on. It will also announce a model that seems reasonable, but only from a given perspective. Other perspectives will view it at worst fraud, at best misunderstanding.

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  48. “I wouldn’t bother reading Sam’s book as he ended up undercutting his theory during his “clarification” (including the relevant quotes you gave). As it is, has anyone seen him use it… ever? The position he took with Chomsky, where intent matters more than results for moral judgment is in direct conflict with the theory laid out in his book. If a moral theorist doesn’t care about his own theory, there isn’t much reason for you to care either.”

    I completely agree. When taken as a whole, Harris’ work seems incoherent to me, which just reinforces my belief that is he generally lazy, careless, and unreflective when it comes to these issues.

    For instance, in “Free Will”, he chooses an extremely naive and, I think, simplistic as well as incoherent treatment of the problem of free will, rather than a nuanced discussion of the relevant issues. I’m happy that Dan Dennett at least took him to task in his response to the book. The thesis he presents seems bizarre in light of all the effort he puts into speaking out against radical Islam, which would presumably be pointless if humans were really as autonomous and morally responsible for their own behavior as billiard balls in motion on a pool table. Then add to this his writings on the value of meditation, which I also can’t see how to interpret in the context of his philosophy of mind. I just don’t take him to be thinking very seriously at all about these issues.

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