Posted by Brian Leiter on January 29, 2015 at 05:47 AM in "The less they know, the less they know it", Merciless rhetorical spankings of fanatics, villains, and ignoramuses | Permalink
Posted by Brian Leiter on January 26, 2015 at 07:26 AM in "The less they know, the less they know it", Merciless rhetorical spankings of fanatics, villains, and ignoramuses, Personal Ads of the Philosophers (and other humor), Philosophy in the News, What is Philosophy? | Permalink
Posted by Brian Leiter on January 23, 2015 at 08:25 AM in Merciless rhetorical spankings of fanatics, villains, and ignoramuses | Permalink
True in 2006, true today.
Posted by Brian Leiter on January 21, 2015 at 06:31 AM in Merciless rhetorical spankings of fanatics, villains, and ignoramuses, Texas Taliban Alerts (Intelligent Design, Religion in the Schools, etc.) | Permalink
Posted by Brian Leiter on January 15, 2015 at 07:31 AM in Merciless rhetorical spankings of fanatics, villains, and ignoramuses | Permalink
Posted by Brian Leiter on December 06, 2014 at 06:41 AM in "The less they know, the less they know it", Merciless rhetorical spankings of fanatics, villains, and ignoramuses, Philosophical Gourmet Report | Permalink
He literally has no idea what is going on in Anglophone philosophy. What a disgrace.
(Thanks to Michael LoPresto for the pointer.)
Posted by Brian Leiter on June 10, 2014 at 07:47 AM in "The less they know, the less they know it", Merciless rhetorical spankings of fanatics, villains, and ignoramuses, Philosophy in the News | Permalink
...you were wrong. As far as I know, this is the only document in existence that concludes that Linda Alcoff's objections to the PGR (which are, indeed, utterly specious and self-serving!) shouldn't be taken seroiusly because I hate Republicans.
Baudelaire: "anywhere out of this world."
Economist Dean Baker is amusing:
I am not going apologize if I am occasionally rude to an ill-informed overpaid Harvard professor making absurd pronouncements on economics that have the effect of obstructing policy aimed at ending unnecessary suffering.
Posted by Brian Leiter on October 12, 2013 at 09:25 AM in "The less they know, the less they know it", Merciless rhetorical spankings of fanatics, villains, and ignoramuses, Of Cultural Interest | Permalink
Posted by Brian Leiter on October 08, 2013 at 10:13 AM in "The less they know, the less they know it", Merciless rhetorical spankings of fanatics, villains, and ignoramuses, Of Cultural Interest | Permalink
Skip the introduction by the Edge editor, and go straight to Dennett's rejoinder; a choice excerpt:
Pomposity can be amusing, but pomposity sitting like an oversized hat on top of fear is hilarious. Wieseltier is afraid that the humanities are being overrun by thinkers from outside, who dare to tackle their precious problems--or "problematics" to use the, um, technical term favored by many in the humanities. He is right to be afraid. It is true that there is a crowd of often overconfident scientists impatiently addressing the big questions with scant appreciation of the subtleties unearthed by philosophers and others in the humanities, but the way to deal constructively with this awkward influx is to join forces and educate them, not declare them out of bounds.
All this brings to mind an earlier encounter with the old fraud.
(Thanks to Nathan Jun for the pointer to Dennett's piece.)
Posted by Brian Leiter on June 13, 2013 at 08:37 AM in "The less they know, the less they know it", Merciless rhetorical spankings of fanatics, villains, and ignoramuses, Philosophy in the News | Permalink
Posted by Brian Leiter on January 25, 2013 at 11:50 AM in "The less they know, the less they know it", Merciless rhetorical spankings of fanatics, villains, and ignoramuses, Of Cultural Interest | Permalink
(The reason for the title of this post will become clear, below.)
Glenn Branch of the National Center for Science Education called my attention last week to this putative review by Steve Fuller of Nagel's Mind and Cosmos; the review was aptly described by another correspondent as "a largely content-free mix of self-promotion and derogation of his Enemies, in which you held the place of honour." (Michael Weisberg, co-author of the review in The Nation, is not on Fuller's "Enemies list" so was erased from Fuller's score-settling.) Just to give the flavor of Fuller's "review," a short excerpt:
Reader Aravind Ayyar writes:
Another day, another tedious tirade from the pompous Leon Wieseltier. This one is a long take-down of Paul Ryan and his idolatry of Ayn Rand. Such high-minded seriousness! I am reminded of Dick Cheney, attired in military fatigues, hunting quail with his assault weapons.
What caught my eye amid all the fulmination and folk wisdom--there are few arguments or supporting evidence of any kind to be found--is how Wieseltier casually pronounces Atlas Shrugged and Also Sprach Zarathustra to be in the same category of adolescent sins and chides Rand and Marx for advancing economic theories towards moral ends, albeit antithetical ones.
This is embarrassing even by Wieseltier's low standards. Granted a lot of adolescents are excited by Nietzsche when they encounter him (even if for all the wrong reasons), and the inscrutable Zarathustra is plainly not his best work (or perhaps the clearest exposition of his views). But to draw any kind of equivalence between the works of these 2 thinkers (if you can charitably call Rand one) is so buffoonish that one is left wondering who the adolescent in this discussion is.
UPDATE: As Catarina Dutilh Novaes continues to dig, the best line in response is due to Dan Kervick: "I can't think of a time in my life when I thought, 'Damn, I wish my penis were more sensitive!'"
ANOTHER: 24 hours later, and there's still no apology for the ludicrous comparison of circumcision to female genital mutilation, but a link to a video has been added. The video is remarkable for being almost totaly irrelevant to the comparison at issue, but perhaps Dutilh Novaes is counting on no one really watching it. Still, the comments are worth reading to get a sense of how utterly nuts some people are.
Posted by Brian Leiter on August 30, 2012 at 05:49 PM in "The less they know, the less they know it", Merciless rhetorical spankings of fanatics, villains, and ignoramuses, Of Cultural Interest | Permalink
This is nicely said. It is curious the appetite Harvard has for these showboat performers, of dubious (e.g., Pinker) or no (e.g., Dershowitz) intellectual merit.
I received the following preposterous e-mail:
Dear Mr. Leiter,
George Mason University economics professor, Dr.Don Bourdreaux believes that professional economists have done a poor jobexplaining basic economic truths to the general public. His passion is to better explain those truths to broad audiences and in his newest book, Hypocrites & Half-Wits: A Daily Dose of Sanity from Café Hayek, he tries to do so with short, pithy letters-to-the-editor, mostly aimed at correcting common misunderstandings of economics.
I would love to put you in touch with Dr. Boudreaux. He can provide non-partisan insight and commentary on any economic or political stories you may be working on, in a way that is easily accessible and understandable to the general public. Review copies of his newest book, Hypocrites & Half-Wits are available and I’d be happy to send you a copy. He would also be available to provide an article for publication if interested.
I have provided some further info on Dr. Boudreaux as well as some potential story ideas below. Thanks for taking a look and I hope to hear from you soon.
As I pointed out to Ms. MacDonald-Birnbaum, someone living on Planet Hayek is not a "non-partisan" expert, indeed, not even an expert, let alone a purveyor of "economic truth[s]." I can understand sending out hack solicitations like this to journalists and other gullible types, but to send this crap to scholars (I assume I'm not the only academic blogger who got it) is unbelievable. SmithPublicity is now in my spam filter. Nice job!
Posted by Brian Leiter on August 08, 2012 at 11:49 AM in "The less they know, the less they know it", Merciless rhetorical spankings of fanatics, villains, and ignoramuses, Of Cultural Interest | Permalink
Posted by Brian Leiter on August 05, 2012 at 03:53 PM in "The less they know, the less they know it", Merciless rhetorical spankings of fanatics, villains, and ignoramuses, Of Cultural Interest | Permalink
This is funny. Since Mr. Stangroom dabbles around the edges of philosophical topics in cyberspace, some readers may have encountered him.
Posted by Brian Leiter on July 24, 2012 at 07:56 PM in "The less they know, the less they know it", Merciless rhetorical spankings of fanatics, villains, and ignoramuses, Personal Ads of the Philosophers (and other humor), Texas Taliban Alerts (Intelligent Design, Religion in the Schools, etc.) | Permalink
One of my philosopher friends on Facebook gave me permission to repost this funny item he wrote on his FB page:
Saw Carlin Romano talk about his book, America the Philosophical, with Simon Critchley tonight in a bookstore downtown. Critchley was surprisingly down to earth, informed, and engaging. Romano was probably the worst example of bullshittery I've seen from an adult. Half the time was spent name-checking semi-important people he's met. The other half was spent bad-mouthing the interesting and important work of people at prestigious institutions, despite the fact that he clearly understood none of it.
