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Diagnosing Pseudoscience – by Getting Rid of The Demarcation Problem

Boudry, Maarten (2020) Diagnosing Pseudoscience – by Getting Rid of The Demarcation Problem. [Preprint]

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For a long time, philosophers of science have shown little interest in the so-called demarcation project that occupied the pioneers of their field, and most now concur that terms like “pseudoscience” cannot be defined in any meaningful way. However, recent years have witnessed a revival of philosophical interest in demarcation. In this paper, I argue that, though we should not resuscitate the demarcation problem of old (as philosophers have rightly concluded that such a first-principles approach leads to a dead-end) we should have a second look at the concept of pseudoscience. What is the common denominator of all theories and activities commonly regarded as “pseudosciences”? My approach proposes to naturalize and down-size the concept, anchoring it to real-life doctrines and fields of inquiry. First, I argue against the definite article “the” in “the demarcation problem”, distinguishing between territorial and normative demarcation, and between different scientific failures and shortcomings apart from pseudoscience (such as fraudulent or faulty research). Next, I develop a naturalistic analysis of pseudosciences as being simulacra of science, doctrines that are not epistemically warranted but whose proponents try to create the impression that they are. In this element of cultural mimicry, I argue, lies the clue to their common identity. Despite the huge variety of doctrines gathered under the rubric of “pseudoscience”, and the wide range of defects from which they suffer, pseudosciences all engage in similar strategies to create an impression of epistemic warrant, which follow from certain general facts about human psychology. In short, my naturalistic approach is captured by the central idea that, though there are many ways in which things can go wrong, there are comparatively fewer ways to pretend that they haven’t.

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Item Type: Preprint
Keywords: pseudoscience; demarcation problem; naturalism ; epistemic warrant; immunizing strategies
Subjects: General Issues > Science vs. Pseudoscience
Depositing User: Maarten Maarten Boudry
Date Deposited: 08 Aug 2020 02:17
Last Modified: 08 Aug 2020 02:17
Item ID: 17700
Subjects: General Issues > Science vs. Pseudoscience
Date: July 2020

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