From Edge: ‘Dennett On Wieseltier V. Pinker In The New Republic’

Full piece here.

There’s a bit of an intellectual turf war going on in the Western world.  I suppose it’s been going on for a while.  Here are some recent public skirmishes:

-Steven Pinker, Harvard experimental psychologist and cognitive scientist wrote a piece in the New Republic, entitled: ‘Science Is Not Your Enemy

-Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of the New Republic since the 60’s, responded at The New Republic:  ‘No, Science Doesn’t Have All The Answers.

-Ross Douthat, conservative Catholic columnist at the Times jumped in the fray: ‘The Scientism Of Steve Pinker’ 

-Jerry Coyne, evolutionary biologist, responded to Douthat.

-Wieseltier jumped back in with: ‘Crimes Against Humanities: Now science wants to invade the humanities.  Don’t let it happen.

-Now Daniel Dennett, philosopher, cognitive scientist, one of the New Atheists and Boston-based secularist responds to Wieseltier:

‘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.’

Got all that?

Why does Wieseltier have his dukes up?

Is the intelligent design debate the right one to have?  Whence the humanities?

Terry Eagleton, British Marxist and professor in the humanities, is debating Roger Scruton in the video below, a conservative British philosopher focusing on aesthetics and the humanities, with a lot of German idealist influence:

Will Marxism & continental philosophy, become further guiding lights for the humanities here in America, as we find much more so in Britain?

Aren’t we already thick in the postmodern weeds?

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Related On This Site: Maybe if you’re defending the current conservative position, you don’t want to bring up the ‘aristocratic radical’ : Repost-Dinesh D’Souza And Daniel Dennett at Tufts University: Nietzsche’s Prophesy.. 

Art, iconography, art education, culture, feminism as well as 60’s cultural revolution radicalism and deeply Catholic impulses?:Repost-Camille Paglia At Arion: Why Break, Blow, Burn Was SuccessfulUpdate And Repost-

A return to Straussian neo-classicism?:  From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’Harvey Mansfield At Defining Ideas: ‘Democracy Without Politics?’

Neo-neo conservatism, new atheism and post socialism for the ’68ers? Via Youtube: Christopher Hitchens On Faith And Virtue

Stanley Fish At The NY Times Blog: ‘The Last Professors: The Corporate Professors And The Fate Of The Humanities’From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’,,

Roger Scruton In The American Spectator Via A & L Daily: Farewell To Judgment

From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘The Evolution of Mind and Mathematics: Dehaene Versus Plantinga and Nagel’

From Edward Feser: ‘Nagel And His Critics Part IV’

John Gray Reviews Jonathan Haidt’s New Book At The New Republic: ‘The Knowns And The Unknowns’

Steven Pinker somewhat focused on the idea of freedom from violence, which tends to be libertarian. Yet, he’s also skeptical of the more liberal human rights and also religious natural rights. What about a World Leviathan?: At Bloggingheads Steven Pinker Discusses War And Thomas HobbesFrom Reason.TV Via YouTube: ‘Steven Pinker on The Decline of Violence & “The Better Angels of Our Nature”‘Simon Blackburn Reviews Steven Pinker’s “The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial Of Human Nature” Via the University Of Cambridge Philosophy Department

Morality in the emotions? Jesse Prinz argues that neuroscience and the cognitive sciences should move back toward British empiricism and David Hume…yet…with a defense of multiculturalism and Nietzsche thrown in:  Another Note On Jesse Prinz’s “Constructive Sentimentalism”From Bloggingheads: Tamar Szabo Gendler On Philosophy and Cognitive Science

From The Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy Entry On Eliminative Materialism

Repost-Dinesh D’Souza And Daniel Dennett at Tufts University: Nietzsche’s Prophesy

Evolutionary psychology and moral thinking: Franz De Waal At The NY Times 10/17/10: ‘Morals Without God?’

From Reason.TV Via YouTube: ‘Steven Pinker on The Decline of Violence & “The Better Angels of Our Nature”‘

Reason post here, which has a link to challenge Pinker’s claim that violence actually declining (any other thoughts welcome).

Related On This Site:   What about a World Leviathan…instead of the humanist/liberal wishes for global governance no matter how ineffective?: At Bloggingheads Steven Pinker Discusses War And Thomas Hobbes

Simon Blackburn Reviews Steven Pinker’s “The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial Of Human Nature” Via the University Of Cambridge Philosophy Department

Morality in the emotions? Jesse Prinz argues that neuroscience and the cognitive sciences should move back toward British empiricism and David Hume…yet…with a defense of multiculturalism and Nietzsche thrown in:  Another Note On Jesse Prinz’s “Constructive Sentimentalism”From Bloggingheads: Tamar Szabo Gendler On Philosophy and Cognitive Science

From The Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy Entry On Eliminative Materialism

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From FuturePundit: ‘Low Empathy Response Makes Others Seem Less Human?’

