Massimo Pigliucci on science and culture

A recent essay by philosopher Massimo Pigliucci on the position of science in culture makes some important and interesting points.

On different types of fact:

“Look at what counts as a ‘fact’ in science: for instance the statement that there are four natural satellites of Jupiter that can be seen through small telescopes from Earth.”


“By contrast, take a mathematical ‘fact’, such as the demonstration of the Pythagorean theorem. Or a logical fact, such as a truth table that tells you the conditions under which particular combinations of premises yield true or false conclusions according to the rules of deduction.”

“Let’s consider yet another type of fact, more germane to the project of reducing the humanities to the sciences. I happen to have a strong conviction that the music of Ludwig van Beethoven is better than that of Britney Spears. To me, that’s an aesthetic fact. I hope it’s also clear that this is a ‘fact’ (based on my ‘knowledge’ of music) that has a different structure and content from both logical-mathematical and natural-scientific facts. Indeed, it isn’t a fact at all: it’s an aesthetic judgment, one to which I have a strong emotional attachment.”

On objective truth:

“How are we doing in the millennia-long quest for absolute and objective truth? Not so well, it seems, and that is largely because of the devastating contributions of a few philosophers and logicians, particularly David Hume, Bertrand Russell and Kurt Gödel.”

“If we add to Gödel’s results the well-known fact that logical proofs and mathematical theorems have to start from assumptions (or axioms) that are themselves unprovable […], it seems that the quest for true and objective knowledge is revealed as a mirage.”

On academic disciplines:

“the differences between philosophy, biology, physics, the social sciences and so on might not be the result of the arbitrary caprice of academic administrators and faculty; they might instead reflect a natural way in which human beings understand the world and their role in it.”

Aeon Essays::Why should science have the last word on culture? – Massimo Pigliucci

Written on October 9, 2016

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