Posted by Brian Leiter on July 23, 2012 at 06:02 AM in "The less they know, the less they know it", Merciless rhetorical spankings of fanatics, villains, and ignoramuses, Philosophy in the News | Permalink
Socrates, Plato and Aristotle are not the founders and titans of philosophy, according to Romano; rather, they hijacked it. The notion of philosophia was fluid in Plato’s time, and Romano wishes that the usage and practice of the less famous Isocrates, a rhetorician and educationalist, had caught on instead of that of his slightly younger contemporary. Isocrates (“A Man, Not a Typo,” as Romano headlines him) wrote that “it is far superior to have decent judgments about useful matters than to have precise knowledge about useless things.” For him, philosophy was the imprecise art of public deliberation about important matters, not a logic-chopping attempt to excavate objective truths. Isocrates, Romano says, “incarnates the contradictions, pragmatism, ambition, bent for problem solving and getting things done that mark Americans,” and his conception of philosophy “jibes with American pragmatism and philosophical practice far more than Socrates’ view.” Romano writes sorely of “the triumph of Plato and Aristotle in excluding Isocrates from the philosophical tradition” and announces that “Isocrates should be as famous as Socrates.”
My first thought about this claim was that it is simply nuts, which is also my considered view. Romano offers no explanation of how Plato and Aristotle managed to achieve the nefarious feat of obliterating the wonderful Isocrates. The only demonstrable sense in which they excluded him from the philosophical tradition is that their work eclipsed his, just as the music of Johann Sebastian Bach eclipsed that of his older brother Johann Jacob. Puzzled by Romano’s high estimation of the relevance of Isocrates, even to the broadest conception of philosophy, I reread some of his discourses and emerged none the wiser, though I did remember why I had so quickly forgotten him the first time around. Where are Isocrates’ penetrating treatments of the soul, virtue, justice, knowledge, truth, art, perception, psychology, logic, mathematics, action, space or time? And if philosophy would be better off not trying to talk about such things, what exactly should it be talking about?
Posted by Brian Leiter on July 10, 2012 at 03:41 PM in "The less they know, the less they know it", Merciless rhetorical spankings of fanatics, villains, and ignoramuses, Philosophy in the News | Permalink
A nice piece of reporting by IHE:
E-mail messages were flying among leaders of the Board of Visitors of the University of Virginia in the weeks leading up to the ouster of Teresa A. Sullivan as president of the university. The e-mail messages show that one reason board leaders wanted to move quickly was the belief that UVa needed to get involved in a serious way with online education.
The board leaders traded articles in which various pundits suggested that online education is the only real future for higher education -- and the e-mail messages suggest that board members believe this view. On May 31, for example, Helen Dragas, the rector (UVa-speak for board chair) sent the vice rector, Mark Kington, the URL for a Wall Street Journal column about online education. Dragas's subject line was "good piece in WSJ today -- why we can't afford to wait." The column, a look at the MOOC (massively online open course) movement in higher education, has the subhead: "The substitution of technology (which is cheap) for labor (which is expensive) can vastly increase access to an elite-caliber education."
The column argues that the MOOCs have the potential to change the cost structure in higher education, as long as institutions are willing to replace some in-person education with online education. "[I]n this way, college X might have its students take calculus, computer science and many other lecture courses online from MIT-Harvard (or other suppliers), and have them take other classes with their own local professors for subjects that are better taught in small seminars. College X can thus offer stellar lectures from the best professors in the world — and do locally what it does best, person to person," the column says....
[T]he e-mail records suggest both Dragas and Kington are committed to a major push into online education.
Both took time to comment on a major donor's e-mail in which he suggested that university leaders study the way Stanford and Harvard Universities, among others, were having success online. The donor wondered in his e-mail if these developments are "a signal that the on-line [sic] learning world has now reached the top of the line universities and they need to have strategies or will be left behind." Dragas replied: "Your timing is impeccable -- the BOV is squarely focused on UVa's developing such a strategy and keenly aware of the rapidly accelerating pace of change."
Another article -- this one forwarded from Kington to Dragas -- was the "The Campus Tsunami," by the New York Times columnist David Brooks, predicting massive change from the MOOCs, and also predicting that the new model will involve much more learning from professors who are not at the college or university a student attends.
So there you have it: these glorified shopkeepers were taking their cues on the future of higher education from David Brooks. UVA is doomed if these bozos aren't gone, quickly.
Posted by Brian Leiter on June 20, 2012 at 07:43 AM in "The less they know, the less they know it", Merciless rhetorical spankings of fanatics, villains, and ignoramuses, The Academy | Permalink
Reader Ken Lakritz writes:
I'm writing to give you the annoying news that C. Romano, one of your favorite bugbears, has written a book. Here he is on the literary circuit, getting interviewed and producing on demand an annotated list of 5 of his favorite philosophical texts. (Not surprisingly, his choices are mostly either trivial or unrelated to philosophy).
Many of your readers, myself included, take vicarious pleasure from your well-justified irritability and intolerance of fools, so why not keep us entertained and have another go at this poor dope? And to be constructive, I suppose you could also ask those learned readers to supply better quality listings of their 5 favorite books.
CHE has also run an advert for the book. The "argument," if there is one, appeasr to be just a massive non-sequitur: it is quite consistent with American being an anti-intellectual country that its well-heeled research universities produce massive amounts of philosophy. In any case, per Mr. Lakritz's constructive suggestion, I invite readers to name their five favorite philosophical texts. Signed comments only: full name and valid e-mail address.
Her response (in a Murdoch vehicle, of course) to the long-overdue decision of the Chronicle of Higher Education to fire her is, unsurprisingly, not responsive to any real issue. I'll preface this by saying those critics who called her a racist were probably mistaken. She's dumb, trite, and lacks rhetorical and analytical skill, but I actually don't see convincing evidence that she's a racist (I'll return to the issue below). She simply has no business writing for any publication that aims to reach scholars or intellectuals or educated adults. Mostly, she has been excluded from such fora, and rightly so. CHE made a serious error when they hired her as a blogger, but that they did so, is a good indication of how civilized journalists have been cowed by repeated harassment by far right ignoramuses, her natural constituency.
It was her original post, of course that was "puerile and vitriolic"; the responses were mild by comparison. Making fun of doctoral dissertations by recent PhDs based on their titles and a few lines of an abstract? That's all she did, nothing more. If she'd posted it on www.naomischaeferrileyblowhard.com no one would have noticed. But she was given a forum by CHE that she was supposed to share with adults and scholars, and that's what stunned people.
The allegations of racism arise from the fact that one could have undertaken the same exercise with dissertation titles in most fields, even philosophy. (Think how much fun a malevolent fool like Schaefer Riley could have with recent dissertation titles from Princeton!) But Schaefer Riley chose a field rich with "hot button" issues that lent themselves naturally to the various stereotypes into which the Right-Wing Blob deposits ideas and positions it can't understand. That all these issues, and the stereotypes, are demeaning, directly and indirectly, to African-Americans is no doubt what led many to assume Schaefer Riley is a racist. Maybe she is, but let's not lose sight of the most important fact, namely, she's a moron who couldn't defend her tripe in a debate with any serious scholar anywhere. This last point is really the more important one: her failing is not really moral, but intellectual, as anyone who has read her other "blog postings" at CHE would have known long ago.
Her firing is a triumph for intellectual standards in the public sphere. It should be celebrated.
Posted by Brian Leiter on May 08, 2012 at 06:49 PM in "The less they know, the less they know it", Merciless rhetorical spankings of fanatics, villains, and ignoramuses, Of Cultural Interest | Permalink
...ridiculing the PhD dissertations of African-American scholars based on their titles and no knowledge of their content. Wow! This latest stunt by this malevolent empty vessel has produced a petition calling for CHE to can her. That seems long overdue!
UPDATE: Several readers have called to my attention that the victims of Riley's smear job have now replied.
WOW, CHE REALLY DOESN'T GET IT: Look at the editor's response. Not everything is worth debating; some people should just shut up or at least not be heard in grown-up company. Schaefer Riley is one of them. She belongs in the cesspools of cyberspace, of which there are many, devoted to right-wing ranting. She shouldn't be debated in CHE. That we are asked to "debate" this empty vessel means there is no editorial oversight at CHE. What's next? A post on the world-wide Jewish banking conspiracy, which we should "debate"? A post on the white man's burden, which we should "debate"? A post on the centrality of Intelligent Design to biology, which we should "debate"? CHE deserves to perish if this is going to be their editorial posture. If CHE wants to savage ethnic studies programs, retain someone who (a) isn't ignorant, and (b) addresses the scholarly content of the programs.
One thing that cyberspace makes very clear is that there is no position that is too absurd or depraved to not find a defender. Even the loathsome Rush Limbaugh had to back-peddle a bit on his abuse of the Georgetown law student who had the temerity to testify about contraception, but last week an economics professor at the University of Rochester came to Rush's defense. You can read a transcript of Ms. Fluke's actual testimony here (to which Landsburg pretends to be responding) and there's some good commentary on the mess of what passes for Landsburg's "mind" here (and follow the links therein). Philosopher John Casey also comments. There isn't a lot to add: Landsburg has embarrassed his department (most Free Market Utopians aren't as tone-deaf and confused as Landsburg) and his university, and the childish level of his rationalization hardly warrants further discussion.
