On the (dis)unity of the sciences

Scientia Salon

universeby Massimo Pigliucci

As a practicing scientist I have always assumed that there is one thing, one type of activity, we call science. More importantly, though I am a biologist, I automatically accepted the physicists’ idea that — in principle at the least — everything boils down to physics, that it makes perfect sense to go after a “theory of everything.”

Then I read John Dupré’s The Disorder of Things: Metaphysical Foundations of the Disunity of Science [1], and that got me to pause and think (which, of course, is the hallmark of a good book, regardless if one rejects that book’s conclusions).

I found John’s book compelling not just because of his refreshing, and admittedly consciously iconoclastic tone, but also because a great deal of it is devoted to subject matters, like population genetics, that I actually know a lot about, and am therefore in a good position to…

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7 thoughts on “On the (dis)unity of the sciences

    1. Thanks for stopping by!

      I think you’re right that it can’t be said from a place of knowledge. It’s a philosophical position that hasn’t been empirically validated. But looking at what we do have evidence for (lot’s of physical stuff, none for anything else), it could be argued that it’s a reasonable one.


  1. Interesting article, a propos of what we talked about earlier on instrumentalism. I was a bit thrown by the term “phenomenology” in this realm. I suppose it’s like all terms that get moved about in different areas and I wasn’t quite sure how they were using it.


    1. I thought exactly about our conversation on your Husserl entry when I read this. I was going to call your attention to it, but your comment beat me to it.

      One of the commenters pointed out to Massimo that most scientists are speaking ontologically when they talk about reductionism, and that it’s trivially true that theories don’t reduce. I think it is true that theories don’t reduce, and it seems obvious now, but I’ll admit I wasn’t conscious of it until reading this.


      1. I bet most scientists despise Massimo for this! That’s taking away everything they dream for, a big theory of everything.

        I find it intriguing. You know, just after I read your article someone asked me to help him with an article on the demarcation question—a subject I don’t know much about. I mentioned MP because at the end of this article there’s a note that he was interested in the “philosophy of pseudoscience” so I thought his name would be relevant. This friend of mine had heard of MP and really liked him. Any book or article recommendations?


        1. I’m pretty sure they won’t stop trying for the theory of everything. Of course, Massimo’s point is that even if they find it, it will only be of interest at the physics layer. It won’t be of any help to a biologist, a psychologist, a climatologist, etc.

          On your friend’s interest, Massimo actually wrote a whole book on it. (I haven’t had a chance to read it yet.)


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