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The Critique of Scientism in Defense of the Political Community (Part I)

The Critique Of Scientism In Defense Of The Political Community (Part I)

The Person and Scientism

The potential for human beings to achieve political success, as defined by the formation and maintenance of prosperous communities, can only be fulfilled if individuals understand the importance of the person in politics. Recognition of the person necessitates the understanding of the self; one perceives others as persons once he/she first understands oneself as a person. In other words, one lacking self-understanding will not be able to understand others. The understanding of the self is distinguished from the understanding of the person by the process of introspection into the needs of one’s own body and soul. Self-knowledge is accumulated through rigorous introspection, reflection, and actions taken to pursue new experiences. Through these processes and actions, one gains an understanding of one’s totality, however, he/she does not come to understand the person until this understanding has been applied to another. The understanding of the person, therefore, represents the actualization of the understanding of the self as applied to another self: the person is only understood completely through interaction with others. Thus, the person must possess an understanding of the empirical, emotional, and spiritual experiences that constitute existence to understand another person in their totality. A complete understanding of all the variations of experience that constitute human existence is, of course, an impossibility. Despite the ungraspable magnitude of experience, persons must pursue the understanding of themselves to engage in meaningful political conduct with others.

The lack of the understanding of the person is a significant problem for political regimes that a priori necessitate the uniqueness and inherent value of the person. Liberal democracies presuppose the importance of the person given their foundational notions of equitable freedom and the guarantee of rights. Liberal democracies thereby ensure that the dignity of each person is guaranteed through indivisible rights and freedom. David Walsh elucidates that human dignity is not a simply theoretical notion but the grounding for political conduct in liberal democracies and that, more strangely, the source of the inexhaustibility of dignity remains elusive. Dignity is an eschatological concept that is impossible to fully understand because it is only known through experience. Thus, one can only learn the value of the person through interaction predicated upon mutual respect, rather than blind obligation to laws that force respect: “It is their integrity of persons, their inwardness, that the notion of dignity seeks to guard. Rights are merely the external defenses against the infringement of what is, strictly speaking, internal . . . Dignity is not contained in any of the codifiable attributes that make a legal code possible… It is the objectification of what cannot and should not be objectified.”[1] Human dignity is impossible to completely encompass within the framework of rights precisely because it is invisible. Also present in political regimes that ensure freedom is the necessity to allow for people to disrespect the dignity of another person in the form of malevolent action or intentional disregard.

The consequences of disrespecting the person are lamentable as they culminate in the erosion of the person committing disrespect. This depletes the person of their capacity for political friendship. Aristotle describes the highest form of political friendship as virtue friendship. This is distinct from friendship based on usefulness or pleasure, and necessitates a mutual respect for each person in the friendship: “. . . the complete sort of friendship is that between people who are good and are alike in virtue, since they wish for good things for one another in the same way insofar as they are good, and they are good for themselves . . .  each of them is good simply and good for his friend… the friendship among these people is the most intense and best.”[2] Therefore, persons attempting to create the highest form of friendship must respect the integral dignity of persons. Failure to do so results in friendships based on utility or limited pleasure; virtue is unreachable when dignity is discarded. The inevitable result of the lack of virtue friendship is a prevalent feeling of social isolation or loneliness. Loneliness is an express problem in liberal democracies, despite the political pluralism that characterizes the regime. If persons lack respect for the dignity of other persons, they risk labeling and understanding persons only as members of communities they themselves are not part of. This reduces the person to a simple categorization or minimization of his or her totality, thus negating the potential for virtue friendship as virtue friendship can only be fostered between two individuals understood as persons. Loneliness results when the capacity for friendship has been disintegrated by persons who do not perceive other persons as capable of trust. The opportunity to expose oneself to new knowledge and new persons, when incapable of understanding the person, results in an environment that breeds distrust, objectification, and, most problematically, isolation: “Citizens . . . .especially in Western liberal democracies, increasingly see themselves as alone. They feel socially isolated and estranged, and they have arranged their lives in ways that reinforce their experience. The evidence is in many places, including lost confidence in social institutions and eroding norms that hold together our lives in common . . . When we confront difference, we tend to know what we are not, but we rarely come away with the pluralist’s confidence in who we are.”[3] The failure to recognize persons in their totality poses a grave threat to political communities as friendship is eroded, loneliness becomes rampant, and trust is forgotten. One fails to understand the individual as a person when they choose to perceive their experiences through a selective lens that excludes the methods that encompass the plurality of human experience. Therefore, a palpable tension exists in liberal democracies, as the foundational tenets that ensure the existence of the regime must also allow modes of thought that do not include or undervalue the person. One must be able to understand modes of thought that do not recognize the person so that he/she can alert others. Scientism is one such mode of thought that merits attention, due to the minimization the person to mere atoms that define the person under its lens.

Scientism is distinguished by Brendan Purcell as an overvaluing of the knowledge provided through scientific investigation in comparison to the knowledge provided through non-scientific inquiry. The use of measured experimentation to investigate natural phenomena is not expressly scientistic, it is when modern natural science is overextended and presented as the only true or valid form of knowledge, instead of knowledge that is valuable in tandem with other forms of knowledge, that scientism emerges: “If natural science claims to be the total explanation of everything, it becomes ‘scientism’: ‘natural science’ as an ideology claiming to be the only valid science… When a Richard Dawkins insists that unless an issue is decided on the basis of evidence, his presumption is that the only kind of evidence is that required by, say physics or biology.”[4] Purcell’s comments point to the reductionist nature of scientism by explicating that through the lens of scientism, problems can only be solved on the basis of empirical evidence. Evidence or concepts that cannot be measured, such as friendship, freedom or the understanding of the person, are determined to be valueless in the framework of scientism. Knowledge does not decrease in its importance or potential impact to the person if it cannot be reproduced in sterile laboratory conditions, nor is purportedly “objective” knowledge the only knowledge that is true. Political knowledge is of this kind as it must be learned through inter-personal action and is expressly non-reproducible. People who lack this knowledge cannot successfully embark on political projects because they lack the foundational understanding of the person.

Scientism, expressed as the only all-encompassing valid system of knowledge, should be characterized as a mode of ideological thinking, instead of a science. In the work “The Origins of Scientism,” Eric Voegelin elucidates the dogmatic tenets that reveal the political implications of the ideology: “(1) the assumption that the mathematized science of natural phenomena is a model science to which all other sciences ought to conform; (2) that all realms of being are accessible to the methods of the sciences of phenomena; and (3) that all reality which is not accessible to sciences of phenomena is either irrelevant or, in the more radical form of the dogma, illusionary.…”[5] First, the mathematical purview of the sciences attempts to extend to all forms of investigation; political, philosophical and sociological investigation is fruitless if it is not verifiable through the quantitative scientistic method. Secondly, scientism purports to be able to answer all questions previously investigated through non-scientific methods through evaluation of what Voegelin distinguishes as phenomena, at the expense of substance. In doing so, scientism claims to both the most effective form of investigation and the only one that can provide a correct explanation of experience. Lastly, and most crucially, scientism disregards all modes of investigation and knowledge not directly verifiable by its methods as unimportant or, in the most dangerous case, fundamentally untrue. Voegelin’s tenets provide a foundation from which one can evaluate the works of scientistic thinkers and understand the risks scientism poses to politics.

Scientism and the dangers that stem from it arise in many disciplines of science due to the appealing nature of its ideological qualities. A methodology that promises all-encompassing effectiveness, with the caveat that all knowledge that cannot be evaluated is meaningless, is certainly appealing to those who desire to investigate natural phenomena. Furthermore, demonstrated technological advancements in liberal democracies that provide convenience and comfort to citizens conditions them into perceiving all scientific advancement as positive and that scientism is a framework that provides solutions to common problems. Scientism is evident in several academic disciplines including evolutionary biology and psychology, positivist philosophy, bio-robotics as transhumanism, and neuroscience.  It is discussed at length by key scientistic thinkers such as Steven Pinker, Richard Dawkins, Alexander Rosenberg, Patricia Churchland, Tom Sorell and Daniel Dennett. Scientism overextends into aspects of experience it cannot encompass such as the traditional purview of the social sciences. Alexander Rosenberg accuses the social sciences of applying personal moral values to misrepresent objective knowledge, such as when a comparative political scientist claims that nuclear weapons will be destabilizing to a political regime while only having cursory knowledge of the physics of fission reaction. Rosenberg claims that the political scientist is adding a normative value to the objective knowledge of physics and that this normative value is predicated upon the political scientist’s knowledge of physics. However, the political scientist’s analysis should not be considered as unilaterally predicated upon his/her understanding of nuclear physics, as the complexities of international relations are predicated upon the understanding of political interaction. Rosenberg characterizes those who do not subscribe to science as an all-encompassing method of investigation as followers of transcendent spiritualism who risk the fate of civilization by utilizing non-objective methods. Ironically, this typifies the ideological preaching of scientism: “…who are we as scientists to wake them from their dogmatic slumber? But the stakes for science and for civilization are too high to treat those who deny its objectivity in the way we would treat those who claim the Earth is flat.”[6]

