The question as to whether or not modes of reasoning such as science can ever fully explain human life is one that forces a thinking of both the nature of knowledge and the nature of the way in which this knowledge may or may not relate to human beings. In responding to it, this paper will focus on questions of materialism and epistemology.
According to any thinkers, it is possible to reduce all possible knowledge to knowledge about material, as there is nothing else in the world that can be thought. An example of such a thinker would be Hobbes, who is often considered the most important modern materialist thinker (Velasquez, 2014, 150). If matter is reduced to material, and one ignores the possibility for metaphysical explanations or something like a soul that would lies outside of human perception and understanding but nonetheless exist, then it is possible to argue that science can provide a totality of knowledge about the world. Indeed, if all facts are facts about matter and are reducible to a thinking of matter, then it is conceivable that all knowledge could be reduced to scientific fact. In this way, it is possible to argue that scientific cosmology and theories of development such as evolution can explain key aspects of human life, and they may be the only valid ways of thinking.
However, what such modes of thinking are not capable of doing is reflecting on themselves and explaining their own remits and limitations, or their social context. This is a key critique of scientific thinking in that this thinking it itself routed in a particular social condition. Also, it is important to note that purely scientific knowledge, be it about evolution or the universe, cannot understand the world as it is lived. As such, phenomenologists such as Edmuund Husserl argue for that the concept of a ‘life-world’ as a way of understanding how objects are actually experienced, is necessary if real knowledge of the universe is to gained and worked through (Velasquez, 188). Without this then scientific knowledge on its own is simply dry and tautologous.
In conclusion, if one were completely materialist it may be possible to argue that science can give knowledge applicable to all things, but this would ignore the context of such knowledge and also the idea of lived experience as being important to our understanding of the world.
- Velasquez, Manuel. Philosophy: A Text with Readings: 12th Edition. Wandsworth, 2014.