PROLEGOMENA TO THE PROLEGOMENA (8): against the scientistic image of science

Context: in discussing the objections that a generic scientistic materialist, instantiated for the purposes of argument by R.Scott Bakker, could make to Adrian Johnston’s project of transcendental materialism, it has been necessary to examine and refine the scientistic materialist’s image of science. Whereas Johnston has a view of science that includes both speculation and empiricity, what he calls Galilean and Baconian components, the scientistic critic seems tributary to an anachronistic naive empiricist view.

Bakker claims that the question is “why ontology first discourses should be taken seriously by anyone actually engaged in the research”. But that cannot be the question, because Bakker is not engaging in empirical research,  but in speculation. He is extrapolating his cherry-pickings out of a motley science, and then universalising the resulting one-sided incomplete motley jumble of extrapolation.

Further, not only is this necessarily the case but when I talk about this state of affairs in general terms he acknowledges it: “all this is rudimentary stuff”. Yet he does not see how this cuts the ground out from under the feet of all the rest he say, and of his whole posture. Motley is as motley does, not just as motley says. It’s motley all the way down and Bakker is not a scientist so he has no leg to stand on against an “ontological approach” in general (in this case Johnston’s).

At no point does Bakker apply this image of science to his own arguments, at no point does he acknowledge that he is speculating on the basis of his cherry-pickings from a motley science, and not beginning with empirical facts and passing to speculation afterwards.

Certainly, “experiment without theory is blind, and theory without experiment is empty”. But we have gotten far beyond that in the discussion, that dictum is just the recognition of theory-ladenness and the requirement of testability. The notion of “motley” takes this recognition several steps further to a picture of science which is one of multiple lines of a multiplicitous structure, internally incoherent and conflicted, of elements at different stages of articulation, re-correction, and instrumentation, externally networked with an open heterogeneous ensemble of other theories and practices.

I keep wanting to say: “it’s all heuristic, it’s all motley, so see yourself as that and you will talk differently. It’s not enough to say the words when the subject comes up, and then to forget about it the next minute and to present yourself as empirical and the other guy as speculative. “Experience without concepts is blind”, that means it’s theoretical all the way down, there is no raw empiricity. It’s speculation all the way down, so apply that to your way of engaging Johnston, you are in the same speculative boat”.

Sure, science is different from philosophy, but I never said otherwise, and I don’t pretend to be doing science, nor does Johnston. Bakker does, some of the time, by implication, and he’s mistaken. There is no radical difference of type between his approach and that of Johnston. His preliminary question before even opening the book (“Why should anyone entertain, let alone commit to, such interpretations in an age when human cognition is itself on the autopsy table?”)  fails, as his attempted typological demarcation (empirical vs speculative approaches) between his own position and that of Johnson fails. The value of Johnston’s type of ontological approach has been established as equal to the value of Bakker’s type (I am talking in terms of generic types here). Bakker in effect seems to give a high value to his own type of approach, which is, contrary to what he thinks and claims repeatedly, one of speculation first.

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