But there is another aspect of this case that deserves notice. The University of Rochester President issued a rather strongly worded statement about the matter. I actually think President Seligman failed in his duties here. It is simply not his job to criticize members of the faculty, even if they are fools like Landsburg. A serious university leader can certainly issue a statement noting that the views expressed by Professor Landsburg are his alone, and not those of the University or President Seligman. But when he became President of the University, he lost his right to speak freely, especially when speaking in his official capacity: his job is to defend the autonomy and freedom of the faculty to express their views, however misguided he or others may deem them to be, and however misguided they actually are. The University of Chicago's Kalven Committee Report on the University’s Role in Political and Social Action from 1967, named after a distinguished First Amendment expert and longtime member of the law faculty here, put it well: “The university is the home and sponsor of critics; it is not itself the critic. A university, if it is to be true to its faith in intellectual inquiry, must embrace, be hospitable to, and encourage the widest diversity of views within its own community.”
Posted by Brian Leiter on February 08, 2012 at 05:51 AM in "The less they know, the less they know it", Merciless rhetorical spankings of fanatics, villains, and ignoramuses, Personal Ads of the Philosophers (and other humor), Texas Taliban Alerts (Intelligent Design, Religion in the Schools, etc.) | Permalink
Krugman's 9/11 blog post (noted briefly yesterday) didn't strike me as very good (his follow-up was better), for reasons well-described here (to which I would only add: it seems very unlikely that the exploiters of 9/11, let alone the nation as a whole, "knows" or recognizes the exploitation of the atrocity). It was, of course, predictable that Krugman's posting--which violated all the rules for commenting on 9/11 in right-wing America--would make the crazies even crazier. You can get a taste by following the links here. (And Twitter is awash with insightful remarks like this, which shrewdly identifies Krugman's real motivation: money!) Let's just call this reacting entity, "the Right-Wing Blob," since it emits its largely predictable messages through various physically distinct, but otherwise indistinguishable, persons.
The Right-Wing Blob, as you can see from the preceding links, is very, very angry--especially since Krugman did not permit comments on his post. This is a sign of his "cowardice" according to the Right-Wing Blob (an example). The other possibility doesn't occur to the Blob: every civilized person knows that if you write something offensive to the Blob, it responds hysterically and stupidly, and just as you wouldn't want the Blob pissing on your carpet at home, you don't want it pissing on your website. Who wants to hear from know-nothings, after all? That's not cowardice, just a wise allocation of time and energy.
The Right-Wing Blob specializes in two rhetorical moves: armchair psychology and condescension from below. It is not, alas, very good at the former (a shame, it is fun when done well), and tends to be rather repetitive (witness the "cowardice" meme, above); it is utterly tone-deaf to the irony of the latter. Thus, we have some non-entity right-wing pundit, "John Hayward," who emits the "coward" meme, and then issues a threat conjoined with some condescension from below:
You are now at a decision point, editors of the New York Times. If Paul Krugman still works for you on Monday morning, you endorse every damned word he said in this piece. You will be endorsing the cowardice of this drive-by slander artist, whose failure as a human being exceeds even his miserable failure as an “economist.”
Your choice, New York Times. Your move. Your honor, decency, and integrity. Your consequences.
This is weird on so many levels. Does Mr. Hayward, whoever he is, think the New York Times must respond to his emission? Could he be this delusional? It appears so. As to Krugman's human failure exceeding his "failure as an 'economist,'" this doesn't seem so bad, since his failure as an economist includes a Nobel Prize for economics, tenured positions at MIT and Princeton, and a column in The New York Times. Personally, I am skeptical that qua human being Krugman really exceeds this litany of "failure."
Ms. Riley, a college graduate and right-wing journalist, had some trouble reasoning her way through the Kushner honorary degree fiasco at CUNY, as we noted the other day. In response to my query as to who the heck she was, readers came up with some interesting tidbits. One philosopher wrote:
I'm not sure if you wasted time looking through Shaefer Riley's earlier posts, but I am sorry to report that I did. She is predictably reactionary on the question of collective bargaining for university faculty, is dismissive of the William Cronon affair at UW-Madison, seems to be against tenure, and is openly contemptuous of actual academics. I suppose the Chronicle thinks she adds a distinct voice to their blog. Quite odd.
Odd seems an understatement. A philosophy PhD student at Loyola/Chicago wrote:
[A] quick look at her website reveals her stance regarding higher education. In her "Books" section, this is the overview of her book titled "The Faculty Lounges: And Other Reasons Why You Won’t Get The College Education You Pay For":
"Veteran journalist Naomi Schaefer Riley contends that tenure–the jobs-for-life entitlement that comes with a university position–is at the heart of so many problems with higher education today. She explores how tenure–with the job security, mediocre salaries, and low levels of accountability it entails–may be attracting the least innovative and interesting members of our society into teaching."
Given her non-existent credentials, all Ms. Riley appears to have going for her is the misguided idea that in addition to perspectives that are cosmopolitan, informed, and supportive of higher education, CHE needs for "diversity" sakes to have the perspectives of reactionary and anti-intellectual cranks. As it is, the CHE "Brainstorms" blog features some conservative academics and scholars. As her idiotic intervention in the Kushner affair illustrates, Ms. Riley adds nothing of any intellectual substance. Shame on CHE.
The poster boy for the latest moral mischief is Congressman Paul Ryan, an Ayn Rand devotee whom Krugman aptly dubbed "the flimflam man." One might be strongly inclined towards an expressivist interpretation of "moral obligation" when one hears Rep. Ryan describe his attack on medical care for the elderly and the poor as a matter of "moral obligation." Here again Krugman:
[This is] going to be just like the Social Security fight, only worse: once again, Very Serious People will pretend not to notice that the Republican plan is a giant game of bait-and-switch, dismantling a key piece of the social safety net in favor of a privatized system, claiming that this is necessary to save money, but never acknowledging that privatization in itself actually costs money. And we’ll have endless obfuscation, both-sides-have-a-point reporting that misses the key point, which is that the putative savings come entirely from benefit cuts somewhere in the distant future that would, in all likelihood, never actually materialize. (What do you think will happen when retirees in 2025 discover that their Medicare vouchers aren’t enough to buy insurance?)
Posted by Brian Leiter on April 05, 2011 at 08:45 AM in Hermeneutics of Suspicion, Merciless rhetorical spankings of fanatics, villains, and ignoramuses, Of Cultural Interest | Permalink
...come bountiful pearls of human wisdom. Sometimes readers send them, sometimes I happen to follow back a link to the blog and am rewarded with a find. I've collected a few for your reading pleasure.
Posted by Brian Leiter on December 10, 2010 at 12:20 PM in Merciless rhetorical spankings of fanatics, villains, and ignoramuses, Navel-Gazing, Of Cultural Interest | Permalink
Posted by Brian Leiter on September 06, 2010 at 07:30 AM in Merciless rhetorical spankings of fanatics, villains, and ignoramuses, Of Cultural Interest | Permalink
That is this under-educated gentleman's ironic opinion about those who can't tell the difference between giving money to promote the teaching of Ayn Rand versus giving money to promote the teaching of L. Ron Hubbard. (It is in reaction to the piece linked here.) Mill on freedom of expression refuted again!
UPDATE: I stand corrected: philosopher Steve Hales (Bloomsburg) writes: "There *is* a difference between Rand and Hubbard: Hubbard was a fraud. Rand wasn't a fraud, she was merely a hack. An amateur hack at that."
Posted by Brian Leiter on August 02, 2010 at 11:43 AM in "The less they know, the less they know it", Merciless rhetorical spankings of fanatics, villains, and ignoramuses | Permalink
Quite possibly: "[C]onsequentialist moral reasoning has been gaining legitimacy since the 1930s and it began to heavily influence legal ethics after the publication of John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice in 1971."
("Awful claptrap" was Phil Gasper's apt description in forwarding this link.)
They create a blog forum related to philosophy ("The Stone"), and then choose a complete hack as its moderator. Simon Critchley? Even among scholars of Continental philosophy (his purported area of expertise), he's not taken seriously, let alone among philosophers in any other part of the discipline. (When Michael Rosen [Harvard] and I edited The Oxford Handbook of Continental Philosophy, the idea of inviting Critchley never came up--how could it?) If the APA weren't fatally compromised by its need to pander to everyone, it would launch a formal protest. Unbelievable.
I would urge readers to send a short note to the public editor, Clark Hoyt, stating, roughly, that you are pleased to see increased attention to philosophy in the NY Times, but are concerned that someone who is not taken seriously as a philosopher or scholar has been invited to serve as "moderator." Keep it short and sweet. If they get a couple thousand e-mails to that effect, maybe they will wake up to the spectacular mistake they've made.
UPDATE: A philosophy grad student has a good comment on the inaugural Critchley piece here. Thanks to the various philosophers who have sent or blind cc'd me on their letters to the NY Times. I have, however, heard from an Assistant Professor of Media Studies (with a PhD in comparative literature) that, in fact, Critchley is a leading scholar of Continental philosophy; this same individual also reported (without any sense of embarrassment, as far as I could tell) that he had never heard of any of the contributors to The Oxford Handbook. Perhaps the NY Times might take this hint, and retitle the new blog, "The Media Studies Stone."
