The Existential Irrelevance of Science


‘History as a System’, 1962, Jose Ortega Y Gasset=

“Scientific truth is characterized by its exactness and the certainty of its predictions. But these admirable qualities are contrived by science at the cost of remaining on a plane of secondary problems, leaving intact the ultimate and decisive questions.. Yet science is but a small part of the human mind and organism. Where it stops, man does not stop.”
[p 13]

“That science is incapable of solving in its own way those fundamental questions is no sufficient reason for slighting them.”
[p 14]

“The assurance that we have no means of answering [final] questions is no valid excuse for callousness towards them. The more deeply should we feel, down to the roots of our being, their pressure and their sting. Whose hunger has ever been [sated] with the knowledge that he could not eat?”
[p 15]

“The nineteenth century, utilitarian throughout, set up a utilitarian interpretation of the phenomenon of life which has come down to us and may still be considered as the commonplace of everyday thinking. ..An innate blindness seems to have closed the eyes of this epoch to all but those facts which show life as a phenomenon of utility.”
[p 16]


The problem is not science but scientism. Science goes on unveiling things about nature, and our link to it, that benefit people, intellectually and practically. Occasionally science even recovers that contemplative vision of the whole, or even aspects of it, which the ancient Greeks called ‘theoria’, and meant to see the unified shape of something and indeed its essential quality. But scientism is a different matter. Scientism seeks to limit any and all paths to knowledge to that offered by science, and indeed, operates with a narrow notion of science which does not stand up to serious criticism [see ‘Science’s First Mistake, Delusions In Pursuit of Theory’, Ian O. Angell and Dionysios S. Demetis, 2010, which critiques theory construction and evidence gathering, showing that to deploy the scientific method it is necessary to rely on many ‘non-proveable’ assumptions, and that its deployment invariably generates contradictions that undermine any confident conclusions].

In the Middle Ages religion occupied a role that exaggerated its power and prestige, and in that process, religion lost its true meaning. Modernity had to dethrone religion from that absolutist position in human culture. We should have learned the lesson that no human activity can occupy such a tyrannical role. Instead, all that modernity did was to elevate science to the old role previously occupied by religion. That makes science the new religion, and as happened with the old religion, leads to a falsification of what science really is capable of.


A commentator=

“Rudolf Bultman spoke of the scientific worldview which tried to reassure man by deceiving him about the essential uneasiness of human existence. According to Bultman, this is a deceit because it reassures man precisely when the questionableness of his existence breaks in upon him; it deceives him because it tries to persuade him that his destiny, his responsibility, his guilt, his suffering, and his death, are not a riddle with which each one of us must deal; it deceives man because it tries to persuade him that everything is just an instance of a universal process that follows its own laws and that the meaning of existence can be understood as soon as these laws are understood.”

Science sings a siren melody which invites humanity to ignore the wound to the human heart that is key to both our pathology and our passion, our crippling and our creativity. We give a big sigh of relief. With the burden of pain and greatness put down, we can live comfortable, shallow lives, the intellect guiding us into ever more bland, dehumanised abstractions.


“Man must not only make himself: the weightiest thing he has to do is to determine what he is going to be.” [‘Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre’, p 155]

“Man’s being is made of such strange stuff as to be partly akin to nature and partly not [akin to nature], at once natural and extra-natural, a kind of ..centaur, half immersed in nature, half transcending it.”

“I am free.. whether I wish to be or not.”

“To be free means to be lacking in constitutive identity.”

“Man is a[n] ..emigrant on a pilgrimage of [becoming], and it is accordingly meaningless to set limits to what he is capable of [becoming].”