Diagnosing Pseudoscience – by Getting Rid of the Demarcation Problem

Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie 53 (2):83-101 (2022)
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Abstract

For a long time, philosophers of science have expressed 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 the demarcation problem of old leads to a dead-end, the concept of pseudoscience is not going away anytime soon, and deserves a fresh look. My approach proposes to naturalize and down-size the concept, anchoring it in 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 failures and shortcomings in science apart from pseudoscience. Next, I argue that pseudosciences can be fruitfully regarded as simulacra of science, doctrines that are not epistemically warranted but whose proponents try to create the impression that they are. In this element of imitation or mimicry, I argue, lies the clue to their common identity. Despite the huge variety of doctrines and beliefs 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. The indirect, symptomatic approach defended here leads to a general characterization of pseudosciences in all domains of inquiry, and to a useful diagnostic tool.

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