ANOTHER: A reader points out that several other philosophers have already been announced as contributors to this forum, including Arthur Danto, Nancy Fraser, and Peter Singer, so that's a bit more hopeful. The NY Times is, predictably, New-York-centric, but there is not a shortage of very good philosophers in NYC who can also write in an accessible way for the educated public (off the top of my head: Ned Block, Paul Boghossian, Philip Kitcher come to mind right away). Perhaps if they retained a moderator who actually knew some philosophy, they could put together an even stronger list.
THIS IS A FIRST: This blog has been linked from Gawker, which for some reason picked up the Critchley story. The comments are funny.
ANOTHER FUNNY (AND APT) COMMENT from the NY Times site: "Philosophers do a lot of important work and it's pretty out of touch to focus on how a few of them fall in wells. That's one reason why so many philosophers find the treatment here out of touch with the important work that many philosophers are doing. Philosophy is serious work, on serious topics that matter."
ONE MORE: More reactions from other philosophers. I've yet to find a philosopher who has been willing to defend the original column.
Posted by Brian Leiter on May 16, 2010 at 07:17 PM in "The less they know, the less they know it", Merciless rhetorical spankings of fanatics, villains, and ignoramuses, Philosophy in the News | Permalink
OK, that isn't quite the title of this call for a "philosophy of journalism" from Carlin Romano, whose unhappy forays into philosophy we have noted before, but it is hard not to think this question doesn't lie behind Mr. Romano's latest musings, given that he's a reader of this blog:
If you examine philosophy-department offerings around America, you'll find staple courses in "Philosophy of Law," "Philosophy of Art," "Philosophy of Science," "Philosophy of Religion," and a fair number of other areas that make up our world....
Why, then, don't you find "Philosophy of Journalism" among those staple courses? Why does philosophy, the academic discipline charged to reflect the noblest intellectual enterprise, avoid the subject while departments teem with abstruse courses mainly of interest to the tenured professors who teach them?...
How can it be that journalism and philosophy, the two humanistic intellectual activities that most boldly (and some think obnoxiously) vaunt their primary devotion to truth, are barely on speaking terms?
The explanations require a sociology of both professional philosophy and journalism, too large a project for this space, but worth thumbnailing anyway....
Unlike science, journalism long carried (and still does for many) the association of superficial intellectual goods. That made linkage with it unappealing to professional philosophers, whose egos and identities are deeply connected to an image of themselves as intellectually superior to other professionals....Add to this the historic insularity and inflexibility of philosophy—the field remains less diverse and intellectually adventurous than any of the other humanities—and the recipe for philosophical ignoring of journalism and new media was practically complete.
Other factors—highly human ones—also kick in, reflecting mainstream American values. A vast and mutual reservoir of condescension exists between American journalists and philosophers. Many philosophers think of journalists as B or even C students (we're talking pre-grade-inflation here), people who have committed themselves to simplistic narratives of the world shorn of nuance and qualification, fond of every fallacy in the book, all made worse by the pompous, officious, in-your-face personality associated with reporters in the popular imagination...
Journalists, in turn, often regard philosophy professors (though not all humanists) as mannered figures, badly informed and out of touch on matters outside their academic competence, insufficiently quick-witted on their feet, irrelevant in their influence on the public, and ludicrously inefficient in their Anglophilic and pedantic diction....This makes philosophers, among other things, impossible guests on talk shows and hopeless sources for quotation....
As someone who has tried to live a life in both fields for 30 years, I find journalists understand this state of affairs better than philosophy professors do. The former note the scorn directed at them by the latter and largely laugh it off. The latter often falsely think they are held in higher regard by fellow professionals than is the case.
This is amusing on many levels, from the idea that Mr. Romano, who is wholly in the dark about philosophy (as we've seen before), has been living any kind of life in philosophy, to the idea that what afflicts philosophers is that they aren't "quick-witted on their feet," to his trademark anti-intellectualism in dismissing the core concerns of philosophy for millenia. If, in fact, Mr. Romano is able to "laugh off the scorn directed at" him by philosophers, it's far from obvious from this self-serving display. In any case, Kathryn Norlock, a philosopher at St. Mary's College of Maryland, who called Mr. Romano's piece to my attention, offered the following pertinent observations about it, which she gave me permission to share:
Like Romano, I am keenly interested in seeing more philosophy classes attend to media, but perhaps that’s why I find this discussion of its importance so disappointing and baffling. Setting aside my annoyance at “thumbnailing” being a verb now, is it really the case that by not covering one aspect of the world, philosophers have abdicated our responsibility to cover it at all? And at a time when most philosophy departments “teem” with introductory survey courses in which we professors earnestly try to cover a great deal of the world in service to students majoring in other departments, where are these “ossified departments” which abound in “abstruse” elective courses serving only professors’ interests? Ah, I see, Yale is the only department the author mentions by name! That answers that question. My bemusement only increases when the author reports that journalists “note the scorn directed at them” by philosophy professors. This is just bizarre, as every philosopher I know reads a newspaper on a daily basis, and has never expressed scorn regarding the profession. Perhaps the author confuses scorn for individuals’ particularly bad outings with scorn for an entire enterprise, in which case, I hope my impatience with Romano’s characterizations is not taken as derision for all philosophers (for then, I would be denigrating myself).
As long-time readers know, I, unlike Professor Norlock, share Karl Kraus's dim view of journalists ("No ideas and the ability to express them: that's a journalist!"), but there are obviously honorable exceptions, even if Mr. Romano is not one of them. As to why "philosophy of journalism" is not a major topic of philosophical study, I would have thought the answer obvious: it's not a central or substantial intellectual or cultural practice, unlike science, art, or law. The idea that "philosophy of journalism" would displace the central subjects of the discipline for millenia--metaphysics, epistemology, value theory (the ones too "abtruse" for Mr. Romano to understand)--is sufficiently silly that only a journalist could propose it. Summon Mr. Kraus!
Posted by Brian Leiter on November 24, 2009 at 08:28 AM in "The less they know, the less they know it", Merciless rhetorical spankings of fanatics, villains, and ignoramuses, Philosophy in the News | Permalink
Here. This guy would be even funnier if he were a bit less vulgar and pornographic. A choice excerpt of the good parts:
Millions of copies will be sold of a book written by someone who can’t write, intended for an audience that doesn’t read, about the thoughts of a person who doesn’t think. God is dead....
If you are sentient, it will pain you to read...this wholly fictional monument to self-aggrandized mediocrity....
The book is less a biography than an elaborate press release. Its 432 pages (with sixteen pages of pictures – and no index) barely feign interest in describing Palin’s life in detail. It moves as quickly as possible to its real raison d’être – a methodical re-imagining of her entire political career replete with more excuses than a Cleveland Browns post-game press conference. Palin has never done anything wrong. The public have merely been led to believe that she is a dangerously stupid, erratic narcissist. Going Rogue is all about setting that record straight, offering a wildly implausible excuse for every crash and bang in her train wreck of a political career.
The theme that permeates the book – and with all the subtlety of an Oliver Stone film – is Palin’s overwhelming magnanimity. The book itself was written solely for our benefit, to set straight all of our misconceptions. Her Hindeburg interview with Katie Couric was done only because Palin pitied the struggling journalist (no mention of how her personal generosity forced her to answer simple questions like a lobotomized rube who had never ventured beyond Wasilla). Her hillbilly-wins-the-Lotto shopping sprees and misuse of Alaska taxpayers’ funds to take her daughters on vacations in $3000 per night hotels either never happened (er, she “usually” eschewed lavish accommodations for simple ones) or were forced upon her by others; McCain aides practically held a gun to her head and made her buy a new wardrobe. She resigned the governorship halfway through her only term for the benefit of the people of Alaska (admittedly, she may be onto something there). Her enormous legal bills stem from frivolous ethics complaints by her enemies, and she has borne these costs for you – out of the kindness of her heart. Buying her book and electing her to the presidency is the least you can do in return, ingrate.
A serious question arises from her narrative. Is she a sociopath with a messiah complex – i.e. she actually believes the version of events she relates here – or is she simply a shameless liar? Does she honestly fail to realize that the McCain team was bending over backwards to protect her from her own stupidity when she rails on about how they abused, demeaned, and stifled her?...
Going Rogue is an irritatingly vernacular, fantastical, and cloying autobiography of a malignant narcissist, every bit as thunderingly stupid throughout as the person behind it. In what world is it either necessary or desirable to spend $9 and four hours to figure that much out about Sarah Palin?
Posted by Brian Leiter on November 17, 2009 at 05:45 PM in Merciless rhetorical spankings of fanatics, villains, and ignoramuses, Of Cultural Interest | Permalink
How many scholarly stakes in the heart will we need before Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), still regarded by some as Germany's greatest 20th-century philosopher, reaches his final resting place as a prolific, provincial Nazi hack? Overrated in his prime, bizarrely venerated by acolytes even now, the pretentious old Black Forest babbler makes one wonder whether there's a university-press equivalent of wolfsbane, guaranteed to keep philosophical frauds at a distance.
