Preserving Subjectivity?

Preserving Subjectivity? November 3, 2017

In a TLS exchange with Timothy Williamson on the uses of philosophy, Roger Scruton argues that philosophy’s task is to preserve humanity’s humanity, the subjectivity that sets us apart from the rest of the world. Philosophy mans the boundaries between objective science and humanism, especially aesthetics.

Scruton writes that the philosopher’s task is to “distinguish genuine science from mere scientism. Philosophy is, and ought especially to be, a handmaiden to the humanities. It should use its best endeavours to show why the attempts to rewrite religion, politics, musicology, architecture, literary criticism and art history as branches of evolutionary psychology (or still worse, branches of applied neuroscience) are destined to fail. It should be intent on distinguishing the human world from the order of nature, and the concepts through which we understand appearances from those used in explaining them.”


Philosophy insists that I am “not an object only; I am also a subject, one with a distinctive point of view. The subject is in principle unobservable to science, not because it exists in another realm but because it is not part of the empirical world.” It “shows what self-consciousness is, and explores the many ways in which the point of view of the subject shapes and is shaped by the human world.”

Williamson points to a flaw in what he calls “Scruton’s schematic opposition between science and points of view”: It doesn’t do “justice to the complexity and interrelatedness of actual inquiry.”

There’s a more fundamental objection: It doesn’t do just to the nature of reality. If God is, and if God speaks in creation, then there is no realm of pure objectivity, no impersonal space for science to develop. It seems that Scruton’s severe opposition between science and the humanities, far from protecting us from scientism, is actually the condition of the possibility of scientism.

This dualism should, like many modern dualisms, be subjected to a deconstructive dissolution.

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  • Lyle Enright

    I’m supportive of Williamson’s point, but granting it, what are the criteria for science in a world where we have eschewed even a “naive” notion of objectivity? The current criteria seem to work; we make frequent advances in the sciences through the assumption that data matches up with the world as it is and, furthermore, that the data doesn’t care about our interpretation of it. Arguably, the only times the sciences run into trouble are when subjective concerns (e.g. ideological, institutional, professional, economic) lead science communicators to fudge the data. Now, if we were to all accept what’s being proposed here, science would presumably continue to advance as it has. But wouldn’t we also need a new account of why it works? Is it possible to discuss science as an intersubjectivity between God, the world, and human beings, and if so ….. don’t process theologians currently corner the market on that sort of vocabulary?

  • OldSalter

    This comment is in reference to your oped on Foxnews “The Reformation has failed”.
    You are correct that the Reformation has failed, but not for the reasons you cite. The Reformation failed, because Luther himself compromised the Bible by allowing infant baptism in his church, even though he knew very well that it was not based in Scripture. Infant baptism gives the subjects a false sense of security “Well, I’ve been baptized as a baby; so I’ll PROBABLY make it.”
    So the Lutheran churches filled up with false believers, just like leaven inflates dough with air. Some of these false believers went to seminary and became Bible-haters in the extreme, becoming leaders in the Lutheran seminaries and churches, and producing even more false believers and liberals. Eventually, this inner corruption destroyed almost everything that Luther had tried to build: Scripture alone, Faith alone, Christ Alone. The remaining believers in Lutheran churches have had to withdraw and make their own Lutheran denominations in order to preserve what Biblical convictions still remained; and there are few of those at all now.
    So yes, the Reformation failed, but it was the fault of Luther himself. Instead of becoming a full-fledged Biblicist, as Baptists of his day had urged him to do, and return completely to the Bible as the final authority for all matters of faith and practice, he opted to remain as Catholic as possible: retaining infant baptism, a corrupt form of the Lord’s Table which was similar to the evil Mass, and much of the pomp and liturgy from the Roman whore.
    Martin Luther was absolutely right about the Pope: he was an Antichrist then, and the pope is an Antichrist now. If anything, the Catholic Whore of Revelation 17 is far more evil today than it was in the day of Martin Luther.
    So your prescription to “unite the ‘church'” by reuniting with the Great Whore of Babylon (you didn’t say it, but you might as well have) is an evil one. It is the wrong answer, and you will give an account to the Lord for your evil works. I shake off the dust of my feet against you. I refuse you in the Name of Jesus Christ! You are a false prophet.