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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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 Bloggingheads: Tamar Szabo Gendler On Philosophy and Cognitive Science

Discussion here.

Szabo-Gendler aims to bring a deeper philosophical understanding to the cognitive sciences and neuroscience (popular neuroscience especially) by bringing up an important argument that philosophers from Aristotle to Hume have consistently made:

 “life goes very well when one’s reasoned commitments and one’s habits are in line with one another”

In other words, one’s relationship between the reason and the passions can potentially get you out of whack (addiction would be a good example).  Also, the depths of moral philosophy can help to deepen cognitive science. 

Perhaps it can even guard against excessive idealism (we’re seeking the holy grail of human knowledge kind of thinking) that could be best avoided when thinking about the limits of neuroscience.  Perhaps, as one commenter points out, such idealism is an inevitable product of popularization (and writing) as found in the works of Jonah Lehrer and Jonathan Haidt.  They’re not the first to write books about the pursuit of happiness:

“It’s really irritating to read, for example, Haidt’s book on happiness or Jonah Lehrer’s introduction to _How We Decide_ where Plato and Aristotle (because they regarded man as “rational” in some sense) are presented as having held the ridiculous belief that all or most of our actions must be the direct result of conscious, plodding deliberation.”

I’d also offer that some people who are attracted to and develop skills in music, poetry, literature often find some of their skills transferable in psychology and the social sciences (mutual fear of mathematics? a specific kind of habitual development of the passions?  would Nietzsche be an extreme example?).

Something to think about.

Also On This Site:  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”

Was Nietzsche really a philosopher?: A Few Thoughts On The Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy Entry: Nietzsche’s Moral And Political Philosophy…A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche Connection

From The Washington Post: A Few Thoughts On Jonah Lehrer’s Review Of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’

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