Scientistic practitioners desire to explain all knowledge as having a basis in scientific investigation, thus reducing all knowledge to knowledge that can be explained by scientific means. This is thoroughly demonstrated in the writings of evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, and neuroscientist Patricia Churchland. Both thinkers engage in biological reductionism in their accounts of the gene and the brain respectively. In The Selfish Gene, Dawkins provides an explanation of altruism and selfishness through the evolution of the human being. In doing so, he neglects the express intentionality of human sacrifice in altruistic actions and concludes that all actions are motivated by the selfishness of genes to ensure survival, despite utilizing qualifying terms to elucidate his argument. Churchland’s book, Touching a Nerve: Our Brains, Our Selves, explains that due to advances in the understanding of the brain, investigation into traditional philosophical problems should be conducted as scientific investigation into the workings of the brain. With this argument, Churchland suggests that human beings are indivisible from their brains and that neural activity is synonymous with human action. Dawkins and Churchland’s biological reductionism minimalizes the person and fundamentally mischaracterizes human interaction. When persons practice politics, they do not explain the motivations for community building, friendship and trust in the scientific terms employed by evolutionary biologists and neuro-philosophers because they lack the personal character exemplified in personal interaction. One learns to trust another by gaining an understanding of him or her as a person, not by understanding their chemical makeup or neural activity. Neural information, while measurable, does not describe the interactions of human beings as they experience them. Therefore, persons who attempt to engage in political conduct, who utilize a neuro-chemical understanding of the person, will accomplish nothing that furthers the development of the political community.

Two key thinkers who elucidate the political importance of the person in contrast to the dangers scientism poses to politics are Sir Rodger Scruton and David Walsh. Scruton examines the understanding of man’s relation to God and the natural world. In doing so, he describes the shortcomings of scientism. Scientism, as Scruton explains, fails to account for any “the sum being greater than the parts” instances found in aesthetical understandings of knowledge in its attempt to achieve the unachievable transcendental perspective. This is expressly relevant to politics, as the aesthetical analysis of the natural world and art mirrors the complete understanding of the person. Scruton’s texts, The Face of God and The Soul of the World illustrate the problems of scientism through aesthetical evaluation of music, art and architecture, the elucidation of the first person perspective as the root of self-knowledge, and a thorough critique of biological reductionism. Furthermore, Scruton’s discussions of scientism illuminate that the person cannot be evaluated through scientific inquiry exclusively as scientism does not account for the “I” of the person. The “I-You” relationship, as Scruton explains, accounts for the understanding of the person that neuroscience cannot elucidate. Finally, Scruton’s understanding of the sacred and theology, while not expressly utilized in contrast to scientism, reinforces his foundational notions of the person. Scruton places priority on the understanding of personal knowledge, gained primarily through “I-You” interactions, to illustrate the importance of treating individuals as irreplaceable persons worthy of respect. Political success is predicated upon respect of another’s human dignity, rather than objective qualification or usefulness. The community based on the latter is functional, but it will not contain mutual trust or political friendship. Furthermore, and most importantly, Scruton’s notions of scientism allow the reader to understand that the person must remain the most important actor in politics as the understanding of the self permits one to understand others as selves in and of themselves, participate in genuine political conduct and ultimately, form successful political communities.

In turn, Walsh elucidates that politics provides a foundational ground for individuals to recognize the limitations of individual human existence and surpass them through communal cooperation based on the shared understanding of human dignity. Scientism does not allow for the initial recognition of personal limitation and instead prescribes limitless possibility at the cost of the aforementioned qualities of human experience. In The Politics of the Person as the Politics of Being, Walsh demonstrates that the scientistic understanding of the person is not satisfactory. Similar to Scruton’s petition to God, Walsh explains that the objective evaluation of knowledge purportedly utilized in scientism cannot and does not account for the eschatological grounding of humanity that Walsh elucidates as expressly relevant to the understanding of the person. Additionally, Walsh’s critique of the methodology of scientism, including the scientist understood as a person, how knowledge is considered, and the scientific method as a framework, does not satisfy the criterion scientism aims to achieve. In a manner similar to Scruton, Walsh analyzes various forms of aesthetics, including painting and music, to illustrate the parallels between human creation and divine creation. This emphasizes the importance of the person as a unique creation deserving of respect. Walsh’s work thus complements Scruton’s and demonstrates that scientism undervalues the person to the detriment of the political community.  Scruton and Walsh’s discussions allow one to understand the failings of scientism while concurrently comprehending the political importance of the person. The two thinkers serve as instructors that teach the understanding of the threat that scientism poses to the irreplaceable human dignity necessary within liberal democracies.

A scientistically constructed community would not include the distinctly human elements of wonder and aesthetical appreciation. Wonder at natural phenomena, in contrast to scientific curiosity fulfilled through experimentation, allows persons to practice aesthetical appreciation that in turn trains them for political interaction. Walsh’s understanding of politics reinforces the notion that human beings must understand each other as persons to engage in political conduct, as the perception of one’s political partner as a person solidifies the political enterprise on a mutually understood motivation for the common good. Therefore, taking both thinkers’ political understandings into account, the recognition that the person is the most important actor in politics is best grasped through the recognition of limitation and an aesthetical appreciation of the world that allows one to understand the irreplaceable dignity of the person. Following this, persons can interact with others to further their understanding of persons and begin to form successful political communities. Scientism cannot account for this understanding of the person and is thus inferior to Scruton and Walsh’s notions of political personhood.

Scruton and Scientism

Scientism, as Roger Scruton elucidates in his critique, promises the potential scientistic practitioner a system of investigation that is able to penetrate and understand the totality of reality through objective observation. In doing so, scientism mispresents the knowledge it seeks to gain and those persons investigated. The scientistic practitioner, him/herself a person, is both inaccessible and unaccounted for by his/her methodology while paradoxically necessary for the facilitation of the methodology: “Scruton argues that as the scientific paradigm has come to be the only universally accepted paradigm of understanding, the scientific method has been appropriated to answer questions that cannot be answered by science. As a consequence, questions of fundamental importance to human existence are either ignored or superficially considered.”[7]

Scruton’s critique of scientism contrasts the scientistic understanding of objective knowledge with what Scruton distinguishes as “subjective” knowledge. Objective knowledge alone will not provide a sufficient grasp of personal interaction, aesthetic appreciation, or human dignity. Scruton utilizes subjective knowledge to refer to the personalized perspective of the world possessed by every person. However, Scruton’s use of this distinction gives credence to the importance of objective knowledge over “subjective” knowledge, as the distinction itself implies preference towards either objective or “subjective” categories. Thus, the separation of knowledge that Scruton utilizes carries the arbitrary distinctions it is meant to avoid. Instead of referring to knowledge as “subjective,” the term “personal knowledge” avoids the pitfall of categorization that the “subjective” distinction entails. The term personal knowledge was previously utilized in this manner by Michael Polanyi as a superior term that better captures the way persons know and engage with one another: “In so far as the personal submits to requirements acknowledged by itself as independent of itself, it is not subjective; but in so far as it is an action guided by individual passions, it is not objective either. It transcends the disjunction between subjective and objective.”[8]

Scruton works, On Human Nature, The Face of God and The Soul of the World, argue that the scientistic framework is insufficient in accounting for the person, as he/she is not equivalent to his/her biological components exclusively. The scientistic practitioner, as Scruton explains, suggests that the motivations for human action are reducible to foundational biological processes. Biology does provide a technical basis insofar as biological processes facilitate higher functions. However, biological processes do not subsume higher functions such as intentionality, described by Scruton as action undertaken that is predicated upon the understanding of the person as an “I” having an effect on others. Biology cannot account for intentionality alone nor can it be comprehended through an understanding of biology alone: “Although it may provide a necessary backdrop, a physicalist account of the human being in terms of molecules, drives, neurons and causal forces cannot make sense [the person] . . . For Scruton . . . the person is not reducible to the physical processes of body and brain . . . As ethical, artistic and religious subjects, we are led upwards into different forms of explanation not downwards to our biological constitution.”[9] Scruton’s critique of scientistic reductionism culminates in his discussion of the “Archimedean point.” The scientistic practitioner displaces him/herself from his/her fellow persons to attempt to reach a position of total objectivity. According to the scientistic practitioner, this allows him/her to authentically investigate reality free from personal bias. However, as Scruton explains, the scientistic finds him/herself “nowhere” as they cannot engage with other persons nor properly understand the object they desire to investigate. This costs the scientistic investigator his/her understanding of the self, and thus the scientistic investigator cannot engage with other persons.

