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The Revd Dr Fraser Watts

Prof Fraser Watts is a clinical and research psychologist. A Past President of the British Psychological Society, he is Reader in Theology and Natural Science in the University of Cambridge, and a Fellow of Queens’ College.

How Far Can Science Study Human Life?

Birmingham 2016

There is a set of views about the limitations of science that arises from the idea that there are two domains of human concern, one domain can be approached scientifically, but one (including morality, values and aesthetics etc.) that can’t. The case for this view can be advanced from several different disciplines, for example from the Kantian distinction between pure and practical reason, or in terms of different modes of cognitive processing such as the distinction McGilchrist draws between left and right hemispheres, or in terms of the distinction between referential and expressivist uses of language. In this paper I will reject the strong version of this thesis that there are some domains that can’t and should not be studied scientifically, and which call for alternative approaches. However, I will put the case for a weaker version that is a form of perspectivalism, that science can usefully study domains of human life such as morality, religion and aesthetics, but that the contribution of science needs to be supplemented by what more intuitive and participant approaches can offer, and that there can be fruitful interchange between the two.