Walsh and Scientism
The methodology of scientism described by Scruton in the preceding chapter points to the rejection of limitation for persons. Limitation, understood as the framework that binds persons to the natural order of existence of which they are a part, is reformulated in the scientistic framework as a hurdle to overcome in the pursuit of the understanding of reality. The “Archimedean point” pursued by modern scientism as the basis for objectivity is also the basis for power over objects. Scientism thus prescribes a reality wherein persons are not bound by limitations and are therefore free to prosper unrestricted. Humans are thus masters of their destiny and power. However, the objectivity and power imagined in scientism results in persons occupying a paradoxical state where they must define how they will utilize their power from an unverifiable position of objectivity. Complete power over objects threatens the person by including him/her under the guise of objectivity. The understanding of the person is lost in the scientistic rejection of limits.
David Walsh articulates in The Growth of the Liberal Soul, After Ideology, The Modern Philosophical Revolution, Guarded by Mystery and Politics of the Person as the Politics of Being that limitation allows persons to recognize their common ground, recognize each other’s dignity and surpass said limitations through communal cooperation grounded in the understanding of the person. Walsh’s notion of communal success is distinct from the Hobbesian notion of limitation as Walsh prioritizes the recognition of the irreplaceability of the person in his analysis. Persons do not participate together out of a necessity to achieve the end goal of community, rather, it is in participation that they recognize that persons are ends in and of themselves due to their foundational dignity.
Walsh presents a philosophical project in Politics of the Person that places the person as an unknowable whole reality, an undefinable being who cannot be understood in totality but experienced if one is to engage with him/her. Walsh rejects reductionist frameworks such as scientism that categorize the person as mere organic material that is easily understood in totality through objective perception, as Marc D. Guerra explains: “…neuroscientists now proudly declare that through their pioneering research we will very soon be able to map out the biochemical workings of the brain and unlock the mechanical, material basis of human consciousness. Each chapter in Walsh’s challenging and stimulating book casts light on the crushing depersonalizing effects that such reductionist accounts necessarily have on our appreciation and understanding of the human person.”
Walsh combats the depersonalization of scientism with the assertion that the person cannot be authentically encapsulated within any framework that claims to provide a definition. Persons, as Walsh states, “…are not God and thus we do not create the world out nothing, but we bear a God-like responsibility for enacting its order. All that we do is done with a view to the whole… Through endowing the universality of the whole each has uniquely given himself or herself as a whole. Each is the singular without which the universal could not be.” Persons are not omnipotent creators of their own reality, rather, they embody reality to authentically understand one another. In this manner, scientistic practitioners commit a crucial misstep that Walsh characterizes as a “self-forgetfulness” of the person that is meant to benefit from the discoveries of investigation as an end in and of themselves. Scientistic investigation disregards the responsibility to treat persons as a dignified end in and of themselves, resulting in the sublimation of the person into the process of scientism or the reconstitution of the person in the rejection of limitation, as exemplified in transhumanism as a repudiation of limitation entirely.
Walsh’s theoretical conception is not without a practical counterpart. While the person cannot be defined, limitations in the form of the order of reality, do define the person. As such, Walsh illuminates that persons need limitations to properly reflect themselves as related to reality and to one another: “. . . one needs to be able to talk not only about the person in relation to other persons, but also in his relation to the world—including but not limited to the natural world—in which he inescapably finds himself. Natural limits, as well as conscious transcendence, define the human person.” Walsh explains that the person is revealed in cooperation within frameworks that do not attempt to encompass the person. The frameworks seek to convince one of personhood through cooperation between persons. Both science properly practiced and art, as Walsh elucidates, provide persons with limitation, the empirical framework and metaphoric language respectively. Science properly practiced prioritizes the use of empirical knowledge for the understanding of the person as a dignified “Thou,” distinct from objects, discovered in cooperation between persons. Discovery of new information, necessarily in cooperation with others, motivates the scientist to recognize the person as the true end of his/her investigation. Art, through use of metaphoric symbolization, articulates the truth of personhood and stands as a mode of being for persons to discover each other.
Walsh’s presentation of the person showcases the insufficiencies of scientism and allows persons to recognize one another as the end of communal conduct.
The Place of the Person and Scientism
Walsh elucidates that the scientistic dream of mastery of objects results in persons reputing their status as a component of nature in favor of a self-determined status of mastery standing beyond nature. From this new vantage point as master, the scientistic practitioner proceeds forward with total freedom to determine his/her direction, forgetting that his/her drive originates as a component of nature. Persons have the freedom to decide their own limitations and goals, but are paradoxically restricted by the necessity of defining these goals in perpetuity as they are their own rule-makers. From this, Walsh examines the scientistic attempt to reconstitute the person as a material being in his/her totality, ironically reinforcing the need for a foundation in the form of materialism, while concurrently claiming that persons are to be manipulated as objects. This suggests that the person is replicable and not unique, as seen in the propagation of bioethics and cloning. A further reconstitution of the person is found in the proliferation of technology as a manifestation of humanity’s mastery over nature. The person is driven to achieve godlike status by producing technologies that resolve any problem he/she encounters. However, this increases intolerance for discomfort while concurrently reducing satisfaction with the current amount of comfort. Technology thus ends in the person continuously striving for more comfort, only to face disappoint with his/her accomplishment. Persons cannot be abandoned or forgotten if they have a ground to land on; technological societies risk leaving persons behind for the sake of communal progress that in time, finds itself lacking a community to advance.
Walsh notes that scientific knowledge, as the dominant framework of knowledge to guide humanity, was initially embraced in the seventeenth century as a contrast to and rejection of the teleological understanding of persons and the environment they inhabit. Walsh describes the teleological understanding of nature as the foundational perspective of reality wherein persons are grounded by intrinsic purpose provided by “innate” ideas that are known to them through biological and external limitations. Science provided a “relief to man’s estate,” described by Francis Bacon in The Advancement of Learning, where human beings freed themselves from natural limitations through scientific progress founded on knowledge as power. However, as Walsh aptly points out, “If science holds a monopoly on truth, how do we validate the truth of this monopoly?” Walsh does not explicitly advocate for a return to the Greek notion of “causes” as a method for understanding reality, rather, the concept is utilized as a contrast to scientistic reasoning. The scientistic project, as Walsh states: “. . . seemed premised on our capacity to forget that we ourselves are part of nature… mastery over nature is itself a drive of nature, one whose viability depends on its purely natural status. Problems arise only when it is extended to the whole. Limitlessness becomes the enemy of attainment. We can assert our power over nature only to the extent that we do not seek to impose our power on the whole of it, for then we would no longer occupy a place within nature from which our power might be employed.”