Scruton provides an alternative to scientism through his discussion of aesthetics in music, painting and environment. Scruton utilizes these categories as proxies for moral conduct between persons, as shared aesthetical appreciation between persons illustrates how aesthetical appreciation of created works mirrors the appreciation of persons themselves. Thus, persons develop their understanding of one another as irreplaceable beings, not replicable objects. The person is prepared to engage in communal conduct with others through practice of the appreciation of art as pseudo moral categories.

Scruton concludes his critique by illuminating the notion of the “transcendental.” This refers to the certain knowledge, with no foundation, that one is a unique and individual person who participates in experiences. Scruton’s critique of scientism encourages one to embrace personal knowledge, rooted in the notion of the transcendental, so that the community can achieve political success. The understanding of personal knowledge is essential for the practice of politics as it must be drawn from interactions with other persons who share a mutual understanding of the unique dignity of the person. Through the understanding of personal knowledge, one finds commonality with others by understanding the dignity and freedom of the person celebrated by liberal democracies: “The key to the moral life, in Scruton’s eyes, is the concept of the person, which, he says, must occupy the center of our lives and our motivations as we give account of ourselves to one another. It is worth noting that he centers the moral life on the person and not on the good or on happiness, understood as that which transcends and completes us as persons.”[10]

Scientistic Biological Reductionism

The first facet of scientism that Scruton explores resides in evolutionary biology and psychology. Scruton explains, through the examples of Richard Dawkins’ genetic theory, Patricia Churchland’s “neuro-philosophy” and Benjamin Libet’s brain imaging experiments, that the scientistic framework commits reductionist fallacy in its description of persons as deterministic autonomists. The scientistic ideologue, attributing action to genes as in Dawkins or the brain in “neuro-philosophy,” finds him/herself unable to account for notions such as altruism, responsibility and freedom in a manner that is genuinely representative of the person engaging with others as an “I.” Scruton illuminates that the scientistic ideologue reduces the person to a mere facet of his biology, rather than a dignified being emergent out of biology.

Scruton explains that scientistic ideologues such as Dawkins present the person as a facilitator for their genes in the process of sexual reproduction. In doing so, Scruton suggests that Dawkins’ model for human behavior commits reductionist fallacy in ascribing human action to genes exclusively. Dawkins’ argument suggests that the human gene is intrinsically selfish, as all actions, including actions understood as altruistic by the person committing them, are enacted to increase chances of reproduction: “Dawkins sets out to explain goals and rational choices in terms of genetic materials that make no choices. He describes these materials as ‘selfish’ entities, motivated by a reproductive ‘goal…’ In a cogent biological theory all such teleological idioms must be replaced with functional explanations…. Natural selection tells us that winning strategies will be selected, even when they describe the behavior of genes that want nothing at all.”[11] Genes, defined by Dawkins in exclusively functional terms, equate the person to the “actions” of their genes through reductionism.

In response to criticisms of the kind that Scruton makes, Dawkins explains that his argument does not completely negate the influence of other factors. Genes exert a statistical influence on the action of individuals, but, as Dawkins explains, it does not override the interpreted influences of social politeness or understanding of contraception: “We, that is our brains, are separate and independent enough from our genes to rebel against them… we do so in a small way every time we use contraception.”[12] Dawkins’ retort does not solve the criticism of the reduction of human choice. He simply places the deterministic characterization on the statistical influences of stimuli persons infer and continues to describe the person as components of his/her body, while also personalizing these parts by stating they “rebel” against other parts. This discussion epitomizes the scientistic mistake of discrediting the totality of the person, while concurrently assigning those same personal qualities to components of the body. Dawkins is thus engaging in a game of moving the personal qualities to different parts of the body rather than dispelling the notion altogether. Personal knowledge is not discredited by Dawkins’ explanation, rather, it is simply shuffled onto components of the person. The choice to rebel may “occur” in the brain as a result of neural activity, but that does not mean that the person is equal to the brain. Dawkins’ shell game of personalization minimalizes the weight of moral choice for persons.

The bodily components that are statistically influenced to remain docile are not overruled in a mathematical balancing act by those that desire to rebel. The person engages in moral action that requires the totality of their personhood. This is particularly apparent in situations where rebellion is expressly difficult, such as tyrannical oppression. Persons, particularly in totalitarian political regimes that disrespect the dignity of the person, make the choice to rebel to secure the dignity of others after they have experienced or witnessed extreme hardship. Similarly, while altruistic actions may make a person appear suitable for reproduction, as it demonstrates the desirable quality of communal protection, the person making this sacrifice is acting in an intentional moral capacity wherein his/her dignity is deprioritized for the sake of others. In this manner, altruistic actions are understood as being committed to defend against objectification, not as selfish actions that make one appear desirable: “. . . it is a substantial theoretical claim that functional attributes exist because of their function. And until that theory is produced, the claim is without weight . . . that explanation only gives a sufficient condition for ‘altruism’ and only by redescribing altruism in terms that bypass the higher realms of moral thought.”[13]

Scruton contends that describing altruism simply as a strategy for continuing one’s genetic legacy, as scientistic ideologues do, equates the sacrifices made by individual human beings for their friends to the sacrifices of insects for their colonies. He explains, through the example of Matt Ridley’s work, that the scientistic ideologue describes altruism in terms of “game theory” wherein altruism is merely the most effective mode of conduct for persons to secure the opportunity to pass along one’s genes. Altruism is once again relegated to an ultimately “selfish” action that ensures reproduction. Scruton characterizes Ridley’s conception of altruism as a minimalist conception of sacrificial action between persons, wherein the person’s action is indistinguishable from that of an ant: “Ridley’s argument employs a minimalist conception of altruism, according to which an organism acts altruistically if it benefits another organism at a cost to itself. The concept applies equally to the solider ant marching into the flames . . .  and the officer who throws himself onto the live grenade… The concept of altruism, so understood, cannot explain . . .  the distinction between those two cases . . .  Rational beings have a motivation to sacrifice themselves, regardless of genetic advantage.”[14] Scientism, as Scruton elucidates, misrepresents personal sacrifice, and thus the assertion of moral choice, as selfish genetic influence. Persons have sufficient motivations to sacrifice themselves for others through actions that are essentially inter-personal.

Scruton identifies the scientistic explanation of moral action that removes uniqueness from actions committed by persons as the “charm of disenchantment:” “. . . the appeal that comes from wiping away the appearance of human distinctiveness… Such would-be explanations assimilate human to animal conduct by giving the most superficial description of both. In particular they leave out of consideration the radically different intentionality of the human response.”[15] The scientistic ideologue’s disregard for the intentionality necessary in altruistic actions speaks to scientism’ failure to account for human behavior. If a person commits a positive action towards another for the purpose of financial, social or sexual gain, the action cannot be considered altruistic as it has been corrupted. Reducing altruistic action, action taken for the sake of another person with no thought of gain, to selfish action expressly “disenchants” the distinctly inter-personal action of giving oneself freely for another: “Human generosity is mediated by concepts like gift, sacrifice, duty, sanctity… The emergence of these concepts is what most needs explaining, since they create what seems like an impassable chasm in the evolutionary story. You don’t cross that chasm merely by misdirecting the behavior that creates it.”[16]

Scruton’s apt characterization of the “charm of disenchantment” as appealing notes the important hypocritical element in the actions of the scientistic ideologue. The scientistic ideologue attempts to provide an objective explanation of morality and free choice, but by doing so intentionally commits a free choice. This action provides personal satisfaction or pleasure to the scientistic ideologue, and is thus understood as an action that must either be an act of rebellion against genetic motivations, or an intentional action made as a free choice. Scientism thus concentrates intentionality singularly with the practitioner of the methodology, allowing an escape from the reductionism employed. The person practicing scientism becomes the sole enactor of intentionality in the context of his/her investigation, rather than a person responding to intentionality with his/her own actions. The scientistic practice of reductionism, in the context of intentionality, fails to provide an alternative explanation that supersedes the notions of altruism. The person, and his/her behavior, is not properly accounted for in the scientistic framework.

