Whenever I talk with continentals they keep getting angry at me. Because I continually claim not to understand what they say. An example. Some days ago I was at a party where a lot of phil. students attended. I talked with some of them that I don’t normally talk with (and now I have even better reason not to talk with them). I don’t recall why but we got into a discussion of scientism, and one of them advanced an argument against some kind of very strong scientism which he phrased like this (translated)
“Science has all the answers.”
And I asked him what he meant because, clearly, he was using some kind of metaphor. What would it even mean to say that science has an answer? I gave them an example of how “having an answer” is used literally. An example with a classroom and the teacher asking a specific student if he has the answer for a specific question. That is an instance of literal use of the phrase. The student has an answer iff he knows what the correct answer is to the question. I asked the person if he meant that scientists have all the answers (to all questions presumably). But he insisted that it made sense to say what he did. I asked him what it would mean to say that some other field of inquiry had all the answers, like mathematics. What would that mean? But I didn’t get any useful reply. After some minutes or maybe just seconds he gave up and stopped talking with me. So good for actually saying something meaningful.
I prefer not to use the phrase “has all the answers” at all since it’s pretty unclear. Presumably it’s about having (that is, knowing or at least believing) that something is a correct answer to some question. If I was to discuss scientism, I would phrase it something like: Are there things which if true cannot be discovered to be so by doing science? Something like that.
I think I recall why we talked of scientism. He thinks that analytic phil. ‘makes’ the claim that we talked about. Whatever that means.
Now, today I saw a relatively analytical person write something similar.
“PSR says: “For every fact F, there must be an explanation why F is the case.”
An atom of plutonium sits there in the canister of radioactive waste. It sits there and sits there and sits there … and then POW! … it decays.
Q: What is the explanation for why it decayed THEN? And not some other time?
A: Modern science says there is no reason. It is random. Which does not comport with the PSR.” (Smullyan-esque, post)
“PSR” =df “Principle of Sufficient Reason”
The interesting sentence in this case is “Modern science says there is no reason.”. It is some kind of non-literal language. It does not mean anything to say of a field of inquiry that it says something. But it seems to me that what he meant is that theories or findings in modern science imply that there isn’t a reason (i.e. quantum theory). But it isn’t entirely clear. I prefer literal language.