Who's Afraid of Reductionism? Consilience, Cognitive Science and the Humanities
In this talk I would like to provide a sketch of the increasingly
strong case for breaking down the traditionally unbridgeable divide
between the humanities and natural sciences and to argue for what E.O.
Wilson refers to as "consilience," or what the evolutionary psychologists Tooby & Cosmides term a "vertically integrated" approach to the humanities. "Reductionism" is ultimately an empty term of abuse—any explanation worthy of being called an explanation involves reductionism of some sort. Drawing upon the work of Charles Taylor, I will try to explain what "good," non-eliminative reductionism—one that recognizes the reality of complex, emergent human-level structures of meaning—might look like. I will also argue from an embodied pragmatist perspective that these human-level structures of meaning should not be seen as possessing special ontological status, but rather must be understood as grounded in the lower levels of meaning studied by the natural sciences, rather than hovering magically above them. Practically speaking, this means that humanists need to start taking seriously discoveries about human cognition being provided by neuro- and cognitive scientists, which have a constraining function to play in the formulation of humanistic theories.