Pretty tough language, especially coming from someone who is, himself, a fraud, but put that to one side. Is there an actual argument here? The answer, perhaps unsurprisingly given the author, is "no." Mr. Romano relies wholly upon a recent book by Emmanuel Faye, Heidegger: The Introduction of Nazism into Philosophy. But as Iain Thomson, an actual Heidegger scholar at the University of New Mexico, points out in the first comment:
It took Faye's supporters a long time to get this book published in English, because it was rejected by unbiased scholars as the irresponsible hatchet job that it is. (It has been almost universally panned in France.) Faye's book concludes by calling for the criminalization of the teaching of Heidegger -- not exactly a resounding defense of freedom of discussion! (Dare we say, closer to the fascism Faye confidently denounces?!) Faye's book begins, worse, by quoting from my book (Heidegger on Ontotheology: Technology and the Politics of Education), in a totally reductive and misleading way. I'm embarrassed to be mentioned in it. The whole thing is a tissue of mostly already well-known details plus tendentious guilt-by-association attacks.
Certainly there's nothing Romano adduces from the book that contradicts that assessment. Heidegger was a very bad man, with disgusting moral and political judgment, who spent the rest of his career whitewashing his romance with Nazism: but everyone knows this. What does any of this have to do with his philosophy? That really is the question, and there is literally only one sentence in Romano's silly piece that could be taken as trying to answer that question: "Faye's leitmotif throughout is that Heidegger, from his earliest writings, drew on reactionary ideas in early-20th-century Germany to absolutely exalt the state and the Volk over the individual, making Nazism and its Blut und Boden ("Blood and Soil") rhetoric a perfect fit." OK, so how do these "reactionary ideas" about exaltation of "the state and the Volk" figure in the main themes of Being and Time? I have no idea, and Mr. Romano apparently has none either, or at least none that he shares with the readers. That argument might be interesting, if it could be made out, but there isn't even the pretense of such an argument in Romano's hatchet job. Even if one is no fan of Heidegger (I am not, since I think most of what is interesting is highly derivative of earlier figures in German philosophy), it is hard not to agree with the assessment in the comments of another philosophical scholar of phenomenology, Taylor Carman (Barnard College/Columbia University) who remarks:
It's scandalous that the CHRONICLE could publish this kind of ill-informed and intellectually empty rant. Romano clearly has no idea what he's talking about. ...Romano's juvenile performance here is unworthy of a respectable academic journal. The editors should be ashamed.
There is something worthwhile to be written about relations between Heidegger's Nazism and his philosophical work--George Steiner took an interesting stab at it in a short book on Heidegger he wrote in 1978, and Iain Thomson offers a more philosophically ambitious account in his book, mentioned above--but Romano's "ill-informed and intellectually empty rant" obviously isn't it. There is also something interesting to be written about the ways in which the Heidegger cult and its temporal and cultural kin, the Strauss cult, have operated in similar, quasi-fascistic, "in group" vs. "out group" ways: esoteric terminology, hostility towards dialectic engagement, worship of the master, and so on. But that exercise in the sociology of the pathologies of German academic culture in the second quarter of the 20th-century wouldn't license the crackpot dismissals in Romano and Faye, and they would not touch the efforts of many philosophers since to engage dialectically and philosophically with Heidegger's ideas, in ways that Heidegger himself, to be sure, did not encourage. The ideas that Heidegger's books should be banned and that anyone who studies Heidegger is a Nazi sympathizer are so ludicrously offensive as to defy belief--it's the kind of puerile crap one would expect to find on the website of some obscure crank, not in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Here's a funny anecdote about Romano's earlier travesty about Rorty: asked to appear at an APA memorial session for Rorty, Romano began by noting my (apt) characterization of his piece ("total ignorance of philosophy is no obstacle to opining about Rorty") and then proceeded to deliver the exact same set of remarks! Only someone who is deeply unserious could see no need to revise his remarks after their incompetence is exposed. I also have to note that my little commentary was a model of generosity by comparison to what several philosophers who listened to his repeat performance at the APA had to say about it afterwards.
Which returns us to the original question: why is CHE permitting this intellectual lightweight to write about philosophy? And one other suggestion for the CHE editors: perhaps it is also time, at least for the sake of the Philosophy Department at the University of Pennsylvania, to prohibit Mr. Romano from using a by-line that describes himself as teaching "media studies and philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania." As far as I can gather, Mr. Romano has an undergraduate degree in philosophy and a law degree, and has some kind of affiliation, but not a regular academic appointment, at the Annenberg School of Communications at Penn. This wouldn't matter if his writing were less incompetent, but under the circumstances, some truth in advertising seems warranted.
Posted by Brian Leiter on October 27, 2009 at 09:17 AM in "The less they know, the less they know it", Merciless rhetorical spankings of fanatics, villains, and ignoramuses, Philosophy in the News | Permalink
Posted by Brian Leiter on July 19, 2008 at 11:50 AM in "The less they know, the less they know it", Merciless rhetorical spankings of fanatics, villains, and ignoramuses, Of Cultural Interest, Philosophy in the News, Texas Taliban Alerts (Intelligent Design, Religion in the Schools, etc.) | Permalink
How could someone who knows so little philosophy and is so bad at the philosophy he does know conjure up the arrogance required to make embarrassingly misinformed, sweeping generalizations about it?....I think I found the answer in an old Sam Tanenhaus profile of the pompous fraud:
A prestigious Kellett fellowship took Wieseltier to Oxford in the fall of 1974 to study philosophy, but when he got there ''philosophy at Oxford was in transports of logical notation,'' he remembers. ''I had no interest in studying mathematical logic or the logical analysis of language.''
Allow me to translate that: Real philosophy is hard, so rather than even try to do it, Wieseltier spent his fellowship sucking up to Isaiah Berlin and quit grad school a few years later, at a time when it was still possible to become a celebrated public intellectual without having expertise in anything. Over the next thirty some-odd years, having turned enough clever phrases and misappropriated enough philosophical concepts to secure a reputation among easily deceived people as a learned man...Wieseltier came to believe his own delusional self-flattery.
(Thanks to Jason Walta for the pointer.)
Posted by Brian Leiter on April 25, 2008 at 09:12 AM in "The less they know, the less they know it", Merciless rhetorical spankings of fanatics, villains, and ignoramuses, Philosophy in the News | Permalink
A young philosopher at a top research university writes: "The thing that always astonishes me is that they [bloggers, journalists etc.] put on this air of pained affront if an academic gets short with them - 'I don't expect this tone from an educator' and all that jazz. Jesus, they should have been in a room with Jerry 'I just have one question; was your paper a joke?' Fodor, or Kim 'but there's no fucking evidence for that!' Sterelny. Or most of the economists I know. Where do so many people get this idea that academic discourse is conducted by people wondering if they could regretfully venture to take issue with distinguished colleagues who are respectfully suggesting an emendation?"
UPDATE: Philosopher Tad Brennan at Cornell writes with an explanation:
Journalists are surprised that academics can be short with them because they last met academics in the classroom, and most professors are kind and generous when dealing with students. Serious academics save their scathing put-downs for colleagues and equals--I doubt that those quotes from Fodor and Sterelny document interactions with students.
Instead of feeling pained and affronted, the bloggers and journalists should take it as a compliment: 'hey, those academics are treating me like an equal!' That can help to salve the bruises, anyhow. And it also shows why a sharp-tongued critique directed at a non-student is no betrayal of the "tone" appropriate to an "educator". If you are my student, then I have an obligation to be your educator; if not, not.
That certainly describes my own sentiments (and practices) exactly.
ONE MORE: This is also amusingly apt (and timely), referring as it does both to Professor Sterelny and Professor Sarkar's latest takedown of the creationists. As the author notes: "anyone who thinks...bloggers should be treated with respect by academics, simply doesn't know shit about academe, and particularly philosophy."
So reports the New York Times in their trademark he said/she said manner, when, of course, the article might have been more aptly titled, "A Split Emerges as Ignorant Ideologues Discuss Darwin," since ignorance of evolutionary biology is almost evenly divided between the two sides: on the one hand, the pathological liars from the Discovery [sic] Institute, the public relations arm of the "Intelligent Design" scam; on the other, Larry Arnhart, a professor of political science at Northern Illinois, and John Derbyshire, a pontificator at the National Review (who at least knows enough to know that "Intelligent Design" is bogus), who are championing a different intellectual muddle:
Darwin’s scientific theories about the evolution of species can be applied to today’s patterns of human behavior, and...natural selection can provide support for many bedrock conservative ideas, like traditional social roles for men and women, free-market capitalism and governmental checks and balances.
“I do indeed believe conservatives need Charles Darwin,” said Larry Arnhart, a professor of political science at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, who has spearheaded the cause. “The intellectual vitality of conservatism in the 21st century will depend on the success of conservatives in appealing to advances in the biology of human nature as confirming conservative thought."
