As we get into the study of the Enlightenment, we’ll see that Enlightenment thinkers sought to spread scientific ways of gaining knowledge beyond the natural world and into the study of human affairs. That raises the question: to what extent can the methods of science be applied to subjects in the human world, like history, government, morality or religion?
Coincidentally, The Guardian just published a debate between a philosopher and a scientist about whether science is overstepping its bounds.
The philosopher writes:
…there are some issues of human existence that just aren’t scientific. I cannot see how mere facts could ever settle the issue of what is morally right or wrong, for example….it is an ineliminable feature of human life that we are confronted with many issues that are not scientifically tractable…
while the scientist replies:
science provides the basis for moral decisions, which are sensible only if they are based on reason, which is itself based on empirical evidence. Without some knowledge of the consequences of actions, which must be based on empirical evidence, then I think “reason” alone is impotent.
Who’s right, the philosopher or the scientist? If you’re up for it, read the debate and post your reply in the comments. And as we read about the Enlightenment, keep the debate in mind.