Scruton elucidates how “neuro-philosophy,” a system of philosophy that regards neuroscientific knowledge as the most important knowledge for solving moral and technical problems, fails to replace the person as the center of philosophical and political importance. Neuroscientists such as Patricia Churchland posit that if human beings wish to understand themselves they must investigate the workings of the brain through the lens of evolutionary biology that accounts for moral concepts, sequential adaptations that allow success in reproduction, in contrast to defining human beings on the level of inter-personal understanding based on morality that evaluates free choice and responsibility: “Patricia Churchland recommends that we ask ourselves just what philosophy has contributed to the understanding of human mental processes… The answer is not much, or even nothing at all… neuroscience takes over… [and provides] better explanations of human behavior than could ever be obtained from that old-fashioned language of belief, perception, emotion, and desire.”[17]

Adaptations are “hardwired” in the brain and are described as contrary to the notions of freedom and moral choice.  Scientistic ideologues note that the knowledge of “hardwired” adaptations, known through the use of neural imaging techniques, is interpreted as evidence that the nervous system functions as a series of response and nonresponse triggers to environmental stimuli, thus rendering moral choice nonexistent. In this understanding, human bodies are mere shells for the computation mechanism housed in the top compartment: “The ‘I . . . ’ is like a passenger, pacing the deck of a vast oceangoing liner, while persuading himself that he moves it with his feet.”[18]

Scruton explains that if the moral explanation for human action is indeed insufficient as claimed by “neuro-philosophy,” the genetic adaptation argument must prove sufficient. Despite scientism rendering morality and freedom as illusory human constructs, the argumentation utilized by scientistic investigators suggests that persons still possess the capacity for choice. The scientistic investigator initiates his/her inquiry by making a choice, the kind that scientism would deny objects of its study. Dawkins, as discussed previously, attributes moral choice to a series of competing statistical influences on the brain, but in doing so, he is simply attributing to the brain the freedom to make choices, rather than the person of whom said brain is a part. The scientistic investigator is not equal to his/her brain, as it is not the brain that shares neuroscientific discoveries intended to illuminate itself. It is the person who shares with others, not the brains of persons: “He [the person] lives in a space of his own, the space of a human life in which he moves and feels and thinks. He must, if his experience is to be both real and metaphysically possible, inhabit a world of other people, who can identify him . . . his body in that space will contain a brain…. That belongs to the person… when he says, speaking in the first person, ‘I am here’. The brain that the scientist simulates has no connection… with the brain of the person he supposedly controls . . .”[19]

Scruton highlights the fallacy assigning the qualities of the person to the brain through the analysis of a quote from Churchland, wherein she provides an explanation for the behavior of social animals utilizing neurochemicals such as oxytocin and vasopressin as mediators for pair-bonding. Scruton explains that “neuro-philosophy” assigns the sensations of pain and pleasure to the brain itself, when the sensations are experienced as separate from the brain. In doing so, Scruton petitions for the use of folk psychology, the study of pedestrian personal encounters conducted without the use of scientific terms. Churchland posits that folk psychology is a primitive method of explanation to be surpassed by the superior methods of neuroscience. However, Scruton contends that folk psychology is in fact superior to Churchland’s “neuro-philosophy”: “In response I should say that the brains of social animals feel neither pleasure nor pain. Pleasure and pain are what we feel, and we are not identical with our brains . . . If this is what it is, to replace ‘folk psychology’ by ‘neuroscience’, then we should protest that neuroscience purchases its explanations at the cost of facts. Indeed, we are not dealing with a new science of the human being at all, but with an outpouring of neurononsense.”[20]

Folk psychology retains the understanding of personal intentionality in choice making, thus prioritizing the person him/herself as the topic of inquiry by the researcher. Scruton ironically utilizes Churchland’s pejorative stance on folk psychology against her by explicating that if “neuro-philosophy” were to surpass folk psychology, it would render the goal of explaining the actions of persons pointless: “We would be able to describe our mental condition only by investigating our brains, and the give and take of reasons between me and you would, since it depends on the first person privilege, disappear . . .  In short the neuroscience would be left with nothing of interest to explain. That is just one thought among many tending to the conclusion that our way of representing the human world is not replaceable by neuroscience . . . ”[21]

In folk psychology, the recognition of the self in others is thus ensured such that the interpretation of the person is genuine. Scruton explains further that if the adaption argument is correct, those who are not disposed to follow it due to statistical influences would necessarily have died off, regardless of their internal reasoning for these behaviors. The internal reasoning of the person, the moral judgements one makes after pondering one’s understanding of the environment, is the manner in which the person interprets experiences and makes decisions, instead of blind obligation to genetic laws. In contrast, the scientistic ideologue who perceives human conduct as a gladiatorial ring wherein those with superior adaptation always emerge victorious in a Hobbesian “state of nature” fails to take the argument to the stage of communal development as Hobbes does.  Scruton explains that mathematical reasoning, as the process of solving mathematical proofs, mirrors the manner in which persons engage in moral judgement to find a conclusive answer to problems. In this manner, mathematical reasoning stands as an example of the internal discipline of reasoning independent of adaptation:

We can easily show that mathematical competence is an adaptation. But that shows nothing about the distinction between valid and invalid proofs, and it won’t give us a grasp of mathematical reasoning. There is an internal discipline involved here, which will not be illuminated by any amount of psychology, just as there is an internal discipline of moral thinking which leads of its own accord to the conclusion that a given action is obligatory . . . it is the moral judgment, rather than some blind instinct that compels them. . . . [22]

The practice of politics exemplifies Scruton’s description of moral thinking, as persons who behave on instinct alone forgo conduct with their political partners in favor of their own position. The person who behaves in this manner prioritizes him/herself rather than perceiving his/her partner as a self and recognizing their personhood. The internal discipline, understood as self-knowledge, that Scruton elucidates is present in all deliberation must be understood for one to engage with others genuinely as persons: “ . . . the word you does not, as a rule, describe the other person; it summons him or her into your presence, and this summons is paid for by a reciprocal response. You make yourself available to others in the words that call them to account to you… In the I-You encounter we act for reasons of which we are aware and which the other can ask us to declare . . . we can, through our dialogue, directly affect what each of us does.”[23]

Scruton’s description of freedom as contingent on inter-personal conduct highlights the importance of participation with other persons in the understanding of the person. The scientistic’s desire to discover the origin of freewill in objects like the brain misses the point that one’s freedom is discovered in cooperation or disagreement with other persons when confronted with choices. Once one understands that persons possess the freedom to make choices rather than being slaves to their instincts, one understands the motivations of others to contribute to their community as genuine, as they are intentionally making these choices. This recognition of intentionality, as discussed in the cases of sacrificial and altruistic acts, is not understood as emerging from individual organs in the body of the person, rather, it is only after the effects of the action are felt in the understanding of another person that one understands their capacity for moral decision making and self-government. Thus, one respects another’s capacity for choice when one possesses the understanding of freedom.

Finally, Scruton challenges the interpretations of Benjamin Libet’s experiments utilizing electroencephalography and magnetic imaging of the brain that suggest that free will and human choice are illusions. Libet’s images show that when a person is asked to choose between two alternatives, a burst of neural activity occurs in the motor-centers of the brain. The tested person also self-reports that his/her decision was made moments after the choice was initially presented; the action of “choice” has already been undertaken by the brain. Scruton explains that some researchers extend the results of this experiment to suggest that the brain is the source of all action and that the person is merely a shell through which the brain operates: “Some cognitive scientists . . . draw the conclusion that our impression of free choice is therefore an illusion, since ‘choice’ comes always too late, after the action has been set in motion by the brain…. talk of the person and their actions is simply a loose and ignorant way of describing what should really be described in terms of a brain and the body that it moves.”[24]

Scruton explains that Libet’s experiment necessitates a priori that an event in the brain is equivalent to the decision a person makes in response to a set of choices. Furthermore, Libet’s experiment implies that choice is only valid if preceded by a neural stimulation as modeled by the experiment, and that the intentions of a person are only valid if they can be marked by a precise unit of time. The latter requirement arises due to the additional necessity of measuring the neural responses in terms of a rate of activity over the seconds elapsed. This implies a causal sequence of neural stimulation to active decision making that is contingent on the idea that a precise amount of stimulation taking place in a precise amount of time is sufficiently equivalent to a choice being made. Scruton explains that this experiment only disproves freewill if freewill is assumed to be subsequent to measured neural activity, and that this line of argumentation demonstrates the same fallacy of searching for “objective” criteria in the experience of the person: “The Libet experiment leads to the denial of free will only if we assume free choice to be an eruption in the stream of neural events. But to see freewill in that way is to look for it in the world of objects and not in the point of view of the subject, where it belongs… freedom is not a kind of causality, still less an interruption of the causal order. Freedom emerges from the web of inter-personal relations . . . It is not a blip among objects but a revelation of the subject.”[25]

Scientistic ideologues, such as evolutionary biologists, describe the human being as incredibly simple while concurrently emphasizing the complexity of other organisms such as insects. This minimizes the importance of the person and personalizes the actions of lower animals: “. . . when biologists try to develop an account of the human being that is founded in the Darwinian picture of how we came to be, all too often they end either by describing us as far simpler than we are, or by describing the lower animals as more complex than they are . . . notice the implications: worker-bees… are fully fledged Kantian persons, whose view of the world is exactly the view that we should take . . .”[26] This description of animals presents the emergence of a moral capacity manifest in behavior that necessitates the behavior be perceived as moral by nature. Scruton comments that scientism does not explain away the mysteries of human behaviors; it instead misplaces the mystery in the actions of animals and disenchants the actions of persons.