This, of course, confirms an observation Michael Weisberg and I made in writing about the misuse and mispresentation of evolutionary biology by some law professors:
As Professor Jones himself has noted, “the favored perspective on the causes of human behavior often reflects ephemeral enthusiasms wafted on the politics of the moment” [footnote omitted]. That summarizes we suspect, in a nutshell, the current fascination with “law and evolutionary biology,” which permits the patina of “science” to be enlisted on behalf of various hobby horses of the right: people are “selfish,” law can’t change everything, nature puts limits on utopian aspirations, and the like. Perhaps all of these are true, but right now evolutionary biology offers no support to any of them. But “ephemerical enthusiasms wafted on the politics of the moment” have made the science irrelevant. We hope to remind people that the science is relevant, indeed, crucial, and that, so far, the needed science is not there.
Professor Arnhart, himself, maintains a blog devoted to his hobby horse, which even permits comments. Already someone has weighed in with a pertinent observation:
You will be better able to cross the divide if you stop refering to "Darwinism". The theory of gravity is not called "Newtonism". Go over to the Physics Dept. at NIU and ask someone how gravity works. Now go over to the Biology Dept. and ask someone how natural selection works. Ithink you will find the answers illuminating.
I invite some of the many philosophers of biology out there among the readership to venture over to Professor Arnhart's site to find out to what extent he has a scholarly interest in evolutionary biology and to what extent he is really an ignorant ideologue. Save a copy of your comments; if he doesn't post them, I'll post them here in due course. But perhaps we shall be pleasantly surprised?
UPDATE: A reader directs my attention to a useful short review of one of Professor Arnhart's books by philosopher of biology Roberta Millstein (UC Davis) from Ethics 110 (2000): 653. As Professor Millstein notes, Professor Arnhart makes two characteristic mistakes of the ideologically motivated in this realm: first, in assuming, without argument, that natural selection is "the primary force in evolutionary change"; and second, in ignoring that variation is both a necessary condition and consequence of natural selection, such that no one set of phenotypic traits can be deemed the "natural" ones. As she notes: these points "call into question the appropriateness of grounding his [natural right] theory in modern Darwininian biology."
Posted by Brian Leiter on May 05, 2007 at 04:14 PM in "The less they know, the less they know it", Merciless rhetorical spankings of fanatics, villains, and ignoramuses, Of Cultural Interest, Philosophy in the News, Texas Taliban Alerts (Intelligent Design, Religion in the Schools, etc.) | Permalink
The reader who sent me this list summed it up accurately: "very crazy, very funny." (I have to warn that a quarter of their targets I've never even heard of.) With some justice, they name the far right Arizona Senator John McCain as "the most loathsome," noting:
The most consistently mischaracterized politician in the country, even McCain’s most nakedly self-serving machinations are universally hailed as the bold moves of an independent maverick who really, really, like, cares, man. By virtue of his five-year stay at the Hanoi Hilton and a completely ineffectual campaign finance reform bill (which was itself only PR damage control for his long-forgotten role in the Keating Five), McCain has so successfully snowed America the he could go around kicking puppies all day and he’d be applauded for his authenticity. In reality, McCain is as phony as slimeballs come, having reversed his positions on Roe v. Wade, Bush’s tax cuts, the gay marriage amendment and Jerry Falwell in the last year alone, while the mainstream press looked away and whistled nonchalantly.
Bill Gates--who discovered philanthropy as soon as Microsoft became the target of a highly-publicized antitrust legal action--gets a good thrashing too:
As founder and co-chair of The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, he’s fighting global poverty and disease by investing in corporations that are the source of global poverty and disease. According to the L.A. Times, The BMGF has over $9 billion invested in companies whose activities contradict the foundation’s stated mission.
Nancy Pelosi, poster girl for spineless Democrats, is also pegged:
[She has] betrayed her supposed San Francisco values by sweeping the prospect of a well-deserved impeachment "off the table" and preemptively castrating the investigations she simultaneously promised. Anyone who thinks this brittle fundraising machine with the safest seat this side of North Korea is going to implement any ethics reform beyond the paltriest possible cosmetic gesture needs to lay off the medicinal marijuana.
They have a good line on the pathological liar David Horowitz--"Like most fascist converts, Horowitz sees disseminating information as an act of treason. His favorite targets are university professors he declares enemies of "academic freedom," because nothing is more dangerous to a neocon than someone who actually knows what they’re talking about"--as well as apt remarks about Rush Limbaugh, Senator Lieberman and Ann Coulter, though these are not quotable for the family audience this blog attracts. The remarks about Cindy Sheehan are stupid--but, as my correspondent said, this list is both "very crazy" and often "very funny." Perhaps the funniest is #16 on the list--"You"--which is their Menckenesque characterization of the typical reader of InstaIgnorance or viewer of Fox News or (dare we note?) devotee of the New York Times:
Your whole life has been a pitiful exercise in rote mimicry, a meek subjugation of individuality in exchange for herd approval. Your delusions of "common sense" wisdom stem from an unwillingness to seek information and an inability to critically analyze it. You never hesitate to offer strong opinions on subjects you don’t know a damn thing about. You’re willing to believe anything a guy in a suit says on TV, as long as it doesn’t hint at your culpability in the negligent homicide of your country and planet or otherwise cloud your streak-free conscience. You’re more worried about friction on the "Desperate Housewives" set than the lack of health coverage at your tedious, soul-destroying job. You have no idea what is going on in the world, and you’re fine with that. You are why democracy doesn’t work.
Posted by Brian Leiter on January 21, 2007 at 06:43 PM in Merciless rhetorical spankings of fanatics, villains, and ignoramuses, Of Cultural Interest | Permalink
MOVING TO THE FRONT from July 11 for the benefit of those who missed it during the summer
N+1 is a new NYC-based publication that styles itself high-brow and left; I am told that kids just out of college hanging out in NYC read it, and read its website in particular. It was one such reader, who actually knew something about philosophy, that tipped me off to this silly smear piece by an "intern" at the magazine named Alexandra Heifetz who, best I can tell, studied philosophy--or at least attended classes--at Northwestern.
One can only hope that the other writers for this publication have a more favorable ratio of brains to bile than Ms. Heifetz.
She starts out gushing about Alain Badiou (who would presumably be humiliated by the mangling of his ideas by this 20-something know-nothing), and then shifts gears midway through:
In 1989, Brian Leiter, now an analytic philosopher and law professor at the University of Texas at Austin, declared open war on continental philosophy by launching the Philosophical Gourmet Report. In the PGR, Leiter offered a ranking of the top philosophy programs in the US. At first hard copies of the rankings were distributed; then in 1996 the PGR went online. Geared toward prospective undergrads and based on the “quality of faculty” factor, the rankings were clearly, profoundly biased toward analytic programs. Some continental-leaning departments hung near the bottom of the list; most didn’t make it at all.
How is it that these silly people never seem to tire of the same lies and canards? Nowhere in this smear piece is there any mention of the fact that I've written one book and edited three others on that paragon of "analytic" philosophy, Nietzsche; that I'm the co-editor of the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Continental Philosophy; that easily available on-line information reveals that I've taught, over the past decade, graduate philosophy seminars on "The Continental Tradition," "Marx and Freud," "Nietzsche and Ethics," and "Nietzsche and Foucault," among other topics. Of course, these facts--that is what they are--would spoil the story line for Ms. Heifetz. So, too, would the facts about all the PGR Advisory Board members who work on Continental philosophy (Frederick Beiser, Michael Forster, Pierre Keller, Sebastian Gardner, Michael Rosen, Julian Young, Allen Wood): clearly those folks, like me, have as their goal the destruction of study of the philosophy to which they have devoted major portions of their professional careers.
Alas, there is no bottom to dumb, so Ms. Heifetz continues:
On the PGR website, which is now very fancy, there’s a section called “Continental vs. Analytic Philosophy,” a concise version of the introduction Leiter wrote for the book A Future for Philosophy.
In fact, the argument of the introduction to The Future for Philosophy is different than the section in the PGR, which is left over from years ago, and which I'll revise this fall. Of course, to know this you'd have to be able to read, or to understand what you read. My guess is that the lazy Ms. Heifetz--who obviously isn't interested in any facts--simply didn't read the introduction. But back to the smear:
Here he distinguishes between them as two styles of doing philosophy, rather than categories for the kind of books to be read:
Continental philosophy is distinguished by its style (more literary, less analytical, sometimes just obscure), its concerns (more interested in actual political and cultural issues and, loosely speaking, the human situation and its “meaning”), and some of its substantive commitments (more self-conscious about the relation of philosophy to its historical situation).
Leiter seems to think he’s dropping a bomb—note the disparagements of “obscure” and “loosely speaking”—but the house of philosophy had begun to self-destruct half a century before.
"Loosely speaking" is not a disparagement, it is a way of signalling to the reader that what follows is a bit general and imprecise, in this case, because brief. Why Ms. Heifetz thinks that I think this is "dropping a bomb" is anyone's guess.
Since the 1950s analytic philosophers have made the same complaints: that continental philosophy has a messy literary quality, that it wastes time with “concepts-in-quotations,” and that it bothers itself with cultural things like genocide and the Internet. And yet, boom! Like a frantic seven-year-old, Leiter defends his kind of philosophy by pushing out people who don’t agree with him.