Full post here.

This seemed interesting, as it’s been true in my experience:

‘In order to function in a city a greater level of callousness seems necessary. Being parsimonious about your empathy makes the most sense for those who have a larger list of potential candidates for their empathy…’

Try to help everyone and you’ll get taken advantage of too, and be a sap, or a saint.  Also:

‘The difference between pity and disgust is interesting. An elderly body is the fate of everyone and so far it can not be fixed. Becoming elderly is not seen as a moral failing. But becoming a drug addict (rightly or wrongly) is widely seen as a moral failing. It makes sense that people are more disgusted by those who make wrong moral choices.’

That reminded me of this post put up previously on this site: From The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum.

And 1st in the comments was this quotation about living in a city.  It reminded me of my own experience:

‘Having walked the beat several times a week for several years, you begin to recognize faces, and that also changes you. You realize that the problem isn’t lack of resources; the problem is that the people misuse what they have. No amount of giving will fix that, so I no longer give. It’s not cost effective, and often counterproductive.

I think you should be free to give as you see fit, and it’s good to break the ice every now and again once you’ve put on a stoic face or developed a practical hardness because of the realities around you.

I’m a little skeptical of some of the interests potentially lined up at the nexus of psychology, evolutionary psychology and neuroscience as regards political philosophy…there’s a case to be made that these fields hold an appeal to many secular moralists and social engineers…but that’s also probably my own bias.

Related On This Site:  From Bloggingheads: Tamar Szabo Gendler On Philosophy and Cognitive Science

Morality in the emotions? Jesse Prinz argues that neuroscience and the cognitive sciences should move back toward British empiricism and David Hume…yet…with a defense of multiculturalism and Nietzsche thrown in:  Another Note On Jesse Prinz’s “Constructive Sentimentalism”

How does Natural Law Philosophy deal with these problems, and those of knowledge?

At Bloggingheads Steven Pinker Discusses War And Thomas Hobbes

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David Brooks At The New Yorker: ‘Social Animal’

Full essay here.

“Over the past few decades, geneticists, neuroscientists, psychologists, sociologists, economists, and others have made great strides in understanding the inner working of the human mind. Far from being dryly materialistic, their work illuminates the rich underwater world where character is formed and wisdom grows. They are giving us a better grasp of emotions, intuitions, biases, longings, predispositions, character traits, and social bonding, precisely those things about which our culture has least to say. Brain science helps fill the hole left by the atrophy of theology and philosophy.”

Brooks, aside from being termed moderately conservative, is deeply interested in the social sciences, and I think that last sentence in the quotation displays one of the deeper underlying currents at play.  The piece, while thoughtful, seems a bit overdone in places.   Theology is not necessarily in vogue, and I’m not sure what he means by philosophy not filling the hole, other than that he thinks it is not a major influence on the public mind.  Is there a larger move afoot now, away from organized religion, and does it inexorably pull people away from religious morality and toward social liberalism?

Related On This Site:  Repost-From The NY Times: David Brooks On Simon Schama’s New Book-’Mirror On America’

-Leo Strauss argues that this value free hedonism was a from of gentle nihilsim inherent in waves of modernity in Western thought, and we need anchors against it:  Harry Jaffa At The Claremont Institute: ‘Leo Strauss, the Bible, and Political Philosophy’Via An Emailer: Some Criticism Of Leo Strauss?

-Jesse Prinz argues that morals too, have roots in emotions, and argues that evo-psy/cog-sci should get back to British Empiricism, with some Nietzsche thrown in, among other things-More On Jesse Prinz. A Review Of “The Emotional Construction Of Morals” At Notre DameJesse Prinz Discusses “The Emotional Construction Of Morals” On Bloggingheads.Another Note On Jesse Prinz’s “Constructive Sentimentalism”

Natural Law philosophy has another take on individual responsibility, economic liberty and morality: From Bloggingheads: Robert Wright And Robert P George Discuss Natural Law

Roger Scruton At The WSJ: ‘Memo To Hawking: There’s Still Room For God’Franz De Waal At The NY Times 10/17/10: ‘Morals Without God?’