A significant problem identified by Walsh that arises from persons attempting to master the whole of nature is the effects of global warming. Walsh elucidates that the conceit that humanity is on the path to irreversibly damaging the biosphere precludes that humanity has placed itself outside of the natural order to claim the responsibility for repairing its mistakes. Humanity, as Walsh describes, may not have predicted the consequences of assuming mastery, but is forced to bear the responsibility to correcting the mistakes made in this position: “Nothing in nature speaks to us of the harmony that must be restored. It is we human beings who must assume responsibility for a natural order that non longer leads or instructs us. Returning to nature is no longer an option for those who have eaten the fruit of mastery. Consciousness may have been the first unnoticed step but it has carried us inexorably beyond all natural limits.” Greenhouse gas emissions that have exponentially increased since the industrial revolution may now be too large to counteract, forcing humanity to reconcile the consequences of self-declared mastery. As it turns out, restrictions that are cognizant of humanity as a component of nature preserve both the natural order of the planet as well as the persons who inhabit it. Walsh elucidates that the scientistic response to correct the mistakes of mastery is a step backwards into nature, wherein persons are defined as material beings who are malleable just as is nature.
The place of the person is defined by scientism as an exclusively material component of nature. If human beings themselves can be manipulated, perhaps the mistake committed can be solved through their own enterprise. In this manner, mastery of nature is not truly forgone, the parameters of nature have merely shifted to include the person him/herself as both material and master. Therefore, the surpassing of limitation necessarily entails the establishment of new end goals for humanity that humanity must set. Persons must determine new goals that they can achieve through their own means thus motivating persons to improve their means to achieve these goals. However, as Walsh illuminates, these goals include the malleability of persons themselves thus dividing the person into his/her material components and the conscious component that must manipulate the material: “Personhood has begun to assume a kind of ghostly reality easily detached from its mere physical basis. Biology has become peripheral to consciousness. Despite the widespread awareness of our physiological processes… we are closer than ever to the understanding of ourselves as disembodied spirits, largely indifferent to our disposable outer shell.” The challenge for the person is thus to establish a definition of the person that preserves his/her uniqueness, recognizes him/her as a part of the natural order of reality, and prioritizes dignity. Walsh illuminates that the scientistic constitution of the person as material, as seen in the examples of bioethics and cloning, does not authentically represent the person.
Walsh challenges the arguments of Michael Tooley and Peter Singer concerning the definition of a person within the field of bioethics. Tooley and Singer suggest a list of perceptible criteria to define the person centered on the conception of self-expressed identity. This grounding of the person is made with humanist intentions, as the person who lacks a concrete definition cannot be defended. If a creature does not possess knowledge of its self as a self, and cannot articulate this, it should not be considered a person: “The individual must be conscious, capable of deliberate engagement with the world around him or her, and therefore of knowing the self and the non-self in their fundamental distinction . . . it is only at the point of conscious self-identity that a person can wish for his or her own continued existence as a singular identity. Legally this is the most crucial step…Without personal identity there can be no assertion of personal rights.” Walsh points out that Singer, in a contradictory manner, insists that adult animals also possess a rudimentary idea of self and should therefore be counted as persons. Additionally, since newborns and fetuses do not yet possess the capacity for self-identification, they may legally be manipulated as non-persons: “Newborn humans are no different from newborn kittens [under Tooley and Singer’s criteria]. Lacking even the minimal capacity of self-awareness, they can be disposed in the same way . . . The mistake has been to assume we could talk about persons in a non-personalist way . . . The other must always be a Thou if he or she is to escape become an It.” Confident that persons can exist dually as masters of material and material themselves, scientistic practitioner’s definition of the person is misaligned from the outset.
The notion of personal uniqueness is challenged by the possibility of cloning technology. Human beings may not be able to solve all problems now, but perhaps through genetic modification they can create a person who can. Walsh rebukes this notion by elucidating that an authentic clone, as a perfect copy of an individual person, cannot truly be created as the person extends beyond his/her genetic characteristics: “What revolts us about cloning human beings is that is seems so blatant a devaluation of the singularity of persons. At root, however, it is impossible to clone a person for the person has always already stepped outside what it is to be a clone. If one cannot be a member of a species, then one emphatically cannot be a clone of another. Whatever their characteristics, persons are not what they are. We dimly intuit this all the time about the persons we know . . .” To define the person as their genetic footprint for the purposes of reproducibility is to reconstitute the person as an object for experimentation, while concurrently positing the experimenter-persons as a master of persons. The place of the person is defined as a place for some persons only, while those who possess the knowledge to manipulate others are defined as masters: “For it is when we ponder the techniques and possibilities of genetic engineering and behavioral control the radical lostness of our situation becomes clear . . . The quest for ‘relief of man’s estate’ has here clearly reached a limiting point, once the human being who is to be benefited has no existence apart from the benefits that are bestowed . . . What is certain is that nothing is being done for the sake of the concrete human being before us.”
Walsh has elucidated that the dream of mastery over reality, propagated by scientistic practitioners, engages in a self-defeating enterprise by recognizing the need to define the person, placing him/her within a framework as a limitation to said mastery, and then considering the person as a malleable object to be manipulated. The scientistic practitioner suggests an alternative goal for the person; scientific knowledge will be utilized to make persons comfortable and happy through technology. Persons can utilize the vantage point as masters to improve the lives of others through the use of reasoning to provide comfort. Technology thus stands as a representation of the power of persons as knowers of useful knowledge and the makers of their own comfort. Communications between persons have been made incredibly efficient through an interconnected network of satellites, expanded medical knowledge of the human body makes the treatment of disease and sickness faster and more effective and efficient industrial food production has removed the need for hunting and gathering in the western world. As Jacques Ellul writes in The Technological Society: “. . . we are unable to envisage comfort expect as part of the technical order of things. Comfort for us means bathrooms, easy chairs, foam-rubber mattresses, air conditioning, washing machines, and so forth. The chief concern is to avoid effort and promote rest and physical euphoria.” Reason is utilized as a force of instrumentalization and the person merely needs to relax and focus on whatever he/she enjoys. However, as Walsh illuminates, the instrumentalization of reason for the comfort of persons is not without consequences.
