April 17, 2005

Philosophy and Know-Nothing Conservatism

Perhaps you have a friend who read Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind when she was 17, concluded that all contemporary Anglo-American philosophy was bunk, and then decided to dress in school marmish frocks all day and to devote herself to getting money from corporations to disseminate culturally conservative propaganda at the American Enterprise Institute? Perhaps you are that friend from year-17 at an advanced stage of recovery. In any event, next time that friend shows up for dinner and bugs you with her half-informed opinions about your career plans, send her to the evisceration of Ross Douthat's put-down of analytic philosophy (see title link). Follow the connected links to the discussion on Matthew Yglesias' site as well. Ross writes for a blog, The American Scene, along with my dear friend Reihan Salam, who, despite having some Cro-Magnon political opinions, is at least gifted with the capacity for endless self-criticism and creative neurosis. [BTW, I wonder who that Crooked Ember guy is in Comments threads. All these references to contemporary Kantians and cranky Catholic intellectuals. . . Hmmm.]



Blogger Blakely said...

Which was the reason Bloom condemned contemporary analytic philosophy? Because it was bereft of "souls" and "the good"? Or because it was too technical (/scientistic)? I don't see them making the technical/scientistic objection on account of detail (because they simply prefer a more "superficial" education). I see them making it on account of suspiciousness of science.

Yes, analytic philosophy is full of realists about things metaphysical and moral that might (or perhaps, ought to) make conservatives happy.

But none of the Bloomian conservative types I know read blogs. (Too modern, I guess.) And my conflicts with them have occured not in the context analytic philosophy but Great Books; it can be difficult for someone who believes in that method for non-political reasons.

4/17/2005 06:15:00 PM  
Blogger Ignacio said...

Blakely said,

"I don't see them making the technical/scientistic objection on account of detail (because they simply prefer a more "superficial" education). I see them making it on account of suspiciousness of science."

Yes, that was a cheap shot.

"Which was the reason Bloom condemned contemporary analytic philosophy? "

I did a quick check through the index and couldn't find anything. If I recall correctly, the Straussian / Bloomians I have encountered think all of analytic philosophy has the same theoretical commitments that logical positivism had 70 years ago (back when Strauss would have been in Germany with them). Those who are little bit more informed just think that if you are offering a Theory of Justice, like Rawls, without self-consciously communing with The Good, then you are doing empty philosophy. For example, this is about the most sympathetic portrait of Rawls that I have ever seen from a Straussian, and it is not exactly without its barbs: http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/001/992ttufx.asp?pg=2 .

Blakely said,

“But none of the Bloomian conservative types I know read blogs. (Too modern, I guess.)”

Sadly, they are among us: http://www2.bc.edu/~wilsonop/classical.html

4/18/2005 09:31:00 AM  
Blogger AJPJ said...

I read the article he wrote for the Atlantic when it was published (I usually can't stand the magazine but it was sitting on a table near me and was a good excuse stop burning out my homunculi reading Dummett). I really didn't think much about it at the time, but I suppose I saw it as just another politically motivated attack on American universities (just gunshots in a warzone that is).

The sorry thing about the entire affair besides the unapologetic stupidity (and yes, the article deserves only one sort of response: viz. the venerable ad hominem - or ab hominem in this case) is that Ross Douthat is probably quite incapable of arguing any of his "points" with the intended targets. Hence, his turn toward a larger audience that might just believe him without argument and who hardly know enough about the debates in the various fields he criticizes to determine whether he hits his targets or not.

[Just in case you're wondering: No, no ... he is not. Case in point: one method of attack consists in listing course titles that he finds silly]

(Now, to throw him into bed with some really unsavory characters)

This is, of course, similar to the method of the ID folks. It runs like this:

(1) Take the debate to the people.

(2) Sell them bad science or bad theory that they would like to believe (I should say, "bad interpretation of science" since no ID supporters I know of do peer-reviewed research in ID).

(3) Act like they are in a position to judge its merits (act like they possess the tools with which to make these sorts of assessments).

Let me say, however, that insofar as Ross (can I call him Ross?) is complaining about the decided lack of courses that *make him* excited or quiveringly happy (don't ask) then I can't complain. But his sad, sad story hardly amounts to any sort of argument against the current state of the (various) disciplines he bashes (or the relative merit in continuing with them - viz. I see the "analytic turn" as being dialectically correct in terms of the prior work in philosophy, and I see it producing good results, especially in terms of larger naturalizing projects). And nor does what he write indicate one way or another what "the people want" unless the Harvard undergrad takes himself to be a good representation of them (assuming the constructivist daydream is true and the merit of the academic disciplines can be decided by some sort of vote, in which case we would no doubt be forced to sink more funding toward advanced research in UFOology and "Alien Abduction Studies").

NOTE: I checked out Amazon and I see that he has also published a book on the same subject. Amazingly one reviewer describes him as a "Harvard insider" (apparently it doesn't take much). It reminds me of someone who criticizes comtemporary art because they like Dutch still-life painting. Basta.


4/18/2005 08:36:00 PM  
Blogger Ignacio said...

It must be a cold day in hell when Andrew and I are in complete agreement, with the exception of the fact that I do criticize contemporary art because I like 17th century Dutch painting (but not still-lifes or landscapes).

4/19/2005 08:17:00 AM  
Blogger AJPJ said...

I knew I noticed a chill (and I'm not even going to disagree with you about 17th century Dutch portraiture, that's how cold it is here).


4/19/2005 10:46:00 PM  

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