Brooks is no doubt correct to believe that the model of man as a rational self-interested actor who behaves in ways that can be explained in mathematical terms is a gross oversimplification of our nature. But by attempting to elevate the cognitive sciences to the status of a new Galileo, Brooks merely replaces one form of scientism with another: the economists, with their demand curves, are out; the neuroscientists, with their brain scans, are in. Treating emotional and social animals as rational self-interested actors is one way to stretch the principles of rational inquiry beyond their limits; treating us as social and emotional animals who are nonetheless fully intelligible to the scientific method is another. To truly avoid scientism, Brooks would need to articulate the limits of science in general and cognitive science in particular. But one will find no consideration of the limits of science in The Social Animal. While Brooks draws on philosophers, poets, and theologians in his book, he never allows them or anyone else to say to science: “hitherto shalt thou come, but no further.” In spite of Brooks’s celebration of “epistemological modesty,” there is nothing epistemologically modest about this book.
But can science — cognitive or otherwise — really bear the weight of so much authority? Can it really tell us what we need to know in order to live well? Does science really answer the questions asked by philosophy and theology? Can any science that defines itself in terms of the rigor of its methods really see the human phenomena in all their complexity, as philosophers, theologians, and poets aim to do? Can there really be a science of love, happiness, and nobility — the distinctly human concerns to which The Social Animal purports to speak? Can science really address the question of our origin, our end, and our place in the whole without which any knowledge of ourselves would be radically incomplete?