Journal of Bioethical Inquiry

, Volume 12, Issue 4, pp 569–575

Scientism and Pseudoscience: A Philosophical Commentary



The term “scientism” is used in a variety of ways with both negative and positive connotations. I suggest that some of these uses are inappropriate, as they aim simply at dismissing without argument an approach that a particular author does not like. However, there are legitimate negative uses of the term, which I explore by way of an analogy with the term “pseudoscience.” I discuss these issues by way of a recent specific example provided by a controversy in the field of bioethics concerning the value, or lack thereof, of homeopathy. I then frame the debate about scientism within the broader context of C.P. Snow’s famous essay on the “two cultures.”


Scientism Pseudoscience Two cultures Homeopathy 


  1. Bellavite, P. 2012. On the plausibility of homeopathic “similitude.” Bioethics 26(9): 506–507.Google Scholar
  2. Blackford, R. 2010. Book review: Sam Harris’ The Moral Landscape. Journal of Evolution & Technology 21(2): 53–62.Google Scholar
  3. Goldacre, B. 2009. Bad science. London: Fourth Estate.Google Scholar
  4. Harris, S. 2010. The moral landscape: How science can determine human values. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  5. Holmes, D., S.J. Murray, A. Perron, and G. Rail. 2006. Deconstructing the evidence-based discourse in health sciences: Truth, power, and fascism. International Journal of Evidence-Based Healthcare 4(3): 180–186.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Hume, D. 1748. An enquiry concerning human understanding. Edited by L.A. Selby-Bigge.
  7. Hylton, P. 2014. Willard van Orman Quine. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Accessed December 22, 2014.
  8. Ladyman, J. 2002. Understanding philosophy of science. London: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Ladyman, J., and D. Ross. 2007. Every thing must go: Metaphysics naturalized. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Laudan, L. 1983. The demise of the demarcation problem. In Physics, philosophy and psychoanalysis: Essays in Honor of Adolf Grünbaum, edited by R.S. Cohen and R. Laudan, 111–127. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer Publishers.Google Scholar
  11. Loughlin, M., G. Lewith, and T. Falkenberg. 2013. Science, practice and mythology: A definition and examination of the implications of scientism in medicine. Health Care Analysis 21(2): 130–145.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Milgrom, L., and K. Chatfield. 2012. Is homeopathy really “morally and ethically unacceptable”? A critique of pure scientism. Bioethics 26(9): 501–503.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Moskowitz, R. 2012. For homeopathy: A practising physician’s perspective. Bioethics 26(9): 499–500.Google Scholar
  14. Nussbaum, M. 2010. Not for profit: Why democracy needs the humanities. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Pigliucci, M. 2008. The borderlands between science and philosophy: An introduction. The Quarterly Review of Biology 83(1): 7–15.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Pigliucci, M. 2012a. Who knows what. Aeon magazine, October 8. Accessed December 31, 2014.
  17. Pigliucci, M. 2012b. Lawrence Krauss: Another physicist with an anti-philosophy complex. Rationally Speaking, April 25. Accessed December 22, 2014.
  18. Pigliucci, M., and M. Boudry, eds. 2013. Philosophy of pseudoscience: Reconsidering the demarcation problem. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  19. Popper, K. 1962. Conjectures and refutations. The growth of scientific knowledge. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  20. Rosenberg, A. 2011. The atheist’s guide to reality: Enjoying life without illusions. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.Google Scholar
  21. Sandel, M. 2009. Justice: What’s the right thing to do? New York: Farrar Straus and Giroux.Google Scholar
  22. Sandel, M. 2012. What money can’t buy: The moral limits of markets. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.Google Scholar
  23. Sebastian, I. 2012. Homeopathy and extraordinary claims—A response to Smith’s utilitarian argument. Bioethics 26(9): 504–505.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Shermer, M. 2015. The moral arc: How science and reason lead humanity toward truth, justice, and freedom. New York: Henry Holt and Co.Google Scholar
  25. Shook, J. 2014. Spelling out scientism, A to Z. Scientia Salon, April 12. Accessed December 22, 2014.
  26. Smith, K. 2012a. Against homeopathy—a utilitarian perspective. Bioethics 26(8): 398–409.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Smith, K. 2012b. Homeopathy is unscientific and unethical. Bioethics 26(9): 508–512.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Snow, C.P. 1959. The two cultures. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  29. Sorell, T. 1994. Scientism: Philosophy and the infatuation with science. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  30. Turchin, P., and S.A. Nefedov. 2009. Secular cycles. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Wittgenstein, L. 1953. Philosophical investigations. Hoboken, NJ: Basil Blackwell.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Journal of Bioethical Inquiry Pty Ltd. 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyThe City College of New YorkNew YorkUSA

Personalised recommendations