Health Care Analysis

, Volume 21, Issue 2, pp 130–145 | Cite as

Science, Practice and Mythology: A Definition and Examination of the Implications of Scientism in Medicine

  • Michael LoughlinEmail author
  • George Lewith
  • Torkel Falkenberg
Original Article


Scientism is a philosophy which purports to define what the world ‘really is’. It adopts what the philosopher Thomas Nagel called ‘an epistemological criterion of reality’, defining what is real as that which can be discovered by certain quite specific methods of investigation. As a consequence all features of experience not revealed by those methods are deemed ‘subjective’ in a way that suggests they are either not real, or lie beyond the scope of meaningful rational inquiry. This devalues capacities that (we argue) are in fact essential components of good reasoning and virtuous practice. Ultimately, the implications of scientism for statements of value undermine value-judgements essential for science itself to have a sound basis. Scientism has implications, therefore, for ontology, epistemology and also for which claims we can assert as objective truths about the world. Adopting scientism as a world view will have consequences for reasoning and decision-making in clinical and other contexts. We analyse the implications of this approach and conclude that we need to reject scientism if we are to avoid stifling virtuous practice and to develop richer conceptions of human reasoning.


Epistemology Ethics Judgement Objectivity Positivism Practice Rationality Science Scientism Value Virtue 



We are extremely grateful to John Gabbay, Paul Dieppe, Peter Fenwick and Harald Walach for their astute and thoughtful comments on an earlier draft of this paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael Loughlin
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • George Lewith
    • 3
  • Torkel Falkenberg
    • 4
    • 5
  1. 1.Department of Interdisciplinary StudiesManchester Metropolitan University CheshireCrewe CheshireUK
  2. 2.University of BuckinghamBuckinghamUK
  3. 3.School of MedicineUniversity of SouthamptonSouthamptonUK
  4. 4.Department of Neurobiology, Care Sciences and Society, Division of Nursing, Unit for Studies of Integrative CareKarolinska InstitutetHuddingeSweden
  5. 5.The Integrative Care Science CentreJärnaSweden

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