VI. To the Same (p. 197)
I wonder if Heraclitus would be an anti-vaccine kind of guy today? In all seriousness, the thing this Epistle brings to mind is the danger of what is being called (despite my distaste for the word) “scientism.” Science, and from this we may also say bio-medicine, is a very good tool for a certain jobs. But, like any tool, it has a proper use, a proper application, a proper context, and a proper time. You won’t find a screw driver too much use if you need to remove a bolt, for instance.
Science is a very good way for understanding the mechanics of the world. There’s a position called “scientific pessimism” which is explained by this: if you piled up all the things we now know to be wrong which science once believed to be true, it would tower over the things we know to be so. What might we have to move from the small pile to the big one tomorrow?
This should not be used to discount current findings, but it should be a humbling reminder of how falsification works. Science doesn’t tell us true things, it remove the false. It tells us the how, not the why.
Epictetus makes an argument about faculties, that only reason observes itself. Music tells you about harmony, how to make chords, tones and steps, etc. But it doesn’t tell you if you should play, only how. Grammar tells you the proper syntax, conjugations and declensions. But not whether you ought to speak or write.
Science, then, is similar. There are things beyond its purview: and thence comes philosophy. The folks who have neglected its proper place, and think it can simply be used as an ethic or mode of life are mistaken. To their detriment.
This is part of the Cynic Epistles Reading Plan.