Nietzsche and William James on Scientism as Fanaticism

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Abstract

Although Nietzsche and William James disagreed profoundly on many central ethical questions, they were united in their opposition to scientism, which was prevalent in the cultural milieu of educated Europeans and Americans in the late nineteenth century. Scientism is an attitude of science-worship, involving uncritical acceptance of its assumptions and conclusions. Basic scientism is the belief that science (especially natural science) is the only practice that can attain truth; strong scientism links this to the belief that the aims of science (attaining truth and eliminating error) have intrinsic and overriding value-an attitude that Nietzsche calls “the unconditional will to truth.” This chapter explores how both Nietzsche and James describe scientism, in both its basic and strong forms, as displaying core characteristics of fanaticism, as they understand it: basic scientism involves a narrowness of interests and perspective that they both associate with fanaticism, and strong scientism involves a faith in the value of truth that places it beyond question, and expresses the need for certainty born of weakness that Nietzsche identifies as the cause of fanaticism.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationFanaticism and the History of Philosophy
EditorsPaul Katsafanas
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherRoutledge
Chapter13
Pages197-214
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9781000990737, 9781032128207
ISBN (Print)9781032128191
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 7 Nov 2023

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