A case study involving the capacity for mathematical reasoning by honeybees recently published in Science[27] magazine illustrates the scientistic fallacy of humanizing animals through personalization. Scarlett R. Howard and her collogues claim that honeybees demonstrably understand the concept of “nothing,” defined mathematically as the empty set containing no numbers, after learning the concept through classical behavioral conditioning. Their discussion begins with a series of statements that contextualize the human understanding of zero throughout history. Following this, Howard et al. immediately establish an equivalence between persons and said animals by anthropomorphizing the understanding of zero held by animals: “Bees demonstrated an understanding that parallels animals such as the African grey parrot, nonhuman primates, and even, preschool children…. Several ancient human civilizations lacked the full understanding and importance of zero, leading to constraints in their numeric systems (1). Interestingly, some vertebrate animals have recently demonstrated a capacity to acquire and understand this numerical concept.”[28]

Howard et al. frame the discussion of honeybees’ understanding of zero with the notion that vertebrate animals and humans share this understanding and from this, the honeybee’s understanding is equivalent to that held by humans as it is equivalent to vertebrate animals. This establishes a foundation of personhood through anthropomorphism. Honeybees were placed in sterile conditions and trained through conditioning experiments to expect a reward when they landed on the panel containing fewer distinct black figures on a white backdrop. Howard et al. sequentially trained the bees to differentiate between numerical representations of one through six, and came to the conclusion that honeybees can differentiate zero from one based on the final experiment where bees selected the representation of nothing consistently over the representation of one.

Attributing qualities of mathematical interpretation, i.e. the recognition of nothing as the empty set containing no numbers to insects like honeybees suggests that the honeybees perceive their environment in the same manner as persons and then interpret said environment.  However, the honeybees in the experiment cannot understand zero as persons do, because they do not possess the internal discipline that Scruton describes in persons. The honeybees are not understanding the concept of nothingness as persons do, they are understanding nothingness as honeybees do which does not include the interpretation of the zero set as distinct from numbers. In attributing that quality to honeybees, scientistic practitioners edge closer to ascribing full personhood to creatures that do not share the capacities of the person. Howard et al states: “Because it can be demonstrated that an insect, with a different brain structure from primates and birds, can understand the concept of zero, it would be of high value to consider such capacities in other animals.”[29] Ascribing “high value” to the personalized capacities of animals concurrently lowers the capacity of persons by assuming that the personalized capacities of honeybees are equal to those of the person. Biological reductionism hinders the person from recognizing his/her grounding as an irreplaceable bearer of dignity, thus obstructing his/her capacity to engage in political conduct with others.

 “Nowhere” and the Archimedean Point

Scruton, having accounted for the scientistic reductionism in evolutionary biology and neuroscience, turns his attention to the person him/herself through analysis of the first-person perspective. Scruton elucidates that persons announce themselves and engage with others with the understanding that the persons is an “I.” Scruton then, in contrast to the notion of “I,” introduces his fundamental problem with scientism; the pursuit of objectivity at the expense of the person pursuing it. The scientistic practitioner, in his/her pursuit of an objective vantage point, termed the “Archimedean point,” prevents him/herself from engaging with other persons responsibly as the practitioner is attempting to perceive them exclusively as an object. Scruton prioritizes the understanding of the person in contrast to the scientistic goal of objectivity.

Scruton explains that the term “I” is a deictic term, relating to the person as the context for the term itself that denotes the capacity of the person to identify him/herself as a self to others through the acknowledgement of the first-person perspective. The first-person perspective allows individuals to make statements that demonstrate the understanding of the self, such as “I am in pain” or “I must finish this paper.” One cannot be mistaken that one is reporting one’s state of affairs when speaking in the first-person (barring mental instability): “When I say I am in pain, wanting to leave the room . . . or worried about my son, then I am reporting states of affairs about which I cannot . . .  be mistaken . . . Self-consciousness presupposes the privileges of first-person awareness, and the existence of these privileges is also assumed in our interpersonal dialogue.”[30] Persons engage with one another on these assumptions because they are ensured that their first-person perspective is accurate.

In the scientistic understanding, deictic terms such as “I” cannot be utilized, since the understanding of the person is lost within the desired objective framework of scientism. Scruton explains, through the use of a notion originally elucidated by Thomas Nagel, that analysis that does not account for the “I” necessarily cannot evaluate the person conducting the analysis. The desire of scientism to replace the understanding of person necessitates the destruction and reconstruction of the understanding of interaction. According to scientistic practitioners, inter-personal interaction must be perceived from a removed position wherein the scientistic investigator can freely observe the interaction without fear of damaging the authenticity of said interaction by participating in it. In this analysis, as Scruton explains, the perspective of scientism is necessarily confined to a third-person perspective of existence. Persons are described as he or she from an impersonal perspective that is held by the scientistic thinker to elevate him/herself to a position of objectivity: “Imagine a complete description of the world, according to the true theory . . . of physics. This description describes the disposition of all the particles, forces and fields that compose reality . . . Not a thing has been overlooked; and yet there is a fact that the description does not mention . . . namely, which of the things mentioned in the description am I? Where in this world of objects am I?”[31] In this manner, the analysis and description of inter-personal action is collapsed to a distinctly non-personal manner; explanations of human behavior are described in terms that no human is able to relate to on the basis of their own experiences.

The scientistic observer him/herself is forgotten in his/her investigation, thus leaving him/her “nowhere.” Attempting to push the person peg into the objective hole results in either the dismissal of the operation altogether as in the forgoing of the first-person case, or the depersonalization of the person peg into an object that fits the objective hole. Objects are easily understood in terms of their causal relationships to other objects and thus fit the predictable models employed by scientistic observers. The scientistic observer who employs these methods when attempting to understand the person must procced with their investigation in a manner that is contrary to their being as a person; in effect, he/she must forgo their understanding of the person. Scruton’s description of the scientistic observer as “nowhere” is an important signifier of the separation of the scientistic observer from other persons and the responsibility inherent in interaction with persons. Thus, the scientistic observer turns away from this horizon when he/she turns his/her gaze downward toward the empirically understood world at the cost of the vista of persons before him/her: “The identification of any object in the first-person case is ruled out by the enterprise of scientific explanation. So science cannot tell me who I am, let alone where, when, or how.”[32]

Persons must perceive themselves as a component of the world on which they act, and are acted upon by others, to gain an understanding of responsibility. Scruton elucidates that persons who present themselves to each other in the first-person, thus engaging in inter-personal “I-You” relationships, become present to one another as equitable beings in the world and share in the responsibility to understand one another as such: “What we are for ourselves minutely reflects what we are for others, since it is through our dialogue with others that we understand how we appear in the world. The I-You encounter shapes both me and you . . . By learning to see myself as you see me, I gain control of my situation, as a being in the world. Through the life of civil society . . .  I shape myself as another in the eyes of others, and so gain consciousness of myself.”[33]

The scientistic observer denies him/herself the opportunity to participate in this initial sharing of public responsibility and thus limits him/herself from the world he/she seeks to investigate. Human beings express their desires toward each other, their communication holds the potential for a shared understanding of commitment to promises, consistent obligation to one another, and the taking of responsibility for other persons. The scientistic observer in “nowhere” forgoes the public responsibility shared by those who are mutually perceptive, in the pursuit of an objective perspective that cannot possibly be verified.