As technology is constantly outdating its previous incarnation in terms of efficiency, persons paradoxically desire improvement while losing confidence in the current iteration of technology. As the availability of comforts increase, persons’ capacity for discomfort diminishes. This encourages persons to pursue efforts for greater comforts, leading to further diminishment in tolerance for discomfort. The goal of securing comfort proves to be hollow, as once comfort has been secured persons must provide a new artificial goal, either greater comfort or an arbitrary increase in the efficiency of technology, to strive for without addressing the underlying problem that the person who will enjoy the comfort is the source of the progression towards the securement of the comfort itself. Walsh notes that although persons are free to pursue creating more efficient technologies in liberal democracies, it does not result in comfort amongst all who have embraced freedom, rather, the knowledge as power, expressed through efficient technologies, has dominated persons. Once technology has demonstrated that persons can utilize reasoning to secure comfort, withdrawing that pursuit requires the recognition of the faults of the instrumentalization of reason to serve the production of technologies.
Walsh elucidates that persons in technological societies, despite being comfortable, harbor nostalgia for ages less technology proficient. The instrumentalization of reason to secure comfort through efficient technology has not been embraced by all persons with open arms: “All around us we see evidence of the refusal to summit to the demands of efficiency. Nostalgia for the old, monuments of spiritual aspiration, the worldwide revival of ancient religious forms, the power of orgiastic political movements of destruction, and the protest impulse that has driven artistic expression for more than a century all testify to the profound ambivalence with which the success of the instrumental rationality has been greeted.” Combatting technology, as Walsh explains, is thus understood as a challenge for philosophical reflection, wherein persons must be directed toward the negative consequences of technology. Walsh points out that technology must be directed toward an end goal, as technology by itself is merely a tool to achieve said goal. This requires a rationality above the instrumental reason utilized in the production of technology. The recognition of the necessity for a direction for technology is the first step for persons to free themselves from technology, as Walsh discusses with regards to the lukewarm reception of the instrumentalization of reason: “Technology, which treats everything as a means and nothing as an end, cannot furnish its own purpose. Instead, it undermines all final goals, refusing to acknowledge anything as an end in itself. Everything is drawn into its imperious grasp, and nothing is allowed to stand in judgment over it. We are left with a technique of control that can direct everything itself…. Man himself cannot submit to the same instrumentality; otherwise the instrumentality ceases to have any purpose”
The purposelessness of instrumentality in technology is observed in the negative effects of internet communications through smartphones and social media services. In a study concerning smartphone addiction in youth for Perspectives in Psychiatric Care, Emriye Hilal Yayan, Yeliz Suna Dağ and Mejmet Emin Düken found that those who utilized the internet for communications purposes reported significantly higher loneliness scores: “The Internet addiction and loneliness scores of the young who use the Internet for chatting were significantly higher and their peer relationship mean scores were significantly lower . . .There were strong positive correlations between Internet addiction, loneliness, and smartphone addiction and negative correlations between peer relationships and Internet addiction, loneliness, and smartphone addiction.” Similar findings were reported by Melek Kalken for Children and Youth Services Review, who concluded that students who engage in problematic Internet use, defined as the inability to stop internet usage despite mental deterioration, had correlated inter-personal cognitive problems: “problematic Internet use is significantly correlated with interpersonal cognitive distortions, and interpersonal cognitive distortions are significant predictors for problematic Internet use.” Communication technology meant to assist persons in making connections with others has resulted in the propagation of loneliness amongst its users. Persons cannot simply find a place within their technological society as a reconstituted aspect of the instrumentalization of reason, they must understand how to utilize technology to help them understand each other.
Finally, technological integration with the physical components of the person stands as an example of reconstructing the person from a scientistic framework. This arises in the modern transhumanism movement. Transhumanism poses a particular problem for liberal democracies as it encourages persons to surpass each other in terms of function through body modification, thus compromising equality and dignity between persons. This undermines the notion of personhood by allowing persons the opportunity to, on a whim, change their appearance and feelings and thus redefine themselves. Michael S. Burdett characterizes the transhumanism movement as a mythologization of the advancement of technology, wherein the person physically embraces the goals of the technological society through body augmentation: “Transhumanism radicalizes the myth of progress. It asserts that not only does technology transform society and the economy for the better, but also individual human experience can be affected… Transhumanists claim we need not resort to indirect measures to bring bliss and progress, instead, we have the power to engineer this outcome by applying technology directly to the human body.” These “indirect measures,” including the recognition of personhood through communal development, are easily avoided by the transhumanist by installing a dopamine supplement into his/her bloodstream. With no concept of the person to restrict them, those with the resources will augment themselves and thus differentiate themselves from persons not augmented, effectively creating two classes of persons. Liberal democracies face new challenges in ensuring that equality between persons is maintained with the liberty to augment one’s body; a limited liberty that in actuality restricts the person to an instrument of the technological society he/she is a member of. Scientism, in the form of technological reliance and eventual definition of society thereof, subsumes freedom, dignity and equality: “Without a conception of what a human being should be, the power, far from serving man, becomes his master . . . Even happiness cannot provide a goal, because what is to constitute happiness is susceptible of unlimited modification. What has evaporated is the idea of man as something fixed whose good is to be served . . .Without an understanding of human nature as something given, however ill-defined the parameters may be, there ceases to be anything substantive to benefit.”
The place of the person is not successfully defined by scientism. Persons as masters of nature find themselves lost without a foundation, prompting the scientistic practitioners to reduce the person to material. However, equating persons to malleable material does not reconstitute persons as a part of a natural order, they are concurrently masters and material to be replicated or transformed. Technology suggests an alternative constitution of the person defined as the maker of comfort. However, unless persons recognize the need for reason above the instrumentalization of reason utilized for technology, they will come to be defined by technology rather than how they use it: “There is no limit whose boundaries we cannot contemplate transgressing. Even the prospect that we are approaching an end point where the human being will be defined wholly in functional terms does not seem to raise the alarm that the entire enterprise will then have lost its own justification and purpose. Whose estate is to be relieved when man himself has been absorbed into the instrumental chain?” Walsh’s discussion illustrates that the definitions of the person provided by scientism do not present the person as he/she is. However, he provides the reader with two frameworks that accurately conceive personhood.
