My (not that ) good Friends, the Philosophers

Philosophy, the attempt to bring some order into the load of experiences which live can bring, is something which very many people, also quite usual ones, are not so rarely busy about – it DOES help in live if one sees a bit more clearly and does not need to be surprised so often. And there are even people who make a profession of it, even an academic one. And some of them have recently aroused my definite displeasure.

Of course there are truly impressive ones among them. E.g. I had in my life just once half an hour’s discussion with Georg Henrik von Wright, and I found him to be open-minded, attentive, friendly, helpful, and VERY intelligent. I honor his memory. And then there are pioneers like, e.g., Patricia Churchland, who at least SEE a glaringly obvious problem and invest huge, honest effort into tackling it, sometimes perhaps going a bit far in their conclusions, but anyway putting the problem on the agenda and contributing greatly to its solution. And I also honor such pioneers.

And then there are representatives of what we might call “the academic routine”. They get their Dr. degree for dutifully proving that they are able to find and handle the according literature and methods (same as what I got my degree for – but that was not in academic philosophy), and if they get a payed position with it they can (and seemingly do not so rarely) spend their professional life with developing and defending their philosophical “approach”, “position” or however one wants to call it. Of course they are aware of what is called “the great questions” in philosophy (e.g. the body-mind problem), but if you serve them an answer they will label it as a representative of a certain line of thought, put it to a drawer in their mind, put also the label on the drawer, and then solidly close the drawer (and don’t you expect them to ever open that drawer again!). And then they go on developing and defending their approach – one could call it an exercise in Freudian defenses (and why not, also this is a way to earn a salary).

And once the philosopher has managed to attain a publicly acknowledged (even respected) position (e.g. as a professor), it does happen that the media are offering him the possibility to write something for, say, the feuilleton of some paper’s Sunday edition (don’t we know it from HBL …). And what then happens is fairly regularly that the philosopher takes up some special “aspect” of a problem and belabors it in a way as if he were blind and deaf to the situation in wider society. As just one example (but CERTAINLY not the only one on my mind) the philosopher Hannes Nykänen was on Sunday 15.11. calling Richard Dawkins and some others “scientistiska demagoger”.

Jaha … . If we now have a look at the situation in and for which Richard Dawkins writes his books, there would be the fact that in 1998 an investigation about the beliefs of US Americans concerning the origins of our species brought rather remarkable results: About 44% of the adults believed that God created man “pretty much in his present form at one time within the last 10,000 years” (a belief which was also held by 31% of the college graduates). Moreover, in addition to those 44%, another 39% believed that man developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but that God guided this process (“theistic evolution”). The Darwinian position was held by 10%. – Already this puts me to worry rather badly about the future of our planet: If there are so many who believe that God himself is looking after things in so immediate ways, how many of them will accept own responsibility for, e.g., the climate? And what about a more political question: There have been reported 40 to 50 million American voters who believe that it will bring the Second Coming of Christ one step closer if Israel is occupying all of Palestine … . And if we think of the relation between the US Evangelicals and Donald Trump, do we perhaps see a problem? Of which Hannes Nykänen anyway seems to be TOTALLY unaware (very much in contrast to Richard Dawkins). And similar also about other academic philosophers who gave me that impression of being blind and deaf to wider problems in and of society.

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One Response to My (not that ) good Friends, the Philosophers

  1. Anders HH Jansson says:

    Scientists are human, they don’t like to admit they are wrong, they don’t like people who talk about things they have not studied themselves. Already long ago. it was noted that paradigms change when the last of the previous paradigm’s masters are pensioned off. But change happens and an amazing amount of change is made by precisely those scientists. That is because they work on scientific principles and are, in general, honest even when wrong. And the Macchierini ones do get caught, though unfortunately sometimes too late to save their victims.

    But when the word ‘scientism’ shows up, one can generally expect somebody with a theory/proposal that has not really found support in the scientific community. Sometimes, it will find it, if some kind of data shows up, but very often it just disappears into the ‘ignosphere’. Nykänen uses this term, Karl Popper and many other concepts in a way that actually ends up in a wide range ‘don’t believe the scientists on corona’-feeling. Without actually saying so.

    One example he mentions, on the plasticity of the brain, is real, but his interpretation that nobody thought of this earlier means ‘scientism’ is very far out. It is actually a much simpler matter of technology. As soon as the technical prerequisites for studying a living, working brain were there, theories started to develop. Without that technology, a theory on brain plasticity would have been just that – a loose theory with no foundation.

    Nykänen also mentions Quine. As an aside, a good friend of mine, a philosopher trained by v Wright and Hintikka, wrote a very deep essay on ‘I just swallowed my nose’, a discussion on verifiable and non-verifiable statements, also ‘the coming sea battle was won by…’ (tuleva ja mennyt meritaistelu). Had he been with us still, he’d have picked Mr Nykänen’s argumentation into very small pieces…

    So, I don’t think Mr Nykänen is deaf and blind. I think he has an agenda.

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