Eric describes an odd thought experiment in Alisdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue.
He asks us to imagine a time in the future when people have got fed up with science, have removed science from the curricula of schools and universities, killed or imprisoned all the scientists, and then government is carried out — well, how, exactly? Since science is not only physics and math and chemistry and biology, but a fairly strict methodological approach to information, how would a government function where fact checking was ruled out, and decisions were based on pure whim? MacIntyre seems to forget that science is not only composed of lists of facts, but is tied together by theory and based on experience, and that that process can scarcely simply disappear when we stop teaching the sciences. However, imagine it done for the purposes of argument. Now, says MacIntyre, we are to suppose that a generation comes along which is opposed to this science-destructive world outlook. However, during the anti-science period the scientific tradition had been virtually destroyed. There are fragments left, a book here or a page there, and a few memories of phrases and scientific terms, like the periodic table without any sense of what it was once about. But now we are to imagine people trying to reconstruct science in the absence of any understanding of what science was once really about, so they begin using scientific language without really understanding what the language was for, or what it really signified. Science, for this new generation, is a bunch of disjointed technical terms thrown out more or less at random, and repeated pointlessly in a form much like some postmodernist free association.
In this situation, MacIntyre supposes, people would still have theories about how science functioned.
If the scientific tradition had been virtually destroyed, then on what grounds is the new generation opposed to this science-destructive world outlook? That idea doesn’t seem to make any sense.
The tradition is all but destroyed, so the new generation is unfamiliar with scientific thinking of any kind. The new generation is kind of like Sarah Palin or George Bush. What would there be in the heads of that new generation that would prompt it to oppose the science-destructive world outlook, let alone to try to reconstruct science in the absence of any understanding of what science was once really about?
Nothing, that I can see. People in 6th century Britain (say) didn’t sit around pining for science; they didn’t know from science.
MacIntyre seems to be thinking of it as a kind of cargo cult, but the periodic table wouldn’t attract people the way bottles of Coke do.
Some thought experiments just aren’t very good.