Science Properly Practiced
Walsh elucidates that scientism, in the manner of reconstituting the person as a cog in the machine of instrumentalization in technology, dehumanizes the people it aims to make comfortable. However, the faults of scientism do not damn the practice of scientific investigation entirely. Walsh clarifies, in a manner similar to Scruton’s discussion of the inability of scientism to account for the person, that while the person utilizing the processes of science is ultimately unknowable through them, the processes themselves and the resultant knowledge gained are inherently social practices. In this manner, the scientistic thinker cannot escape the personal dimension that underlies the processes of scientism, i.e. scientific inquiry properly practiced. The horizon of persons, described by Walsh as the foundational manner through which persons engage with reality, is the terminating end of scientific investigation conducted properly. Scientific investigation, conducted without the authoritative bend of scientism, is revealed to be an avenue to the person him/herself. In this manner, persons learn to engage with one another through properly practiced scientific investigation and evaluation.
Walsh initiates his discussion of science properly practiced by illuminating a paradoxical mistake committed by the scientistic practitioner. The visible innovations in technology provided by scientific inquiry, as Walsh notes, have led the scientistic practitioner to assume that the process of science itself is similar to the matter that is investigated by science. The scientific method is assumed to be of the same character as the phenomenon it investigates, that is, understandable exclusively through empirical means. The matter being investigated empirically, the scientistic practitioner suggests, must be evaluated necessarily by an exclusively empirical method. With this notion, the scientistic practitioner acclimatizes him/herself to the self-forgetfulness that characterizes the objective framework of scientism.
Walsh solidifies his point through the example of artificial intelligence in machines. He explains that since machines have demonstrable traits of intelligence, such as mathematical reasoning and adaptation based learning, they are quickly approaching humans in terms of quantifiable intelligence. Furthermore, since machines do not become distracted or need rest, the potential for machines to surpass humans in terms of intellectual ability is rapidly becoming a tangible reality. Walsh explains that the scientistic practitioner creating artificial intelligence has reduced the notion of human intelligence to a purely mechanical process that can be intimated by machines. If persons can create objects that resemble persons through the use of an exclusively empirical framework, perhaps persons themselves fit under said framework: “It is a testament to how thoroughly science has forgotten itself that it could confuse thought with its object. All of the interest has focused on what the machines do… but what humans do, the more profoundly inaccessible, remains shrouded in mystery . . . Can machines think if it is merely an imitation of what human thinking is? . . . The erasure of the boundary between inventor and invention is not just a question for the reality of the inventor. It also eliminates the possibility of understanding the invention.” The scientistic dream of mastery exemplified in the creation of “life” capable of surpassing its creator necessarily depends on a firm boundary between the creator and the invention.
The scientistic practitioner has no foundation from which to determine what machine “intelligence” is, if the intelligence of the person is not understood first. Scientistic self-forgetfulness negates the impressiveness of artificial intelligence by negating the capacity of the person to recognize it as impressive: “It is the artificial character of the intelligence that is so impressive, but that depends on our retaining the irreducible understanding of intelligence as such. When robots ‘know’ as we do, then there will cease to be anything striking about them. They are amazing inventions only so long as there are persons whose capacity to be amazed attests to the surpassing criterion by which our creations are measured.” The scientistic practitioner has thus placed the framework on the level of the matter he/she is investigating, mischaracterizing the intellectual process that, at the outset of the investigation, has determined what matter can be analyzed through its methods. The method is thus placed at a paradoxical position of being equivalent to the matter it investigates while concurrently determining how and what matter can be investigated. The scientistic practitioner, committed to the methodology, is trapped by adherence to the method that is misaligned with the reality it investigates.
The scientistic trends in neuroscience elucidate the trait of self-forgetfulness, particularly when contrasted with an example of properly practiced science provided by neuroscientific Alzheimer’s research. In contrast to the scientistic goals of neuroscience evident in the propagation of “neuro-philosophy,” discussed by Scruton in the preceding chapter, that serve to reconstitute the person as a shell for the brain, Lennart Mucke discusses potential solutions for Alzheimer’s disease in a summary article for Nature. Mucke’s description of neuroscience as a tool to assist investigators in alleviating the degeneration of the cerebral cortex and hippocampus places the person as the end of science properly practiced. The end goal of the scientific investigation is not to discover the root causes of Alzheimer’s by better understanding the effects of human aging on the production of neuro-proteins, rather, the end goal is to prevent the cognitive decline of persons so that they may lead fuller lives. Mucke states: “As we gain a greater understanding of the mechanisms of AD [Alzheimer’s disease], drugs can be aimed at its root causes . . . Large scale risk-factor profiling using genomic and proteomic screens may make it possible to identify subgroups of patients who stand to benefit . . . Zeroing in on the most responsive patient populations could make clinical trials more effective and guide long-term prevention strategies.” Persons are not subsumed into the process as units simply seeking to understand Alzheimer’s, they utilize the knowledge they have gained practically to assist others and improve the standing of the community by preserving life. The dignity of the person is paramount in science properly practiced and is misaligned in the practice of scientism.
At the core of proper scientific investigation is a communal activity wherein persons collectively engage with reality to gain knowledge that will provide benefits to the community. Science properly practiced avoids the self-forgetfulness of the person in scientism by recognizing that the person is not separable from reality through investigation; persons participate with one another and reality itself through the conduction of the investigation: “Not only is science an activity of persons, but also its very meaning is derived from the openness to reality that is identical with the person.”
