By Angus Menuge, Ph.D.
Can we get outside our own minds and contact the world as it really is? If science is the project of knowing what is really going on in nature, the answer had better be yes. Otherwise science is merely a game that connects our subjective experiences — if I have this experience, then I will have that experience, nobody knows why. While a few philosophers have embraced this view, most working scientists are driven by the conviction that they can get beyond appearances and discover reality.
Indeed, in advanced democracies, science is usually regarded as the preeminent source of objective knowledge; other disciplines, like literature and theology, have to limp along as comforting reservoirs of emotion. So it is not surprising that many embrace scientism — the view that the scientific attitude just is the rational attitude. Equally common is the assumption that the scientific attitude involves commitment to naturalism.
Naturalists hold the philosophic notion that nature — the world revealed by physical science — is all there is, or at least all we can legitimately talk about when explaining the facts. While naturalism can be more or less exclusive (there is “strict naturalism” and “broad naturalism”), what makes it an interesting thesis is what it denies. Even the broader versions say there is no God, no mental substances (souls), and no goals, purposes, or essences. So, if naturalism is true, it must be possible to understand reality without ever speaking of these banned items.
But what if it turned out that some of these exclusions were actually necessary for us to know anything?