The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







The term scientism is a relatively newly coined word that refers to certain epistemologies based on science. The word has several different meanings:

  • Scientism is used to refer to the attitude and method of the typical natural scientist and/or to refer to the belief that all fields of inquiry should be subject to (and can ultimately be understood by) standard scientific methods of investigation.[1]. It can be contrasted by doctrines like historicism) which hold that there are certain "unknowable" truths.

(Source for definition: The American HeritageŽ Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000)

This viewpoint is typified by comments, such as "Scientific research has demonstrated that substance x causes cancer in human"
  • Scientism can mean the values of humanism and Enlightenment informed by science. In this context, scientism is "a scientific worldview that encompasses natural explanations for all phenomena, eschews supernatural and paranormal speculations, and embraces empiricism and reason as the twin pillars of a philosophy of life appropriate for an Age of Science". (Source: Michael Shermer, The Shamans of Scientism, Scientific American, 2002)
  • Scientism can be used as a pejorative term, typically by those who oppose scientific investigation of certain areas of life. Those who use the term in a derogatory matter seek to imply a "fetishization" of science, and an attitude similar to that of religious fundamentalists towards the universality of the scientific method. Ironically, many of the people who make this complaint are religious fundamentalists themselves.

Scientism is typically seen, when used in its pejorative sense, as being a term deployed from an anti-science standpoint, although those who have used it in this way include some who in fact claim to be supporters of science who are merely proposing a less reductionist view of science (although the term 'reductionism' is also often used in the same pejorative way as scientism in this context).

'Scientism' may be used to imply an ignorance (or denial) of a relationship/disjunction between metaphysical and natural phenomena. This sense of the term comes close to Hannah Arendt's use of it in The Origins of Totalitarianism; in her view, the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany had made the human condition a matter of scientific exactitude, and thus otherwise impossible moral or ethical questions (such as, "Can a man be worthless? And if so, can we euthanize him?") are easily resolved within the internally-consistent "scientific" methods of the state.

See also


  • "Science, Scientism, and Anti-Science in the Age of Preposterism", Susan Haack, Skeptical Inquier Magazine, 1997.
  • Sandra Harding, "Who Knows? Identities and Feminist Epistemology", in Joan E. Hartman and Ellen Messer-Davidow, eds., (En)gendering Knowledge, University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville, 1991, p. 109.
  • F.A. Hayek, The Counter-Revolution of Science: Studies on the Abuse of Reason, Glencoe: The Free Press, 1952.

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Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04