In this manner, persons act with reality instead of upon it as in scientism. Walsh explains that this is precisely the reason why scientific development is subject to the societal forces of competition and groupthink, as the process itself is not objective; scientific inquiry itself is guided by persons towards the success of the common good as the best outcome of scientific practice. The findings of said inquiry must be directed towards the benefit of persons and not persons toward the benefit of inquiry to avoid the pitfalls of scientism. The person properly practicing science works in tandem with reality as a pseudo-person to uncover the mysteries that confront him/her, thus discovering the person through solitary investigation, or, engages with other persons for the sake of the communal good, thus also pointing towards persons. Science properly practiced in the former manner avoids the pitfall of forgetting the person by recognizing that the person cannot be subsumed by the methodology, while in the latter case, science properly practiced is directed entirely towards the person: “Objective knowledge turns out not to be what it thought it was, that is, a perspective from which we can contemplate and the master the universe in which we find ourselves. Science is rather a way station on the road to the complete unmastering of ourselves that the other alone can accomplish.”
Walsh elucidates that persons review the resultant knowledge in cooperation with others as a communal activity just as scientific inquiry properly practiced is conducted as a communal activity. When the scientist engages in scientific inquiry, he/she proceeds on the knowledge of past scientific inquiry conducted by other persons, either hoping to advance or confirm the efforts of the other persons, and with the confidence that his/her work will be valued in a similar manner. At the outset of proper scientific inquiry, as Walsh explains, the investigator is not taking the authoritative mindset prescribed by scientism, rather he/she is participating in a communal intellectual process. Thus, he/she “umasters” him/herself in the presence of the other: “Science is not just social in the extrinsic sense of requiring the cooperation of others. It is also intrinsically social in the sense of the mutuality of presence that is the very mode of scientific existence. What is meaningful or significant . . . is what every other would perceive as meaningful or significant as well. We measure not just reality but ourselves in the minds of one another . . . In this sense the collaborative enterprise of science is derived from the mutuality of all scientists.”
Walsh’s characterization of science as intrinsically social due to inherent “mutuality of presence” does not simply mean that science requires multiple persons to be conducted practically. Science properly practiced requires persons other than the investigator to verify that the information discovered is meaningful or significant to persons in general; the scientific community emerges through the discovery of each other as a consequence of the scientific investigation. The knowledge found in scientific inquiry must be interpreted, as Walsh elucidates, by persons utilizing intellectual methods that are expressly non-scientific, defined as meaningful or significant by Walsh as directed towards the person. In this manner, science is not the wellspring of knowledge that represents the culmination of the intellectual progression of humanity that will ultimately subsume the person. Science properly practice serves as mode of investigation that ends in the horizon of the person. Atomic physicist, Robert Oppenheimer concurs with Walsh’s notion of properly practiced science being pointed towards the person. He states that even in the seemingly disconnected field of atomic physics, the scientist is motivated and ultimately defined by his activities in relation to the lives of others: “Even in science… we are again and again reminded of the complimentary traits in our own life, even in our own professional life. We are nothing without the work of others our predecessors, others our teachers, others our contemporaries. Even when, in the measure of our adequacy and our fullness, new insight and new order are created, we are still nothing without others. Yet we are more.”
Science properly practiced ends in the horizon of the person as the scientist ultimately seeks to find others through the mutuality all scientists share. In this manner, communities emerge that prioritize the person as the end of the investigation of reality. Kristina Rolin, in her article “Scientific Community: A Moral Dimension,” argues that proper scientific communities stand as moral communities due to their epistemic responsibilities to their specific communities, and the larger community of humanity. She introduces the notion of “epistemic cosmopolitanism,” the notion that special epistemic responsibilities to one’s local community i.e. the community of phycologists, anthropologists, mathematicians etc. are further distributed as general epistemic responsibilities that are universal. From this she justifies that scientific communities, if they maintain their general epistemic responsibility to prioritize persons as knowers of reality, stand as moral communities with moral duties toward their members and persons universally: “When special epistemic responsibilities are understood as distributed general epistemic responsibilities, the tension between the two disappears. The universal and impartial nature of general epistemic responsibilities is not in conflict with the local and partial nature of special epistemic responsibilities when the latter are seen as a means to implement the former. By following one’s special epistemic responsibilities, one fulfils one’s share of general epistemic responsibilities.” In this manner, persons employing science properly practiced enter into relationships with others through the fulfillment of responsibility to one another, reality, and persons universally.
Science properly practiced emerges as a mode of knowledge wherein persons discover the personhood of others by recognizing the person as the end of inquiry, as opposed to the scientistic methodology that collapses the person within the methodology: “The interpersonal horizon within which science is practiced has pervaded its subject manner. What makes scientific inquiry of interest to us is also what makes it of interest to others. From there we extrapolate to others with whom the exploration of reality may put us in contact. We are prepared to enter into relationship with them. At that point they cease to be objects of scientific inquiry since we cannot simultaneously study them and get acquainted as persons.”
Discovery and Scientism
The scientistic practitioner perceives the scientistic framework to be the definitive method of investigation of reality. He/she conducts experimental procedures to ensure that knowledge is valid through the reproducibility of the results of the experiments. If an experiment cannot be reproduced under the same conditions, it is considered an outlier or fluke; the results are invalid and are not proper knowledge. However, Walsh notes that the discovery of new knowledge is at the heart of scientific investigation properly practiced. New knowledge that shatters the expectations of the individual scientist, as Walsh elucidates, signifies the capacity of nature to reveal itself as more intriguing and deeper than understood previously. The scientific model, as opposed to the desire of the scientistic thinker who propagates its superiority, must change with the discovery of new information. The model must fit the reality it investigates, rather than forcing the reality into the model. Discovery as the key motivation of the investigator is analogous to the manner in which persons are motivated to interact with one another. The potential for the fulfillment of the common good in cooperation with others, as Walsh demonstrates, allows persons to engage with one another and reality by fulfilling intuitions of curiosity as discussed in science properly practiced. The motivation of the scientist, despite the protests of the scientistic practitioner, is discovery that surpasses the model of scientism.
Walsh explicates that the sheer overwhelming amount of information provided to persons by nature invites persons to participate with it, thereby fulfilling their curiosity and forcing persons to reevaluate their preconceptions of nature. Despite nature’s seemingly infinite capacity to surprise the investigator, this does not discourage him/her from probing further into the mystery. Persons are not discouraged by new discoveries, they are invigorated to discover more. For example, Mora et al. notes that the striking amount of biodiversity present on Earth, estimated at 8.7 million species in total, of which only 1.2 million have been discovered, points to the depths of yet undiscovered information presented by nature. To discourage persons from “reinventing the wheel” of interpreting knowledge as scientism does is a disservice to both the capacities of persons and the phenomenon they investigate: “Far from being captured by the material it investigates, thought is a perpetual reaching beyond itself to discover the horizon within which it might grasp what it seeks to know. The affinity of thought is thus less with the content of its reflection than with what it senses is transcendent and imminent as the very possibility of its becoming what it seeks.”
