Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Ortega y Gasset on science and its limits

“Scientific truth is characterized by its precision and the certainty of its predictions. But science achieves these admirable qualities at the cost of remaining on the level of secondary concerns, leaving ultimate and decisive questions untouched.”

Jos√© Ortega y Gasset, “El origen deportivo del estado.” Citius, Altius, Fortius 9, no. 1-4 (1967): 259-76.
I guess that makes him a darned science denier. 


Joe Hinman said...

I agree but it has to do so. It's not Philosophy,

John Moore said...

It's wrong to say there is certainty with scientific predictions. Science is a matter of inductive reasoning, not deductive reasoning. Thus, even if you see 999 white swans, that doesn't mean the next one will necessarily also be white.

It's understandable to feel great confidence about predictions that have passed 999 tests in a row, but great confidence is different from certainty. It's important to keep this distinction in mind, especially when comparing science with religion.

Certainty means you stop checking the evidence. Certainty means carefully avoiding evidence that might change your mind. Certainty means cleverly reinterpreting contrary evidence so it doesn't seem to challenge your firmly held belief. Just one case in point: Ken Ham.

Miguel said...

Water is wet

Miguel said...


I doubt Ortega y Gasser meant "certainty" in the sense of absolute certainty or probability 1 or whatever. He meant something like great reliability. The meat of his phrase is just the obvious point that natural science can never tackle the primary questions of the world, on the very existence of things. For that, we need a science of being qua being -- in other words, metaphysics.

In other news: bachelors are unmarried.

jdhuey said...

"Uncertainty is an unpleasant state of mind, but certainty is a ridiculous one." - Voltaire (from memory so could be off)

Not really germaine to the OP but it is a good quote.

I think that when Philosophy takes scientific findings and asks 'what does that mean?', it performs a valuable service. When it tries to gain knowledge about reality based on just metaphysics it is worse than useless - it becomes a cheat, an exercise in self deception.