I am very naive in philosophy. Is it right to say positivism is the belief that all truth can be known by verification by experience? If so doesn't Hume's criticism of induction already refute this? I hear that positivism has died out in the philosophic traditions. If so what has replaced it. Is Karl Popper's ideas about falsification a good replacement. How is all this related to scientism? And what constitutes scientific thinking in general and what does it say about epistemology?

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  • There are several questions already on the scientific method on this site. Do a search on this site. The scientific method is scientific thinking. To try and stretch it to all philosophical thought or as a measure of philosophical truth is a stretch. – Swami Vishwananda Sep 19 '17 at 9:03
  • I'd say there there is no 'scientific' thinking unless you mean thinking about science. There is good and and bad thinking but this has nothing to do with science. Science is good thinking when the scientist is thinking well. Scientism is bad thinking or perhaps counts as not-thinking, Poppers idea about falsification seems to be good thinking. . – user20253 Sep 19 '17 at 11:26
  • Title The alienation of reason; a history of positivist thought Author Kołakowski, Leszek. (1968). Still a great book I think. – Gordon Sep 19 '17 at 12:23
  • Another book: Title: From knowledge to wisdom : a revolution in the aims and methods of science Author: Nicholas Maxwell (1984). The more extreme claims of logical positivism have died out. Positivism itself has not died out and in fact we are really creatures of positivism. It's in the atmosphere so to speak and we breathe it. To be well rounded it's probably a good idea to have an antidote for the poison, which can only be a temporary antidote I'm afraid. – Gordon Sep 19 '17 at 13:05

Karl Popper's ideas are not primarily about falsification. Rather, Popper explained that all knowledge is created by guessing controlled by criticism. For a guide to reading material about Popper see:


Rational thinking in general involves taking seriously the idea that you are fallible and could be wrong about any idea you hold, and everybody else is in the same situation with no exceptions. There is no special group of people who should be considered immune to criticism. Science involves using a particular method of criticism in some cases: experiments and observations. Many ideas can be ruled out without doing experimental investigation because they are bad explanations, e.g. - creationism (see "The Beginning of Infinity" by David Deutsch chapter 4). When an idea survives such criticism and can be tested that's the sort of thing that good scientists are doing.

Scientism is where people pretend to do science without taking seriously the requirement for good explanations. This often involves claiming to do an experimental test of an idea that is a complete failure as an explanation. The worst instances of this commonly come from the "social sciences". For example, it is common to scan the brains of people with different behaviours and then say the brain activity causes their behaviour. This is about as sensible as claiming that patterns of ink on a page cause a book to contain words. In reality, thoughts explain patterns of brain activity, and the words the author chose explain the patterns of ink on a page, not the other way around.

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  • Functional science is common. I mean presentations in the form of science, which primarily have the function of indoctrination, to sell products. I think some medical "science", which claims causal relationships between DNA and illness, especially in the psychiatric field, is an example. Apparently old psychiatric ideas about chemical imbalances, were also functional nonsense, without scientific bases, according to some videos, currently available on Youtube. – Marquard Dirk Pienaar Sep 19 '17 at 17:02
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    I've never seen 'scientism' defined as you do here; what are your sources? – labreuer Sep 19 '17 at 18:11
  • Agreed. Scientism is usually the idea that science can answer metaphysical questions. This is not possible and so the word carries a derogatory meaning. . . – user20253 Sep 21 '17 at 10:27
  • Scientism is used as a description for trying to resolve non-scientific issues with science, e.g. - metaphysical issues, moral issues etc. I don't drawing the distinction in terms of what subject you're working on is a good idea since such boundaries largely exist for administrative convenience and actual problems often cut across boundaries. For example, the interpretation of quantum mechanics has both philosophical and scientific issues as traditionally defined. – alanf Sep 21 '17 at 11:57
  • But if you just say that scientism involves pretending to do science (i.e. - studies involving experiments) when you're actually talking rubbish you no longer need to pay attention to the subject divisions. – alanf Sep 21 '17 at 11:58

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