The person is not motivated to simply reproduce previously discovered knowledge in an endless pursuit of accuracy, he/she is drawn to knowledge precisely because it reveals the world to be more than the person has previously understood it to be. Concurrently, nature is not concerned with the framework that persons utilize to analyze it, it confidently stands as itself. The failure of scientism to shift its framework, when demonstrated by its own methodology as inaccurate, misrepresents nature and prevents persons from pursuing the discovery of new knowledge: “We are led by the intuition that it [nature] might yield an even deeper initiation into the mystery of matter far beyond the stale and stable theories so far reached…. The thrill of discovery is not just a subjective viewpoint. It is almost as if nature conspires to lead us on with the prospect of ever more enthralling possibilities hidden within . . . The delight of the scientist who discovers unknown dimensions seems inchoately echoed by nature itself.” Nature, as Walsh explains, facilities a personal relationship with the one who seeks it out.
By standing as the wellspring of accessible knowledge, nature mentors the person into personhood by providing an infinite source of fulfillment for discovery. This does not place the person into servicing nature by revealing it to others, rather, it is the facilitation of openness to the other that assists the person him/herself in facilitating that same openness between him/her and another person. Nature disclosures itself to the person and in doing so prevents the closure of complete understanding. Just as a person cannot be known in totality, only discovered as a wealth of experience and potential, nature cannot be wholly understood by one framework in its totality. Scientism misunderstands its relationship to nature by seeking to understand completely what cannot be understood by persons because it is precisely in the capacity to explore new discoveries that nature remains so alluring. The scientistic goal of total knowledge defeats the personal motivation of discovery thus invalidating the entire enterprise. Walsh furthers this argument concerning the misaligned motivations of scientism by illuminating the manner in which science avoids solving the fundamental questions it investigates. The scientistic practitioner is not motivated to discover the answers to these fundamental questions, as Walsh discusses, because this would be engaging in a self-defeating enterprise.
Crucial to the self-defeat of scientism is the necessary removal of wonder as the initiating phenomenon that provides motivation for the satisfaction of curiosity through discovery. This initial state of wonder is shared by all persons who desire to question reality, allowing Walsh’s “mutuality of presence” between persons through a shared desire. The scientistic goal of total understanding prevents persons from experiencing authentic wonder, as scientism has mastered nature by providing persons with all the answers. In this sense, scientism terminates the cause for knowing and threatens the existence of its own enterprise. Aristotle illustrates the purpose of wonder in a description of philosophy as the supreme science pursued because persons love to discover: “For it was their curiosity that led men to philosophize and that still leads them. In the beginning, they were curious about difficulties close at hand. Then they progressed little by little in this respect and raised difficulties of greater consequence . . . Therefore . . . as men philosophized to escape ignorance… it is evident they learned in the pursuit of knowledge, and not for some useful end . . .” As Aristotle describes, the initial curiosity of wonder motivates persons to undertake difficult problems, solve them, thus bettering their understanding, and then approach more difficult problems.
In the understanding of political science as a science of persons, the political scientist becomes curious as to how he/she can better the lives of those in the community, utilizes their reason to solve an apparent problem, and then repeats the process with a new, more difficult problem. In this manner, science properly practiced, initiated by curiosity about nature, and political science share the same starting point, and, if science properly practiced is aimed towards the community, the same end. Consider the struggle to improve water quality in one’s municipality. A concerned citizen proceeds in one of two manners to affect change once he/she has become curious as to how to improve his/her community: he/she utilizes political skill and knowledge involving arguments advocating for the benefit of the community to affect legislative change that requires the support of local government and citizens, actualized through scientific knowledge practically, or, he/she begins with proper scientific inquiry that demonstrates through empirical knowledge that improved water quality will benefit the municipality. Following this, the citizen-scientist is reliant on political methods to implement the positive results of his/her findings for the community to prosper. The politician and the scientist both require the specialties of the other to serve the same end of improving their community. The person, recognized as the end of science and politics, stands to prosper through cooperation by multiple methodologies.
Science properly practiced pierces the unfathomable depths of knowledge that characterize nature, and in doing so, recognizes the inherent personal quality of the investigation. This firmly points towards the horizon of the person through the fulfillment provided by continuous discovery: “Science, despite the hubristic cloak in which it is often wrapped, has no more been able to pierce the mystery than philosophy . . . In the end it is only because we too are part of nature that we are capable of the adventure of deepening understanding that yet never achieves its goal. Science is an inescapably personal activity, possible at once because persons are within nature and at the same time beyond it.” Walsh’s description of science as a personal activity signals one to understand the culmination of discovery in science properly practiced as the person him/herself. From this notion, the person understands him/herself as more than he/she is just as he/she recognizes this capacity in others. With this understanding of the personal, motivated by discovery, persons exercise their potential in all matters, most importantly, communally as political actors.
Walsh illustrates that to define an expressly pragmatic purpose to the disclosure of nature is to minimalize the importance of the personal relationship one has with nature as the relationship one has with the person: “To ask what purpose it serves would be to misunderstand the transcendence of purpose entailed, for surprise exceeds all that could be anticipated within the economy of purpose. The gift of disclosure ruptures the boundaries of closure. New boundaries will then be assigned but we know that they too will be overwhelmed… Only persons can be surprised…Their mode of being present as not being present is an invitation to the gift of discourse that nature recurrently furnishes.” Just as nature furnishes discourse, persons who have embraced this understanding furnish the very same discourse by “being present as not being present” with others who also have embraced this understanding. This is no more apparent, as Walsh explains, than in the facilitation of communal action as political actors. Persons commit actions with others, whether unknowingly or knowingly, already in their purview. In doing so, persons create a common world through the discovery of the impact of their actions on others and are shaped by the world they create as they too are persons within the community. Thus, discovery, found in science properly practiced, in spite of the scientistic ideology, culminates in the person by allowing them to discover other persons: “We act not just in regard to others but also with them in mutuality. It is as if the space of our coming together precedes our coming together. In acting we are not alone but already in relation to others who similarly hold us in our purview. We do not create the political, the political creates us.”