In the attempt of the scientistic investigator to place him/herself in the situation where he/she can objectively perceive all matters, the so termed “Archimedean point,” the scientistic investigator him/herself cannot verify the validity of his/her own position. Precisely because the investigator is a human being, the “Archimedean point” he/she has “reached” cannot be verified as the true “Archimedean point” as this would require a person who is above that investigator, thus causing a philosophical dilemma of verifying the “Archimedean point” of that person in an endless regress. The scientistic thinker is caught in an ironic trap of his/her own making wherein he/she necessitates some other person who can verify his/her position, but cannot find them due to his/her removal from the world into “nowhere.” The scientistic observer’s disconnect from the world has robbed him/her of the everyday inter-personal experiences that shape individuals into the people they can become. Scruton points out that persons do not require the precise knowledge of scientism to understand that this is true; to understand that responsibility to one another is inherent in inter-personal action. Scruton compares and contextualizes this point with man’s relationship to God. He explains that the seemingly impassable gap encountered and conquered in person to person relations is present in the relation between God and man:

What matters to us are not the invisible nervous systems that explain how people work, but the visible appearances to which we respond when we respond to them as people… It seems, then, that there is an impassable metaphysical gap, between the human object and the free subject to whom we relate as a person . . . Yet we constantly cross that seemingly impassable metaphysical barrier. How is this? And if we can understand how it is, will that help us to solve the problem of the relation between the transcendental and the immanent God?[34]

The impassable gap is routinely approached in the initiation of inter-personal conduct, crossed with the acknowledgment of one’s personhood by another, and understood as surpassed when the person is easily able to engage in conduct again. In this manner, the responsibility to hold one’s hand out to another so that the other person can cross the gap with confidence in his/her perception as a person, so to speak, is recognized and understood by all persons who participate in inter-personal interaction. From “nowhere,” the scientistic practitioner does not describe the behaviors and actions of human beings as they are understood by the humans who are engaging in or committing them. Scientism can describe the objective world in great detail, but it cannot account for the person conducting the experiments, doing the “objective” analysis and publishing the findings of scientistic inquiry. Scruton’s case for the importance of the first-person perspective allows one to recognize that to operate under the requisites of scientism, one must forgo the true understanding of the person developed in cooperation in the sharing of public responsibility. Scientism certainly allows one to gain an understanding of objects, but, as Scruton elucidates, one loses the understanding of the person. Scruton aptly illustrates the conundrum of describing persons with scientistic terms exclusively: “The human world, I maintain, is ordered by concepts that are rooted in dialogue, and therefore in the first-person perspective. But there is no room in causal theories for terms like ‘I’ and ‘you . . . ’ ”[35]

Appreciation of the Person, Art and the Earth through Eros and Agape 

Scruton provides an alternative to scientism in the form of personal knowledge gained in the appreciation of the person in interaction. This appreciation of the person can only be comprehended once one has mastered understanding the person. This is practiced in the appreciation of works of art and the natural world, understood as unique representations of the person-creator and as a personal entity worthy of “I-You” encounters. In this manner, the aesthetical category of beauty found in art and the natural world appreciated by the person is discussed as a stand-in for moral and political phenomena found in inter-personal interaction. Scruton illustrates that inter-personal appreciation of art functions as a pseudo communal space wherein persons participate in the shared reflection of the art as it relates to them as persons. Scruton’s alternative to the scientistic practitioner’s understanding of beauty as a motivation for reproduction exclusively allows one to gain a better understanding of the person, art and the natural world. Scruton outlines the necessity of understanding the sentiment behind the appreciation of beauty found in eros, platonic love, and agape, Christian neighborly loved, in contrast to the notion of beauty as a motivator exclusively for the purpose of sexual reproduction. A synthesis of the platonic understanding of eros as contemplative of the person, erotic love that respects the person’s body as an extension of one’s personhood and communal agape allows the person to redeem their erotic passion through aesthetical appreciation of the person and the building of communal trust.  Scruton’s discussions concerning the analysis of art, musical composition and the natural world allow one to practice understanding persons through the appreciation of irreplaceable creations.

Scruton explains, through examination of platonic eros, that the base form of erotic love objectifies the person by perceiving him/her as a beautiful object to possess rather than a person who possesses beauty. The love of beauty, in contrast, respects the dignity of the person by considering the person him/herself as an extension of the universal beauty that aligns one to another through appreciation: “He [Plato] identified erōs as the origin of both sexual desire and the love of beauty… sexual desire, in its common form, involves a desire to possess what is mortal and transient, and a consequent enslavement to the lower aspect of the soul . . .  The love of beauty is really a signal to free ourselves from that sensory attachment, and to begin the ascent of the soul towards the world of ideas… That is the true kind of erotic love… an instance in the here and now of the eternal idea of the beautiful.”[36] The scientistic understanding of beauty is comparable to the base form of erotic love, as it objectifies the relations between persons as motivation for sexual reproduction. Scruton clarifies that the contemplation of beauty is still rooted in physical erotic passion towards the person, thus eros always risks the objectification of the person and the disregard of trust.

Scruton elucidates that agape is discussed as a contrasting notion to eros that does not objectify the person due to the unconditional characterization of neighborly love. Scruton explains that agape entails neither a distinction between persons nor a desire for the erotic pleasure of bodies and therefore does not risk the objectification of persons. A society based on agape alone is functional but does not provide a method for intentional interaction between specific persons that develops trust, sexual relationships and reproduction. Thus there is a place for a contemplative eros between persons in private and a public commitment to agape between persons in a community: “Plato’s mistake was to think that normal sexual desire is directed towards the beautiful body . . .  The solution to the problem of desire is not to overcome it, but to ensure that it retains its personal focus. A society based on agape alone is all very well, but it will not reproduce itself . . . Hence the redemption of the erotic lies at the heart of every viable social order…”[37] Scruton raises the example of sanctified marriage as a synthesis between eros and agape that allows trust to be maintained in private while unconditional love is provided back to the community: “the purpose of the sacrament is to incorporate eros into the world of agape . . . the purpose, where it exists, is everywhere the same: to ensure that the private face of the lover can at a moment become the public face of the citizen, or the outgoing face of the friend . . . ”[38] Therefore, persons must utilize contemplative eros in a manner predicated on trust that does not objectify persons during erotic passion, and the publicly practiced agape to further the development of community.

The scientistic practitioner, while providing experiment subjects a form assuring confidentially, does not intentionally practice trust in his/her methodology, as he/she must displace him/herself from what is being investigated. A scientistic notion equivalent to agape would be contrary to the understanding of beauty as a sexual adaptation, as neighbor love necessitates that persons engage with others for the sake of the other, rather than utilizing others for the sake of themselves in reproduction: “The attempt to explain art, music, literature, and the sense of beauty as adaptions is surely both trivial as science and empty as a form of understanding. It tells us nothing of importance about its subject matter, and does huge intellectual damage in persuading people that after all there is nothing about the humanities to understand, since they have all been explained – and explained away.”[39]

Scruton utilizes the example of the kiss to illustrate how trust between individuals counteracts the risk of objectification in private appreciation of the person. Scruton’s considerations of eroticism displayed in passionate kissing elucidates how the redeemed notion of eros, understood as the synthesis of contemplative eros and agape, is superior to the scientistic concept of the kiss. Scruton explains that while sharing a kiss is considered objectively as two flesh objects connecting as a successive motivator to engage in sexual reproduction, further analysis outside of the lens of scientism reveals that the kiss is an expression that exemplifies trust and sacrifice between persons. The sculpture “Eros and Psyche,” by Canova, as Scruton explains, captures in its most realized fashion the moment when desire between two persons is at its climax. The kiss, captured by Canova, is a perfect recreation of how persons give themselves to another once they have stablished trust. The two lovers are drawn to each other through eros, but are united in their trust for one another guaranteed in the synthesis of eros and agape in an “I-You” relation: “The lips are offered as spirit, but they respond as flesh… Hence the kiss the most important moment of desire – the moment in which soul and body are united, and in which lovers are fully face to face and also totally exposed to one another . . .  The pleasure of the kiss is not a sensory pleasure: it is not a matter of sensations, but of I-You intentionality and what it means.” [40]

Scruton’s description of the kiss reveals the shortcomings of scientism. First, Scruton’s identification of the pleasure of the kiss as a non-sensory pleasure is apt; the pleasure derived from the kiss is dependent upon the intentionality of both participants during the kiss. If the kiss were merely an activity of pure sensory pleasure, mistaken or unwanted kissing would be similarly characterized. Objective measures of kissing cannot place the kiss into these categories, thereby missing the purpose of the action entirely. Secondly, the shared pleasure between two parties during the kiss is predicated upon the understanding of the “I-You” relationship, thus a priori necessitating the understanding of the person. Human beings may act upon each other as if they are objects, but may unburden each other of that objectification if they understand one another as persons and embrace desire through the understanding of intention in the form of contemplative eros predicated on trust. Scruton explains that persons kissing face one another directly, looking into each other’s eyes, and then proceed to kiss with eyes closed. The pair lock eyes to communicate the intention described in eros while the closing of the eyes by both participants illustrates that neither wish to objectify the other by perceiving their bodies before their souls and that both participants trust in the intentions of the other: “. . . the kiss is the most important moment of desire – the moment in which the lovers are fully face-to-face and also totally exposed to one another. The pleasure of the kiss is a matter not of sensations, but of I-You intentionality and what it means.”[41] Both persons trust that the other person possesses the understanding of the self and has recognized that understanding in their partner, thus facilitating the “I-You” relationship through acknowledgment and trust. Persons in the kiss give themselves to each other fully after trust has been recognized as they no longer fear objectification. In this manner, the understanding of eros is essential to the person for establishing in private interaction what can be extrapolated in the shared public appreciation of beauty in art.

