Title page for ETD etd-11102010-203038

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Whitney, David Nathan
URN etd-11102010-203038
Title Maladies of Modernity: Scientism in Politics
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
Department Political Science
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Sandoz, Ellis Committee Chair
Eubanks, Cecil Committee Member
Sobek, David Committee Member
Stoner, James Committee Member
Crystal, Ian Dean's Representative
  • scientism
  • positivism
  • noetic science
  • science and politics
  • eugenics
  • Francis Bacon
  • Auguste Comte
  • Charles Darwin
  • Eric Voegelin
Date of Defense 2010-11-01
Availability restricted
This dissertation explores the complex relationship between science and politics. More specifically, it focuses on the problem of scientism. Features of scientism include the dogmatic faith in the methods of the natural sciences (and the accompanying assumption that those methods can be successfully imported into the social sciences), a materialistic worldview, the rejection of the bios theoretikos, the prohibition of philosophical questions, and an emphasis on immanent fulfillment through the power of science. I seek to demonstrate that scientism is intellectually impoverishing and politically dangerous.

Given the lack of full-length studies on the subject, I trace the development of scientism from early modernity to the present day. I begin with Francis Bacon and argue that he stands as the founder, not only of the experimental method, but also of scientism. This is most evident in his presentation of a scientific utopia in New Atlantis. After briefly exploring the works of Isaac Newton and the French Encylopedists, I move on to the other great representative figure of scientism: Auguste Comte. Comte demonstrates the religious fervor that accompanies the scientistic attitude. Continuing on the path set forth by Bacon, Comte argues for a reorganization of society based on the precepts of positive science. I argue that Comte’s founding of the Religion of Humanity serves as a logical progression from his positive philosophy. I then explore the eugenics movements in 20th century America and Germany and argue that they reflect the new worldview that had emerged from Darwin’s evolutionary theory; a theory partially based on scientistic prejudices. I ultimately argue that the solution to scientism lies in a new (or revised) science of politics; the foundation of which is based on the Classical sources that were either discredited or banned outright by the proposals of Bacon and Comte.

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