I, of course, did not say anything about messy literary quality, that is Ms. Heifetz's invention for purposes of her story line. And one respect in which I think that section of the PGR is mistaken is precisely in mentioning "literary quality" at all: there is precious little literary about Hegel's Science of Logic or Marx's Capital, let alone Husserl's Ideas. And speaking of seven-year-olds, I think even mine knows that the Continental traditions in philosophy are not marked by concern for "genocide and the Internet," though at least this suggests Ms. Heifetz has read (or heard about) one book, Adorno and Horkheimer's Dialectic of Enlightenment. But all this is just a lead-in to her main "idea":
But what the continental has tried to preserve (and what the analytic has tried to run from) is a sense that, even while pursuing self-preservation, philosophers should never give up on answering questions that are important and interesting to everyone.
Ignorance is bliss, and when it comes to philosophy, Ms. Heifetz is apparently ecstatic. Her ignorance is palpable in two different directions here: first, she thinks it is only "analytic philosophy" that neglects "questions that are important and interesting to everyone"; and second, she is utterly unaware of those English-speaking philosophers who address such issues.
On the first point: is it only the "analytics" (whoever they are) who allegedly gave up "on answering questions that are important and interesting to everyone"? How does Leibniz's Monadology fare by Ms. Heifetz's criterion? What about Descartes's Meditations? Husserl's Ideas? Hegel's Logic? Are these folks also "analytic" philosophers? By Ms. Heifetz's "logic," they are.
Here is a quote from the introduction I actually wrote to The Future for Philosophy which, if Ms. Heifetz had read it, might have made an impression on this naif:
“[P]hilosophy” has a currency in everyday parlance and ordinary self-reflection that “linguistics” or “sociology” or “anthropology” do not. One doesn’t need an advanced degree to have a “philosophy of life,” and this has bred an expectation, even among those with advanced degrees, that the discipline of philosophy ought to be continuous with ordinary attempts to forge a philosophy of life.
Most of philosophy, both contemporary and--importantly--historical, does not, alas, live up to this expectation. Earlier and contemporary philosophers worry, to be sure, about truth, knowledge, the just society, and morally right action, as well as the nature of science, beauty, death, law, goodness, rationality, and consciousness. From reflections on these worries one might even extract a “philosophy of life,” though it would hardly be obvious, on an initial reading of Aristotle, Leibniz, Hume, Kant, Hegel, or Husserl that this is what they were after
It's not clear Ms. Heifetz even got through the "initial reading," given how she conceives of "analytic" and "Continental" philosophy:
The analytic philosopher takes his scalpel to the concept of democracy; the continental presents us with an account of the brutal pacification of the east.
Indeed, attention to "the brutal pacification of the east" is what makes Hegel, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Husserl, and Heidegger major figures in "Continental philosophy" (you missed that chapter in Being and Time? You need to read as carefully as Ms. Heifetz). It's not only, though, that it is false that figures in the Continental traditions are not interested in those technical questions of metaphysics and epistemology that Ms. Heifetz doesn't understand, it's also false that the folks Ms. Heifetz thinks of as "analytic" philosophers are not addressing "questions that are important and interesting to everyone": what exactly does she think books like Thomas Nagel's Mortal Questions (1979) or Harry Frankfurt's The Reasons of Love (2004) are about? Set theory? The foundations of quantum mechanics?
Find an educated layperson who has read any part of either the Nagel or Frankfurt books, as well as, say, the "Sense-Certainty" section of Hegel's Phenomenology or the "Introduction" Merleau-Ponty's Phenomenology of Perception, and then ask Ms. Heifetz's childish question: which of these philosophers are addressing "questions that are important and interesting to everyone"? The "Continental" philosophers won't win. Again, from the actual introduction to The Future for Philosophy:
It is true, to be sure, that philosophy is now a “profession”—just like psychology, linguistics, sociology, physics, and mathematics—and it is also true that the discipline is often technical and unintelligible to the lay person. But only a complete ignorance of the history of philosophy could lead anyone to think that this supports a special complaint about contemporary philosophy: Leibniz, Spinoza, Kant, Hegel, and Heidegger, among many other “greats,” are also technical and obscure to the lay person. Yet no one, other than teenagers and anti-intellectuals, consider this an objection to their philosophy. As Timothy Williamson trenchantly puts it in his essay: “Impatience with the long haul of technical reflection is a form of shallowness, often thinly disguised by histrionic advocacy of depth. Serious philosophy is always likely to bore those with short attention-spans.”
But enough with silliness about philosophy, it's now time for Ms. Heifetz to misstate facts about the profession:
In universities with hard-core analytic cliques, like NYU or Princeton, continental philosophers end up outside of the philosophy department and find a home in comp lit, women’s, or African-American studies.
This will come as news to the tenured members of the NYU and Princeton departments whose work is centrally concerned with Continental philosophy, like Beatrice Longuenesse, John Richardson, and Alexander Nehamas. When I pointed out this factual error--that is what it is, a factual error--to the alleged editor of this journal (a grad student in American Studies at Yale, where fact-checking apparently isn't required), he declined to correct it.
Desperate, apparently, for validation, Ms. Heifetz even manages to drag the Heckling Campaign out of the attic, long after everyone, even Richard, tired of it--and, of course, without mentioning any of the rebuttals, or the fact that 98% of the profession didn't sign the petition, or that many of the signatories recanted, or that many of them now participate in the surveys, and on and on and on.
The total ignorance about Continental philosophy that is on display in this smear piece--and the total unwillingness to acknowledge the facts about my work on Continental philosophy and the extensive coverage of Continental philosophy in the PGR--has a simple explanation: for this dispute is not about Continental philosophy at all. "Continental" for these folks does not mean "Continental philosophy," as Ms. Heifetz's spectacularly ignorant remarks well illustrate: she obviously hasn't a clue about the thinkers, ideas, and arguments that constitute the glorious traditions of post-Kantian philosophy in Germany and France over the last two hundred years. "Continental," rather, is more of a non-cognitive term, expressing something like the following: "yeah for left-wing opining about culture and politics, that's philosophy." As readers know, I'm a big fan of left-wing opining, but it ain't philosophy, Continental or otherwise. This juvenile usage of "Continental" is widespread, I fear, among those who are philosophically illiterate but fashion themselves culturally sophisticated.
A concluding thought: I wonder whether any of the random morons in Cyberspace who have picked up Ms. Heifetz's smear piece will be any more interested in the facts than Ms. Heifetz? I'm not optimistic.
Back to my blogging hiatus....
UPDATE: Paul Schofield, a grad student at Harvard, writes:
I enjoyed today's blog post. I find the near universal misunderstanding of philosophy quite aggravating. You point to one camp, who thinks that philosophers have lost their way with silly technical questions. I have encountered these folks. But I also routinely encounter people who think that philosophy is "corrupted" by post-modernism, and are more than willing to lecture me about this "unfortunate" turn.
Not only that. People of a religious bent feel free to berate philosophy for being "atheistic." (Real philosophy was done by C.S Lewis, don't you know?) And non-philosophers show up at philosophy talks not to learn about what it is that we do, but to vocally object (during question time) to our entire discipline's way of doing things.
What is stunning is the confidence with which these opinions are asserted. When corrected by me- an actual grad student, in an actual philosophy department- I receive incredulous stares. This makes clearing up the mis-perceptions all but impossible.
The New York Times has done it again: they've enlisted an ignorant reviewer to review a philosophical book. The reviewer is Leon Wieseltier, the literary editor at The New Republic. The book is Daniel Dennett's latest book, a "naturalistic" account of religious belief. Whatever Mr. Wieseltier knows about philosophy or science, he effectively conceals in this review. The sneering starts at the beginning:
THE question of the place of science in human life is not a scientific question. It is a philosophical question. Scientism, the view that science can explain all human conditions and expressions, mental as well as physical, is a superstition, one of the dominant superstitions of our day; and it is not an insult to science to say so. For a sorry instance of present-day scientism, it would be hard to improve on Daniel C. Dennett's book. "Breaking the Spell" is a work of considerable historical interest, because it is a merry anthology of contemporary superstitions.
Perhaps it is correct that the "question of the place of science in human life" is a philosophical, not scientific question, though I wish I could be as confident as Mr. Wieseltier as to how we demarcate those matters. But "the view that science can explain all human conditions and expressions, mental as well as physical" is not a "superstition," but a reasonable methodological posture to adopt based on the actual evidence, that is, based on the actual, expanding success of the sciences, and especially, the special sciences, during the last hundred years. One should allow, of course, that some of these explanatory paradigms may fail, and that others, like evolutionary psychology, are at the speculative stage, awaiting the kind of rigorous confirmation (or disconfirmation) characteristic of selectionist hypotheses in evolutionary biology. But no evidence is adduced by Mr. Wieseltier to suggest that Professor Dennett's view is any different than this. Use of the epithet "superstition" simply allows Mr. Wieseltier to avoid discussing the actual methodological posture of Dennett's work, and to omit mention of the reasons why one might reasonably expect scientific explanations for many domains of human phenomena to be worth pursuing.
