Dissertation, Princeton University (2018)

My dissertation brings into conversation two thinkers who are seldom considered together and highlights previously unnoticed similarities in their critical responses to scientism, which was just as prevalent in the late nineteenth century as it is today. I analyze this attitude as consisting of two linked propositions. The first, which Nietzsche calls “the unconditional will to truth,” is that the aims of science, discovering truth and avoiding error, are the most important human aims; and the second is that no practice other than science can achieve them. Both Nietzsche and James criticize the unconditional will to truth for privileging a transcendent ideal over the demands of human life. This unconditional will regards truth as valuable in itself and demands that we pursue it under all circumstances—even if that demand comes into conflict with other values. I lay out the ways in which Nietzsche and James view the value of truth and the imperative to pursue it as conditional on its promotion of human flourishing. In response to the second proposition of scientism, both philosophers argue that science can neither tell us what we should value, nor fully account for the value we in fact find in certain objects, activities, and experiences. And crucially, science cannot tell us whether or why its own goal of attaining truth is valuable. Nietzsche and James reach different conclusions about what is ultimately valuable, and whether traditional religious belief is defensible in light of the discoveries of science. Nonetheless, the hitherto unappreciated similarities I have uncovered in their arguments show that principled opposition to scientism need not be associated with any particular moral or religious viewpoint. This analysis is not only of historical interest: those who consider scientism to be ill-founded and intellectually confining can take some cues from our nineteenth-century predecessors’ strategies for combating it.
Keywords Nietzsche, William James, scientism, pragmatism
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On Human Nature.Edward O. Wilson - 1978 - Harvard University Press.
The Scientific Image.William Demopoulos & Bas C. van Fraassen - 1982 - Philosophical Review 91 (4):603.

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