Science and “I”

I’m currently reading Roger Scruton’s “The Soul of the World“, which is a typically articulate and, at times, entertaining demonstration of how a reductionist and materialist explanation of the world cannot account for intuitively necessary elements of existence, such as personality, relationships, moral intuitions, beauty, and so on. While not arguing for a purely subjective existence, Scruton argues that Science cannot explain to me who I am without destroying that which I consider most important in any full account of who I am, let alone explaining where I am.

‘”I” is an indexical term, like “here” and “now” … Although there is a sense in which I cannot mistakenly identify the place where I am as here, and the time at which I am speaking as now, I have no special privilege as to what is going on here and now, other than those privileges that depend on my use of “I”. On the other hand, it is clear that there is no place for indexical terms in science, and that, just as a unified science must replace all reference to “here” and “now” with positions identified in four-dimensional space, so must it drop the use of “I”. As Thomas Nagel has pointed out [1], however, this leads to a singular puzzle concerning the relation of the world, which identifies all the particles and fields of force, all the laws of motion that govern their changes, and which gives a complete identification of the positions of everything at some given time. But, however complete this description might be, there is one fact that it does not mention and which is, for me, the most important fact there is, namely, which of the objects in this world am I? Where am I, in the world of unified science? The identification of any object in the first-person case is ruled out by the enterprise of scientific explanation. So science cannot tell me who I am, let alone where, when or how.’

Scruton, The Soul of the World (Princeton, 2014), p31

[1] Thomas Nagel, The View from Nowhere (OUP, 1986)

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