Art, Metaphor, and Science
Walsh illustrates that science properly practiced allows persons to approach the horizon of the person as an inherently communal activity. In a similar fashion, persons who create art also engage with one another in community, but, as Walsh explains, these persons actively participate in the horizon of the person as their created art emerges only from truth. Art, as a mode of discovering the person, reveals the skill of recognizing what is in what is not. Walsh explains that this skill is the only manner in which persons can recognize the personhood of others, as this recognition forces them to place themselves in the place of the other to understand what is unspoken. Walsh clarifies that while science properly practiced works with nature in the quest to uncover the meaning of the enchantment persons experience through observation and experience, the creation of art allows for the immediate expression and understanding of enchantment between persons through the use of metaphor.
While scientistic investigation fails to both conceptualize enchantment and requires technical expertise to understand, art requires only the openness to one’s articulation of truth as it is understood. Art thus represents the knowledge gained from nature in a more authentic, though less technical, understanding. Furthermore, Walsh’s discussion of art illuminates that persons, through the presentation of art in the public sphere as an articulation of the truth of reality, are bound together in the pursuit of common good founded on truth. The artist articulates the truth of reality in the creation of symbolic representation, i.e. the use of metaphor, thus presenting a luminous force of truth that draws persons together to defend it: “The public space is illuminated by a light that subterfuge cannot stand. Untruth, the lie that seeks to conceal the common world, cannot endure when its falsity is exposed by truth resplendent…. That is the great contribution of art to the political… The symbolic universe of the nation creates a common world only because the symbols emerge with the imprint of truth already stamped upon them. That work of distillation of truth is the work of art. Culture is, like cult, a revolution. Artists are its seers.”
Walsh elucidates that art unites individuals in pursuit of the common good in a manner similar to Scruton’s discussion of the appreciation of beauty in art as a practicing ground for political conduct. Walsh extends Scruton’s dscussion by illustrating that the political conduct in the public space can only occur when persons are united in their faith that truth and art not only invite persons to engage with one another politically but gives persons the confidence to proceed in political ventures precisely because art cannot produce false truths.
Walsh explains that art perceived in the public space, since it requires the artist set aside his/her predilections and embrace the truth of the art, stands as a repellant to untruth that seeks to cloud the community. Art, as an articulation of the truth of reality, is distinct from propaganda which utilizes the work of artists to serve an ideological cause due to art’s full openness to the whole of reality as opposed to the perversion of reality inherent in ideological regimes. Persons who create art to further the goals of these regimes as propaganda are themselves restricted from reality as they are situated within the ideological prison of the created reality. In this manner, the inability to access the truth of reality prevents the creation of authentic art, as exposure to the truth of reality would render the ideological pursuit worthless: “No great art can be in the service of ideology . . . The one-dimensional stridency of ideology, vainly masquerading as the fullness of reality, cannot withstand the probing of artistic openness. As soon as the artist puts himself at the service of a closed political system he has sold his soul. Almost by definition, the vocation of the artist calls him to resist all closure of the openness to the horizon of mystery.”
Art as radiant truth in comparison to propaganda can be understood through the analysis of the propaganda art “Stalin’s care brightens the future of our children!” by Irakli Toidze and the art “Punishment by Mosquitos,” by gulag survivor Nicolai Getman. The former work consists of robust Stalin holding a child, who himself is waving a Soviet Union flag, intending to convey a feeling of confidence through the portrayal of a supportive and strong leader who will lead his citizens to prosperity. Of course, the reality invoked by the rosy color scheme of the painting could not be further from the true reality of Soviet-life depicted in Getman’s art. “Punishment by Mosquitos” depicts a skeletal gulag prisoner being subjected to the torture-death known as komariki, wherein the offending prisoner is stripped naked, tied to a tree in a manner resembling crucifixion and left to mosquitos that drain him of blood in view of other prisoners beyond the fence of the camp, resulting in death in under an hour. Gutman’s painting forces the viewer to confront the horror of the reality of the gulag camps through use of focus and color. The prisoner is placed squarely in the middle of painting, blocking the background that contains a vibrant pasture of oranges and greens. In front of the man, a broken fence makes up the foreground, tacitly guiding the onlooker to the man as the true representation and most important focus of the art. The propaganda stands as a well-crafted, but ultimately hollow creation that only represents the false truth of the ideology, while Gutman’s art presents a horrific, but truthful, creation.
Walsh elucidates that a dramatic disclosure of truth occurs in the process of science properly practiced, as both art and science attempt to probe nature by immersing the person in the enchantment of nature known to him/her as the motivation for discovery. However, the person is easily led astray by the scientistic practitioner’s need to remove him/herself from the enchantment in the hopes of gaining a more authentic understanding of nature. To the contrary, as Walsh elucidates, proper disclosure can only occur if the person is open to being disclosed to, that is, to listen to what nature is saying in the form of experience and enchantment. In this understanding, both the scientist and the artist have the responsibility of accurately understanding and articulating to others the knowledge nature has provided. Art is able to accomplish this directly, as both created art and nature present knowledge in terms of metaphoric interpretation, while science properly practiced can provide only approximations of knowledge empirically validated. Science properly practiced, through the process of questioning initiated in discovery, questions nature to give voice to nature in a pseudo-personal manner. In turn, art also engages with a nature in a pseudo-personal manner, however, art does not question nature, it translates nature into symbolic representation to articulate the truth of nature. The person questioning nature opens him/herself to nature to give voice to nature, but must limit him/herself to the confines of his/her understanding by conceding the superiority of nature in the questioning itself. The artist, embracing nature with complete openness, engages in an equitable relationship with nature, while the scientist remains a pupil of nature:
“Both art and science are different modes of that going within, putting oneself aside to put oneself in place of the other . . . It is the obligation of both the artist and the scientist to be true first of all to the material that draws her or him into its disclosure. Her or his work is to give voice to that which initially has no voice . . . Science may give voice to the silence of nature, but art is made possible by the address that it receives. Each is an overhearing, although it makes all the difference whether questions are asked of nature, as science does, or one simply opens to the self-questioning of nature, as art does. The latter is the more intimate relationship.”