But onward with the sneering of the ignorant:
Dennett flatters himself that he is Hume's heir. Hume began "The Natural History of Religion," a short incendiary work that was published in 1757, with this remark: "As every enquiry which regards religion is of the utmost importance, there are two questions in particular which challenge our attention, to wit, that concerning its foundation in reason, and that concerning its origin in human nature." These words serve as the epigraph to Dennett's introduction to his own conception of "religion as a natural phenomenon." "Breaking the Spell" proposes to answer Hume's second question, not least as a way of circumventing Hume's first question. Unfortunately, Dennett gives a misleading impression of Hume's reflections on religion. He chooses not to reproduce the words that immediately follow those in which he has just basked: "Happily, the first question, which is the most important, admits of the most obvious, at least, the clearest, solution. The whole frame of nature bespeaks an intelligent author; and no rational enquirer can, after serious reflection, suspend his belief a moment with regard to the primary principles of genuine Theism and Religion."
So was Hume not a bright? I do not mean to be pedantic. Hume deplored religion as a source of illusions and crimes, and renounced its consolations even as he was dying. His God was a very wan god. But his God was still a god; and so his theism is as true or false as any other theism. The truth of religion cannot be proved by showing that a skeptic was in his way a believer, or by any other appeal to authority. There is no intellectually honorable surrogate for rational argument. Dennett's misrepresentation of Hume...is noteworthy, therefore, because it illustrates his complacent refusal to acknowledge the dense and vital relations between religion and reason, not only historically but also philosophically.
Has Dennett misrepresented Hume? Mr. Wieseltier might have availed himself of a fine on-line essay on Hume's philosophy of religion by someone who actually knows something about Hume. Paul Russell (Philosophy, British Columbia) writes (with some emphases added in bold):
In 1757 Hume published “The Natural History of Religion”, a work that proposes to identify and explain the origins and evolution of religious belief. This project follows lines of investigation and criticism that had already been laid down by a number of other thinkers, including Lucretius, Hobbes and Spinoza. Hume's primary objective in this work is to show that the origins and foundations of religious belief do not rest with reason or philosophical arguments of any kind but with aspects of human nature that reflect our weaknesses, vulnerabilities and limitations (i.e., fear and ignorance). Related to this point, Hume also wants to show that the basic forces in human nature and psychology that shape and structure religious belief are in conflict with each other and that, as a result of this, religious belief is inherently unstable and variable. In arguing for these points, Hume is directly challenging an opposing view, one that was widely held among his own orthodox contemporaries. According to this view (e.g., as presented by Cleanthes), the evidence of God's existence is so obvious that no one sincerely and honestly doubts it. Belief in an intelligent, invisible creator and governor of the world is a universal belief rooted in and supported by reason. From this perspective, no person sincerely accepts “speculative atheism”. Hume's “naturalistic” approach to religion aims to discredit these claims and assumptions of theism.
Dennett's naturalistic approach, even with its different speculative explanatory mechanisms, aims to do the same thing. What Mr. Wieseltier confidently pronounces Hume's theism is, alas, not so clearly ascribed to Hume according to those who actually know something about Hume. There has been misrepresentation of Hume, I fear, but not by Professor Dennett.
Mr. Wieseltier's confident ignorance extends beyond Hume scholarship, unsurprisingly. He continues:
For Dennett, thinking historically absolves one of thinking philosophically. Is the theistic account of the cosmos true or false? Dennett, amazingly, does not care. "The goal of either proving or disproving God's existence," he concludes, is "not very important." It is history, not philosophy, that will break religion's spell. The story of religion's development will extirpate it. "In order to explain the hold that various religious ideas and practices have on people," he writes, "we need to understand the evolution of the human mind."
Just as scientific questions are clearly different from philosphical ones in Mr. Wieseltier's simple world, so too are historical and philosophical questions. He does not seem to realize that an account of the historical genesis of a belief can have bearing on the epistemic status of that belief, that beliefs with the wrong kind of etiology are epistemically suspect. But quite apart from the banal epistemic point, the material quoted by Mr. Wieseltier suggests that Professor Dennett's concern is not purely epistemological, but also rhetorical and psychological: namely, how does one get people to give up on religion? Like Nietzsche (and perhaps, in a different way, Hume), Dennett apparently puts his hopes in a convincing historical narrative.
As to Dennett's speculative natural history of religion, Mr. Wieseltier observes, fairly enough, that "it is only a story. It is not based, in any strict sense, on empirical research. Dennett is 'extrapolating back to human prehistory with the aid of biological thinking,' nothing more. 'Breaking the Spell' is a fairy tale told by evolutionary biology." He does not observe that religion is also, by the same criteria, "only a story," a mere "fairy tale," and one which can't even pretend to continuity with explanatory paradigms we have reason to deem reliable. To call Dennett's story "a pious account of his own atheistic longing," is I think shameless projection: it is Mr. Wieseltier who has genuinely pious longings, which is why he is reduced to sneering at Professor Dennett while spewing out a tissue of confusions and misrepresentations.
That we are in the presence of the pious (and the very confused) becomes even clearer later in the review when Mr. Wieseltier complains:
It will be plain that Dennett's approach to religion is contrived to evade religion's substance. He thinks that an inquiry into belief is made superfluous by an inquiry into the belief in belief. This is a very revealing mistake. You cannot disprove a belief unless you disprove its content.
It is true that you cannot show a belief to be false by explaining its origin, but it is clear you can show that holding the belief is not warranted by explaining its origin. (This is an important topic I have dealt with elsewhere.) If you believe buying stock in High Tech Miracle, Inc. is a good investment based on recommendation of your broker, and then you discover that your broker recommended it because he is an investor in the company and a beneficiary of its rising stock fortunes, you no longer have a reason to believe it's a good investment--though it might turn out to be one, of course, but you no longer are warranted in believing that. Hume, Nietzsche, Marx, Dennett and many others exploit this form of argumentation, without making any mistakes, let alone abandoning "reason," as Mr. Wieseltier--whose arrogance may even outstrip his ignorance--remarkably claims.
There is more one could say about the muddled particulars of this display of mindless anti-intellectualism and feeble apologetics for religion, but other work beckons this Sunday afternoon. Mr. Wieseltier concludes that Professor Dennett's book is "shallow and self-congratulatory." Perhaps it is, but on the evidence of this review one is actually warranted in applying those adjectives only to the review's author.
Posted by Brian Leiter on February 19, 2006 at 12:47 PM in "The less they know, the less they know it", Merciless rhetorical spankings of fanatics, villains, and ignoramuses, Philosophy in the News | Permalink
[ORIGINALLY POSTED MARCH 17, 2004]
Imagine this: the on-line version of a national news magazine--in this case, The National Review--deems it worthy to come to the "defense" of a conservative Harvard law student, whose incompetent review of a book by creationism apologist Francis Beckwith.com was dismembered on a blog site.
The defense, alas, was less a defense--no substantive issue in dispute was even mentioned--than a smear job.
The author of this smear job, one Hunter Baker(identified only as a "freelance writer in Texas"), talked with Professor Beckwith and the Harvard law student, but never bothered to contact me, the target of the smear. The author also never bothered to indicate why I had criticized the review, focusing only on one conclusory passage which he both misread and misquoted. Although he included various links, he never linked to my actual criticisms of the review!
High quality journalism, eh?
The article, unsurprisingly, was highly and uncritically supportive of the Harvard law student and Beckwith, and highly insulting towards me. And guess what never got mentioned anywhere? Mr. Baker is Professor Beckwith's graduate student and teaching assistant.
Welcome to the world of right-wing slime and smear, where no ethics, journalistic or otherwise, apply, and in which facts or truth are never an obstacle.
A few hours after I "outed" Mr. Baker's connection to Beckwith on my blog, I received the following e-mail from this shameless hatchet man, which is almost breathtaking in its disingenuousness (Mr. Baker invited me to post it, and since he's handed me the rope...):
The reason I didn't list myself as Beckwith's teaching assistant is simple. I have a long record of internet and print journalism that predates any association with him. That part of my life belongs to me. He has no control over what I choose to cover or how I write stories....
"Yeah, right," says everyone over the age of 16. This claim might have been more credible, of course, if he'd volunteered this information before I outed him. Indeed, one might find it remotely believable if it had been included in his by-line when the article was published. (Why not let the readers decide for themselves about Mr. Baker's reliability and objectivity given his connection with one of the targets of the critique?) But journalistic integrity, as noted, is not one of Mr. Baker's strong suits. Indeed, in this context, the word "fraud" seems literally applicable. (Since Mr. Baker apparently hasn't heard of journalistic ethics, here's a useful site; see esp. the section on "Act Independently.")
Posted by Brian Leiter on February 13, 2006 at 07:33 AM in Merciless rhetorical spankings of fanatics, villains, and ignoramuses, Texas Taliban Alerts (Intelligent Design, Religion in the Schools, etc.) | Permalink