What is Scientism?

A scientist, my dear friends, is a man who foresees; it is because science provides the means to predict that it is useful, and the scientists are superior to all other men.
~ Henri de Saint-Simon

Scientism is a rather strange word, but for reasons that we shall see, a useful one. Though this term has been coined rather recently, it is associated with many other “isms” with long and turbulent histories: materialism, naturalism, reductionism, empiricism, and positivism. Rather than tangle with each of these concepts separately, we’ll begin with a working definition of scientism and proceed from there.

Historian Richard G. Olson defines scientism as “efforts to extend scientific ideas, methods, practices, and attitudes to matters of human social and political concern.”1Olson, Richard G. Science and Scientism in Nineteenth-Century Europe. Urbana, University of Illinois Press, 2008.[

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