Walsh’s comparison of art and science illuminates the important distinction between questioning and openness that characterizes both frameworks. Even in science properly practiced, the person assumes a diminished relationship with nature as he/she is reserved and distanced from the natural phenomenon through the questioning process. The observations of the scientist are indeed an expression of “going within” nature to understand phenomenon, but the voice of nature it presents is not entirely authentic as the scientific framework insists upon perceiving nature as expressly non-metaphoric. Scientism fails to give nature a voice whatsoever, as it expressly rejects the notion of a reciprocal relationship between the person and nature. The framework of art, as Walsh elucidates, exceeds science’s attempt by freely immersing itself within nature in a manner that necessitates the removal of partialities and the acceptance of nature as it is.
Consider the examples of landscape painters. Artists such as Thomas Cole, Claude Lorrain and Caspar David Friedrich witness nature, are bewildered by its magnitude and then seek to understand it through metaphoric representation. Friedrich’s “Wanderer above the Sea of Fog,” articulates the overwhelming magnitude of the ocean in comparison to the person, thus illustrating man’s position relative to the whole of nature truthfully, and more effectively, than a quantitative document detailing its breadth and depth. The onlooker who examines Friedrich’s figure, a man standing atop a ridge overlooking the sea, extended into the foreground of the painting obscured by fog, can instantly place him/herself within the painting and absorb Friedrich’s articulation of the vastness of nature in comparison to the person through metaphor. In this manner, Friedrich has metaphorically translated the truth of nature to the person who observes his creation, just as he has absorbed the truth of nature personally through metaphoric understanding by opening himself to nature without questioning. Persons thus engage with nature on the personal horizon precisely because they embrace their relationship with nature as they would another person. Walsh states: “The difference is that science is incapable of relating to it [nature] at the personal level to which art responds. The capacity for a far deeper insight into nature through art arises, not from a superior grasp of evidence, but from its opening concession that no accounting for data can penetrate to the unaccountable. Art can access the inaccessible because it operates within a personal horizon.”
Art is able to illustrate the enchantment of nature because the only concern of art is truth. Art directly articulates truth to those who experience it. The individual artist, as Walsh notes, may experience doubts regarding the authenticity of his/her work, but this is does not impact the validity of the art itself, as this is confirmed or disconfirmed in the public space of the community. Art thus allows for persons to engage politically with other persons, as persons can stake their understanding of the truth on art they perceive as an authentic articulation of the personhood they perceive in others. As such, art possesses inherent political responsibility for citizens, as what they create reflects their community and vice versa. This is exemplified in the creation and erection of statues in the public area in towns and cities.
Statues, specifically recreations of significant historical figures, are created and erected in public squares of municipalities as a reflection of what the community promotes. The community is reflected in the statue as a symbol, not only of one of its finest members who embodied those ideals, but of the ideals themselves. The removal of Confederate monuments in the United States in 2017, as well as the removal of John A. Macdonald statues in Canada in 2018, exemplifies the political responsibility inherent in public art. Those demanding the removal of the statues believe that the statues no longer reflect their communities and therefore, it is incumbent upon the citizens to exercise their political responsibility to remove art that no longer reflects their community. In turn, those wishing the statues to remain are arguing that political responsibility to one’s community entails understanding and acknowledging uncomfortable pasts and maintaining connection to the historical evolution of the community. Statues, as public art, move persons to consider their political responsibility in the creation and erection of art. Persons live in a technological age but they are moved by art: “We may think of ourselves as living in a scientific age but science, despite its enormous impact, extends only to a narrow elite. For the most part we remain as susceptible to superstition and irrationally, especially in our judgment of the results of science… Art alone is capable of providing a semblance of that global rationality so indispensable to existence as a whole. Nowhere is this more evident than in the convergence between art and politics . . .”
Walsh explicates that the metaphoric quality of art is essential to the understanding of the person, as it allows persons to understand what cannot be grasped by observation alone. Before the person creates a work of art, he/she must understand that persons possess the skill to understand metaphoric knowledge prior to perceiving art, and trust that other persons will be able to demonstrate that understanding in the appreciation of created art. Metaphoric understanding between persons is what enables art to have the capacity for metaphoric meaning in politics. Art, as a representation of dissent in the face of injustice, necessitates the understanding of the person: “Art is possible because there is in reality a point at which the metaphoric openness of its layers can be grasped by what utterly escapes the possibility of metaphor…. For reality to disclose, for metaphor to work, there must be hiddenness as such since only what cannot be disclosed can grasp what is disclosed. All of reality is therefore one gigantic metaphor of the person, the disclosure of what cannot be disclosed that can nevertheless be glimpsed . . . ” Art allows the understanding of reality in a manner that is true to both reality and the person understanding it. Science properly practiced is able to engage with reality but remains closed due to distancing the person from reality and scientism refuses to engage on an equitable level with reality. Walsh’s comparisons between art and science illustrate metaphor to be vital to the person and to political action.
Scientism, as Walsh elucidates, is a framework that does not adequately account for the material it desires to investigate. Scientism attempts to establish the person through reconstitution as a master, material, or comfort maker, but misrepresents the person as above natural order, malleable or a creature of comfort respectively. This is contrary to the necessarily personal quality of science properly practiced, wherein persons participate with each other in the communal understanding of nature. Persons, engaging in science properly practiced, embark on a path to discover personhood within other persons as they stand in relation to each other. Art, as Walsh explains, participates in the horizon of the person due to its articulation of metaphor. This allows for the communal understanding and sharing of truth, embodying art with political responsibility. Art and science emerge as modes of persons desiring to understand the personhood of others. Walsh’s accounts of scientism, science properly practiced and the person, allow persons to understand the importance of maintaining their connection with nature, understand the scientistic faults of self-declared mastery and self-forgetfulness, the nuanced framework of science properly practiced in comparison to scientism and art, and the fundamentally personal horizon that persons discover in each other. Walsh demonstrates that scientism pales in comparison to both science properly practiced and art, as the person must be understood as he/she underlies the reality the process seeks to investigate. Scientism is not only a framework for the person that disintegrates him/herself practicing it, it is ultimately insufficient for discovering what it cannot understand.
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