Friday, September 13, 2013

Let's Start With a Respect for Truth

Leon Wieseltier sees that the humanities are in a deep crisis, but his essay, "Crimes against the Humanities," is not a helpful contribution to its resolution. Name-calling and sarcasm are typically the last refuge of somebody who can't think of anything else to say to fend off a challenge he doesn't understand and can't abide. His response to Steven Pinker's proposed conciliation of science and the humanities is neither polite nor fair, and amounts, in the end, to a blustery attempt to lay down the law: It is not for science to say whether science belongs in morality and politics and art. Those are philosophical matters, and science is not philosophy, even if philosophy has since its beginnings been receptive to science. This is true enough, if carefully interpreted, but Wieseltier asserts it without argument, showing that he himself is not even trying to be a philosopher, but rather a Wise Divulger of the Undeniable Verities. He knows—take it from him. So this simple passage actually illustrates the very weakness of the humanities today that has encouraged scientists and other conscientious thinkers to try their own hand at answering the philosophical questions that press in on us, venturing beyond the confines of their disciplines to fill the vacuum left by the humanities. more

1 comment:

Steelman said...

Dennett is, as usual, spot on (or at least I'm terribly biased as I find myself agreeing with him most of the time). Philosophy and science are partners; each informs the other, not interlopers in forbidden territory. I've heard the opposite of Wieseltier's position: the uselessness of philosophy in the age of science. That's when I say, "Define science, and don't use metaphysics, ethics, or epistemology to clarify the concept."