In this series on the science of purpose, I have been discussing the limits of scientism resulting from the inherent limitations of subject-object metaphysics (SOM), which is fundamental to science itself: That is, the analytical framework introduced by René Descartes in the 17th century remains intact in the modern science of today. Descartes famously created the subject-object dualism by dividing experience into the two realms of res extensa and res cogitans. He declared, simply stated, the ultimate separation of mind from external reality. His metaphysics is embodied in his famous statement, “Cogito ergo sum.” (I think, therefore I am.)
The metaphysics of Aquinas accommodated mind, body, and soul without dualism. But the metaphysics of Descartes overturned that precedent of scholastic metaphysics. Descartes is rightly considered one of the founding fathers of Western science. And the conversion from medieval scholasticism to Cartesian dualism propelled scientific advance dramatically.
The Errant Path
But in a manner quite unintended, it was this very dualism of Descartes, and his abandonment of Thomistic Aristotelianism, that has led us inexorably onto the errant path of scientism and scientific atheism.
For the 250 or so years following Descartes, enlightenment, modern, and postmodern philosophers such as Locke, Berkeley, Leibniz, Spinoza, Hume, and Kant labored valiantly but in vain to reconcile Cartesian dualism with common experience. It really is impossible to fit a square peg into a round hole, even when the greatest minds try for centuries to do so. Their combined experience is aptly summarized by the most famous of them all, Immanuel Kant, who proclaimed that, because of SOM, we never really know the “Ding an sich.” (The thing in itself.)
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