Scruton’s analysis of classical musical compositions exposes a fault of scientism that speaks to the larger problem of how scientism fails to analyze the natural world. When human beings interpret a piece of music, as Scruton explains, they do not consider the music as the quantifiable assembly of frequencies played in sequence; they hear not the sounds the music consists of but the music itself. Scruton extends this, proposing an analogy that describes listening to music as a participatory analysis within the space the music occupies: “In describing the music, you are not describing sounds heard in a sequence; you are describing a kind of action in musical space, in which things move up and down in response to each other and against resisting fields of force. These fields of force order the one-dimensional space of music . . . In describing pitched sounds as music, we are situating them in another order of events than the order of nature.”[42] The kind of action Scruton identifies is the practice of understanding the dignity of the art as one would the dignity of the person.

Scruton’s use of the concept of space is not to be confused with a geometrical or mathematical understanding of space. The space described is a phenomenological space; it does not merely situate the music, but describes how one hears what one hears when one listens to it. This is familiar to the concept of the private space and the public space, wherein individuals participate in the understanding of themselves and others respectively. By participating in the communal appreciation of created works, the person engages in the practice of understanding dignity with other bearers of dignity who are also learning. In this manner, participation in the “musical space” trains one for participation in communal relations as he/she has learned to respect and understand the irreplaceability of unique works. With this understanding, the person is able to successfully practice agape with others in his/her community, thus mastering the aesthetical appreciation of the person: “[Music] moves as we move, with reason for what it does and a sense of purpose . . .  It has the outward appearance of an inner life, so to speak, and although it is heard not seen, it is heard as the voice is heard, and understood like the face . . .  Unlike us, however, music creates the space in which it moves. And that space is ordered by fields of force that seem to be radiated from the notes that occur in them.”[43] The space of music reflects the communal activities of persons in a space of communal appreciation that appears self-generating and welcoming to others. This understanding of how humans hear music, and music itself, is in express contrast to the reductionist account of music that hears only the sounds comprising music.

Music in the context of scientism is merely the sequence of pitched sounds, as the restraints of scientism necessitate that the interpretation of the “musical space” is valueless. To the contrary, as Scruton illuminates, the experience of listening to music and all that it entails is not illusory as scientism would suggest, it is the sole manner to authentically experience the art: “These things that we hear in music are not illusions: someone who fails to hear them does not hear all that there is to hear, just as someone who fails to see the face in a picture fails to see all that is there. Music is certainly part of the real world. But it is perceivable only to those who are able to conceptualize and respond to the sound in ways that have no part to play in the physical science of acoustics.”[44]

One cannot really hear the music by only analyzing the rhythmic pattern of sounds, nor can one fully appreciate a painting if all that is perceived is the indexed colors and geometric lines. The person cannot appreciate the natural order of the world if he/she does not engage in an understanding that mirrors the understanding of the person. Scruton identifies the contrasting scientistic understanding of the natural world with the notion of Verstehen, the reflection on the world as an opportunity for introspection, emotional investigation and personal interpretation: “When looking on the world in this latter way [Verstehen], as an object of our attitudes, emotions, and choices, we understand it through the conceptions that we use of each other, when engaging in justifying and influencing our conduct. We look for reasons for action, meanings, and appropriate occasions of feeling. We are not explaining the world in terms of physical causes, but interpreting it as an object of our personal responses.”[45] This understanding of the world, as Scruton clarifies, is an alternative mode of conceptualizing the world that emerges in the form of inter-personal dialogue. The person participates in the process of Verstehen with others, and thus gains introductory experience in understanding the person by relating objects of the world to other persons. The person is not displacing him/herself from the world by conceptualizing the world in this manner, he/she is understanding the world as he/she would a person by participating with the world to further his/her understanding. Scruton states that Verstehen recognizes the beauty in the world and allows for the facilitation of “I-You” encounters thus teaching one to understand the person through investigation of the world: “It is when addressing you as an I like me that I describe the world in terms of the useful, the beautiful, and the good… In science we describe the world to others; in Verstehen we describe the world for others, and mold it to the demands of the I-You encounter, on which our personal lives depend.”[46]

Scruton utilizes the inter-personal quality of sacredness found through the process of Verstehen to elucidate how persons must perceive the world in terms of intrinsic value rather than utility. This is clarified through a discussion of sacredness and a comparison to friendship between persons. Scruton argues that the world itself possesses a sense of sacredness whereby human beings must recognize the “I” of the world. Scruton explains that the concept of the sacred necessitates the understanding of a practice of inter-personal relationships. As such, this concept is unique to human beings and is only possible because of a readiness to engage with the world in this way: “the experience of the sacred is inter-personal. Only creatures with ‘I’ thoughts can see the world in this way, and their doing so depends upon a kind of inter-personal readiness, a willingness to find meanings and reasons . . . .. True architects do not subdue their material to some external purpose; they converse with it… Because we are subjects the world looks back at us with a questioning regard, and we respond by organizing it in other ways than those endorsed by science.[47] The scientistic practitioner works upon the world rather than with it: a one-sided conversation in which the world does not participate.

The inter-personal conversation that takes place between the person and the world itself is predicated upon the person’s respect for the dignity of the world. Scruton explains that the dignity of the world is recognized as an intrinsic value that is prioritized over the utilitarian value of the resources of the world. In this manner, persons participating in the aesthetical appreciation of the beauty in the planet practice a relationship that mirrors friendship: “Your friend is valuable to you as the thing that he is. To treat him as a means – to use him for your purposes – is to undo the friendship.… Friendship is supremely useful, so long as we do think of it as useful. Likewise with the environment…. We gain the benefits of the earth when we cease to aim for them. And that is the role of beauty… It utters a quiet but absolute ‘no’ that can be overridden by violence, but not removed by calculation.”[48] Aesthetical appreciation of the earth allows one to recognize the beauty in other persons which in turn furthers the development of trust through the practice of private contemplative eros and communal agape. Scruton’s presentation of scientism contrasted with aesthetical appreciation of the person, art and the world allows one to develop his/her understanding of the person while concurrently elucidating the crucial communal attributes of trust that are essential to the person.

Scruton utilizes aesthetical categories as this allows persons to easily practice a respect of dignity as they would the dignity of the person without the risk of objectification that is inherent in personal interaction. Thus, the person engaging with others understands the moral imperative inherent in respecting the dignity of other persons and is able to proceed in political projects that benefit his/her community. Persons learn to understand the dignity of the person through the understanding of the dignity of created works.

The Un-replicable Understanding of the Transcendental

Scruton solidifies his understanding of the person by elucidating the importance of the transcendental perspective, the knowledge that requires no criteria for confirmation that one holds that he/she is a unique and indivisible being recognized as him/herself assuredly. Scruton explains that the recognition of this perspective, mirrored itself in the scientistic pursuit of the “Archimedean point,” allows persons to recognize their inability to stand outside casual laws and instead direct their efforts to understand the Being of others, the transcendental qualities of truth, goodness and unity inherent in personhood. This perspective, in contrast to the scientistic pursuit of objectivity, allows persons to discover the transcendental perspective in the other through forms of conduct such as friendship. The scientistic practitioner cannot achieve the transcendental perspective through removing him/herself from others; it is only recognized in tandem with persons.

Scruton, following the argumentation of Kant and his successors, outlines the importance of recognizing one’s transcendental perspective and that of others. Scruton states: “I know that I am a single and unified subject of experience… I know this on no basis . . . without the use of criteria of any kind – this is what is (or what ought to be) meant by the term ‘transcendental’ The unity of consciousness ‘transcends’ all argument since it is the premise without which argumentation makes no sense .  . . ”[49] Scruton illuminates that the a priori knowledge of the transcendental perspective is not deducible by examination of causal laws yet it is understood as true by all persons able to make “I” statements. As discussed, the scientistic thinker’s pursuit of the “Archimedean point” leaves him/her isolated, as no person can verify his/her position as objective. The scientistic thinker is effectively attempting to stand outside of the causal chain he/she desires to investigate: he/she is attempting to reach a transcendental perspective from which he/she can know without doubt that he/she is perceiving events as they are. Causal laws, like those of science, as Scruton identifies, neither account for nor explain how individuals are supposed to understand, relate to, or follow said laws. Therefore, the scientistic thinker has doomed him/herself to failure when he/she has committed to achieving a perspective outside of causation. The understanding of these experiences can only be gained through reflection on the experiences themselves. He/she, by recognizing his/herself as the observer, has already subscribed to the unity of consciousness as he/she knows for certain that he/she is uniquely alone in investigating the phenomena. The scientistic practitioner can investigate objects dictated by causal laws once he/she acknowledges his/her transcendental grounding, not once he/she has become removed from it.

