More Voices…

Speaking of the importance of words and meaning…

A postmodern response here

Further scrutiny asked for here

Bad move noted here

Spectacular arrogance…

No man is a prophet in his own land…

Again, we see some moderate voices and some more extreme voices, but all noting the problems with Pinker’s defense of scientism.  I think to defend Pinker is fine, but I also think it leaves little doubt that one then finds himself on the fringe.  So perhaps this has been more about revealing what each of us really thinks, rather than about Pinker.
The fringe, the extreme, whether from the religious side or the secular is the problem in the national and world-wide conversations dealing with the critical issues of the day.  They talk pass each other, do not hear the other, and completely misunderstand each other.  In articulating our opinions of Pinker’s views, we need to ask whether we give weight to the fringe or to the more moderate voices.  Do we help bring the conversation forward and move it toward the center, or do we push it further outward toward the fringe and extreme.  I think these voices, which again come from all points of the compass, are trying to move the conversation toward the center and away from the fringe.  I know that always bothers those on the fringe and there is always push-back.  It won’t shock me if we see essays appearing defending Pinker like cavalry riding to the defense.  Still, I commend all these voices who clearly understand the radical nature of Pinker’s scientism.  It is one thing to say that science is important and should always be a component of any conversation, something no one disagrees with; it is quite another to say that not only should it be a component, but that it should have the last word even in the areas of meaning, purpose, and morality.
Should we ungenerously dismiss all these critics as lazy, mudslingers, and those who misrepresent- or do they all have important things to tell us in the substance of their assertions, even if we disagree at points?  I think they do.  Maybe those defending Pinker’s scientism should try to read some of his critics as generously as they do Pinker.
Just a thought.
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4 Responses to More Voices…

  1. Burk Braun says:

    “Pinker never seems to have understood postmodernism. Postmodern scholarship, like science itself, can be done well or badly, but its animating assumption is simple: All truth claims–whether scientific, religious or political—reflect the prejudices and desires of those who make them. Claims that become dominant in a culture often serve the interests of powerful groups.”

    Well, this is quite helpful. And incredibly pernicious. Is this also your own definition of postmodernism? Evidently, E=mc2 is some kind of power-play by the dead white males of the world. Or by the Jews?

    But it certainly reflects the truth claims of religion incredibly well. So we seem to have a fundamental two-cultures divide here, where “humists” (no relation to the dearly departed David Hume!) can not understand how anyone can actually “believe” in a truth, because every truth they have ever peddled is a subjectively-based morass.

    On the whole, your commenters are digging you deeper into obfuscation.

    Anyhow, we all agree that science shouldn't be taken too far. But also that it should be taken as far as it can be. Which is, in the humanities, a good deal farther than seems to be supposed by many of your correspondents. The basic problem is very much like that of philosophy in particular, where many choice parts of the field have been taken over in whole or part by science, to rather astonishing erfolg, as they say in German. Everyone should be happy about it, really.

    But the fields remain closely entwined, and each remains a student of the other. What more really needs be said? Everything else is a matter of psychology, hurt feelings, sensitivities, etc. We certainly need on both sides to not wall themselves off, but take critiques and useful things from the other.

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  2. Burk Braun says:

    Actually, The Pigliucci piece was very good. No bones there.

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  3. JP says:

    Hi Darrell,

    Still, I commend all these voices who clearly understand the radical nature of Pinker’s scientism.

    The problem is, much of what would be radical about the text appears to be a distortion of what the text actually says. For instance, in the very same paragraph, you say Pinker believes that science should have the last word even in the areas of meaning, purpose, and morality.

    This would indeed be a radical claim but where is he actually making it? He may be saying that the scientific worldview should play a large part in guiding moral and spiritual values. But, while this idea may be debatable, it is in no way radical.

    One step in moving the conversation forward, as you say, is to try and see whether Pinker has something important to tell us, the same you recommend we do with the critics. But this is not achieved by misrepresenting what he writes and trying to make him some kind of ignorant fool. Which I don't think he is.

    Again, I'm not interested in defending Pinker (or in attacking him). If I were to write a review of his article, I would no doubt find much to disagree with. But this is not what I'm trying to do. I'm just pointing out some of what appears to me clear misrepresentations of his text.

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  4. JP says:

    One more thing…

    Concerning what Burk quotes from one of the reviewers as being the “animating assumption” of postmodernism: All truth claims–whether scientific, religious or political—reflect the prejudices and desires of those who make them.

    This seems pretty radical to me: All scientific truth-claims reflect the prejudices and desires of those who make them?

    Really? I'd love to see how this works out in a simple case. How, for example, does the claim that the Earth is round reflects the prejudices and desires of – well – all non flatearthers?

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