The scientistic practitioner initially appears trapped in a lonely and paradoxical position, but Scruton illustrates through a discussion of transcendental freedom and Being that the scientistic can re-situate him/herself in the world of causal laws. Scruton explains that Kant makes a clarification that moral agents, persons, are defined by the notion of transcendental freedom that distinguishes freedom as a concept that is of the transcendental category as distinguished from nature. In this manner, persons are both a part of nature but also exist as an end in and of themselves not bound by causality: “Freedom, however, belongs, not to nature, but precisely to that ‘intelligible’ or transcendental realm to which categories like causality do not apply. I exist as a ‘thing-in-itself,’ bound, not by causality, but by the laws of practical reason…. Freedom, then, is a transcendental ‘idea,’ without application in the empirical world. And, in knowing ourselves to be free, we know ourselves at the same time as part of nature and as members of a transcendent world.”[50]

The person is situated in and bound to a world of causal laws but also acts with freedom as a bearer of dignity able to identify him/herself in the first-person. Therefore, the scientistic practitioner has already demonstrated the ability to engage in practical reasoning, deciding by reason how to act as a free being in the attempt to observe the causal laws. To investigate natural phenomena as the scientistic investigator desires, he/she must metaphorically “step back” from his/her attempt to achieve a transcendental perspective and embrace what Scruton elucidates as the relational picture of the world achieved through the understanding of Being.

Scruton explicates that the question of Being, the search for an entity that provides a reason for the whole of existence rather than a cause, is puzzling due to philosophical conundrums of infinite regress. The Being that created the Being is the Being that justifies its own rationale with the very same rationale. However, Scruton suggests that persons can understand Being if they understand the notion as granted to them through existence. Scruton, drawing on the writings of Aquinas that describe the transcendental qualities of Being, notes that the qualities of truth, unity and goodness are understood as belonging to everything real insofar as the presence of these qualities cannot be discerned by pinpointing their source or location but only through mention of the world in its totality. From this, Scruton explains that Aquinas has laid out the connection between the person and the world as given to him/her and the solution to the scientistic investigator’s impossible quest for the transcendental perspective: “a sympathetic reading of Aquinas would suggest . . . that he is showing the deep connection between the world of contingencies, and the world of values. Being presents us with unified individuals, and therefore with plentitude; it presents us with truth, and therefore with knowledge; and it presents us with goodness and therefore with the end or purpose of the world. These are a priori features of being, and ways in which being makes itself known to us.”[51] Scruton’s illustration of Being allows the scientistic practitioner to understand his/her connection to the world in a manner that allows for investigation as he/she desires, without getting caught in the trap of seeking the transcendental perspective.

The world is revealed to the person in relation to the person through the understanding of the transcendental qualities found in persons. The transcendental view of the world in its totality is impossible for persons to achieve if they are looking in the wrong place; persons must look to one another to discover their relation to the world. This is achieved through the development of friendships with other persons who understand the relational picture of the world. Persons who share this understanding necessarily recognize the dignity of unified persons and thus respect one another; they recognize the person as a source of goodness and thus perceive them as an end in and of themselves. Persons therefore are capable of forming virtue friendships with this understanding of Being, alleviating them of the loneliness that is guaranteed in the pursuit of the transcendental perspective. The scientistic is thus granted a more genuine and effective manner of investigating the world that neither leaves them alone nor paradoxically binds them in the assumption of the unity of consciousness: “People find themselves bound by nontransferable attachments. These attachments invest the other with a unique vale and distinguish him from all others in the universe. People find their fulfillment in this way, by discovering objects of attention and affection for which there are no substitutes.”[52]


Scruton’s critique of scientism provides a valuable guide for persons to recognize and understand their personhood in its totality and the political ramifications of the scientistic ideology. Biological reductionism does not provide a sufficient alternative to the moral motivations of persons, as it de-personalizes and personifies humans and animals respectively when convenient. Concepts such as dignity and freedom are not “explained away,” rather, they are merely attributed to organs within the body of the person while the scientistic investigator him/herself continues to make intentional acts as if he/she did possess freedom. By committing these actions, the investigator finds him/herself “nowhere” as he/she has removed him/herself from the world he/she desires to investigate in the pursuit of the un-verifiable “Archimedean point.” This prevents the scientistic practitioner from participating in inter-personal responsibility, thus robbing him/her of the political potential to share in the public responsibility of maintaining a community. Scruton demonstrates, through a discussion of the aesthetical appreciation of beauty found in persons, art and the world itself in the practice of contemplative eros and communal agape, that trust for other persons cannot be developed in the scientistic understanding of beauty as a motivation for reproduction as contained in base erotic love. Additionally, understanding art and the world as imbued with dignity allows for persons to practice the understanding of the person. Finally, Scruton’s elucidation of the transcendent “I” and Being allows the scientistic thinker to escape the lonely “nowhere” in favor of a granted world that is relational to him/her and therefore, is treated as an entity to be investigated with others in friendship. Scruton’s work has elucidated that persons must engage with one another to understand both themselves and others in totality. Practitioners of scientism would do well to consider his words with reverence and weight, as the stakes are too high for any person to neglect his/her potential as a moral and political actor.



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[1] David Walsh, “Dignity as an Eschatological Concept,” in Understanding Human Dignity, ed. Christopher McCrudden (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 250-251.

[2] Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, trans. Joe Sachs (Newburyport: Focus Publishing, 2002), 1156b.

[3] Kevin den Dulk, “Isolation and the Prospects for Democracy: The Challenge for the Alienated,” Comment 36, no. 2 (Summer 2018).

[4] Brendan Purcell, From Big Bang to Big Mystery: Human Origins in the Light of Creation and Evolution (Dublin: Veritas Publications, 2011) 99.

[5] Eric Voegelin, “The Origins of Scientism,” Social Research 51, no. 1 (January 1948): 462.

[6] Alexander Rosenberg, Philosophy of Science: Second Edition, (Oxon: Routledge, 2005), 191.  

[7] Erin A. Dolgoy, “The Scientific and the Scientistic: Roger Scruton on the Consequences of Modern Science,” Perspectives on Political Science 45, no. 4 (2016): 244.

[8] Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1958), 300.

[9] David Fergusson, “Book Review: The Face of God, written by Roger Scruton,” Ecclesiology 11, no. 2 (May 2015): 255.

[10] David P. Maher, “Roger Scruton’s On Human Nature and the Starting Point of Science,” Society 54, no. 6 (December 2017): 577.

[11] Roger Scruton, On Human Nature (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2017), 14-15.

[12] Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene: New Edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986), 332.

[13] Scruton, On Human Nature, 16-17.

[14] Roger Scruton, The Face of God (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2012), 26-27.

[15] Scruton, The Face of God, 28.

[16] Scruton, The Face of God, 28.

[17] Roger Scruton, The Soul of the World (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014), 51.

[18] Scruton, The Soul of the World, 52.

[19] Scruton, The Face of God, 48.

[20] Scruton, The Face of God, 46.

[21] Scruton, The Face of God, 44-45.

[22] Scruton, The Soul of the World, 56.

[23] Scruton, On Human Nature, 70.

[24] Scruton, The Face of God, 42.

[25] Scruton, The Face of God, 43.

[26] Scruton, The Face of God, 25.

[27]Scarlett R. Howard et al., “Numerical ordering of zero in honey bees,” Science 360, no. 6393 (June 2018): 1124.

[28] Howard et al., “Numerical ordering of zero in honey bees,” 1124.

[29] Howard et al., “Numerical ordering of zero in honey bees,” 1126.

[30] Scruton, Soul of the World, 30-31.

[31] Roger, The Face of God, 31.

[32] Scruton, The Soul of the World, 31.

[33] Scruton, The Face of God, 64.

[34] Scruton, The Face of God, 48.

[35] Scruton, The Face of God, 45.

[36] Roger Scruton, Beauty (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 40-41.

[37] Scruton, The Face of God, 102.

[38] Scruton, The Face of God, 104.

[39] Scruton, The Soul of the World, 144.

[40] Scruton, The Face of God, 84-85.

[41] Scruton, Soul of the World, 99.

[42] Scruton, The Soul of the World, 37-38.

[43] Scruton, The Soul of the World, 148.

[44] Scruton, The Soul of the World, 39.

[45] Scruton, The Soul of the World, 32.

[46] Scruton, The Soul of the World, 33.

[47] Scruton, The Face of God, 128-129.

[48]Scruton, The Face of God, 132.

[49] Scruton, The Soul of the World, 72.

[50] Roger Scruton, Kant (New York: Sterling Publishing, 2010), 81-82.

[51] Scruton, The Face of the God, 168.

[52] Scruton, The Soul of the World, 93.


This is the first of three parts with part two and part three available.

Thomas KazakoffThomas Kazakoff

Thomas Kazakoff

Thomas Kazakoff is a graduate of the University of Lethbridge. His research interests include personal politics, scientism, political friendship, and local government. He has conducted research for the University of Lethbridge for multiple projects and the Atlantic Institute for Market Research.

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