About Rationally Speaking


Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Hanna Arendt: the movie, the philosopher

by Massimo Pigliucci

I recently saw Hannah Arendt, a rare movie whose protagonist is a philosopher. And an exceedingly well done movie, it is. I was lucky enough to go to the US premier of it, held at Film Forum in New York, and which was attended by the director, Margarethe von Trotta, the leading actress, Barbara Sukowa, the screenwriter, Pamela Katz, and the main supporting actress, Janet McTeer. This sort of thing is a major reason I love living in New York.

The movie centers around a crucial period of Arendt’s career, when she covered the trial of former nazi officer Adolph Eichmann in Jerusalem, on behalf of the New Yorker magazine. The result was a series of five articles that were then collected in a highly influential book, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. Yes, you’ve heard the phrase before, and that’s where it comes from.

Arendt was already famous at the time, a leading faculty member at the New School in New York, and the author of The Origins of Totalitarianism, which is why the notoriously picky New Yorker immediately accepted her offer to cover the Eichmann trial. Little did they know about the fury and heated controversy that Arendt’s writing would soon generate, a controversy that alienated her from some of her closest friends and family members, though it also made her the talk of the town and the idol of her students.

As I said, the movie is well worth watching because of the superb screenwriting, directing and acting, and von Trotta stressed — during the q&a following the first screening — that it is based on a painstaking analysis of the available documents, including letters from Arendt to her friends and family. Indeed, Arendt doesn’t come across as an unquestionable hero in the film. She was a complex woman and superb intellectual, embodying plenty of contradictions (she was the lover of famous philosopher, and nazi sympathizer, Martin Heidegger), and who had suffered personally at the hands of the nazis (she fled Germany, was interned in a camp in France, escaped and moved to the US).

The time of the trial was also highly sensitive: the new state of Israel was only 15 years old, headed by prime minister David Ben-Gurion, and the public trial of a high-level nazi operative was a defining moment in the identity of the new nation.

Arendt’s basic ideas where two: first, that Eichmann and many others committed their atrocities without deep moral awareness of what they were doing, more like bureaucrats who were chiefly focused on a desk job that simply had to be done (hence her concept of the banality of evil). Second, that part of the scale of the Holocaust was the result of the complicit attitude of the Jewish Councils in both Germany and Poland, since they helped the nazis to confiscate Jewish property and round up Jews to be sent to the concentration camps.

Predictably, the Anti-Defamation League branded Arendt a self-hating Jew (whatever that means), and began a vilifying campaign against her that almost cost her the position at the New School. Other Jewish organizations actually paid researchers to go through her book intensively searching for errors with which to discredit her. She certainly seemed to have touched a nerve.

A fair assessment of the whole story seems to be that Arendt did have some novel insights into what had been going on in nazi Germany, particularly the idea that a whole nation had participated in mass genocide not out of fear of reprisal from Hitler and his henchmen, and not even necessarily because they bought wholesale the nazi rhetoric, but simply because that was the zeitgeist of the time and because most people most of the time just go along with what they are told to do (as plenty of psychological experiments have shown since).

However, Arendt also did get some things wrong. Eichmann, as it turns out, was well aware of what he was doing, and he did it with gusto. To be fair, some of the documentation establishing this came out after the trial and the book, but an argument can be made that Arendt was taken in by Eichmann’s own defense, displaying a contradictory combination of insight and naiveté about her subject. To quote the New York Times review of the movie, “Arendt misread Eichmann, but she did hit on something broader about how ordinary people become brutal killers. The postwar generation of young Germans took Arendt’s book as inspiration to rebel against their parents, who may not have personally killed Jews during the war but knew what was going on and did nothing. In America, protesters invoked the ‘banality of evil’ to rail against the outwardly decent family men who dropped bombs on North Vietnam or sat in nuclear-missile silos, ready to push the button — seeing them as the cold war’s version of Arendt’s ‘desk murderers.’”

To me Arendt represents what is positive and what is questionable in the kind of philosophy she practiced, what is known as the “continental” (as opposed to analytic) approach. Continental philosophers, like Foucault for instance, are much more interested than many of their analytic counterparts in things that actually matter: social and political issues, rather than neo-Scholastic hair splitting about fine points of logic and semantics. However, and discounting those who make little if any sense (Derrida immediately comes to mind, and — more controversially — Arendt’s own mentor, Heidegger), continental philosophical writings often pay scarce attention to hard facts and tight arguments, preferring an almost literary style of essaying about their subjects. In Arendt’s case, her trust in her judgment over the available facts led to a botched job: her book was important and influential, but it could have been great and enduring had she had a bit of an analytic penchant for the factual details of the story.

44 comments:

  1. Hey Massimo,
    I appreciate your review of this movie. I believe it was here in Chicago (at the Gene Siskel Film Center) in March of this year. I’m sorry I missed it. I don’t think it’s fair to say Arendt didn’t pay attention to facts. As you pointed out in your review some of the things she got wrong were not known until after the trial. Existentialists care more about content than philosophical form, while analytic philosophers care more about form (if their tools can’t deal with the content, then it ain’t real). No great writer and philosopher simply ignores facts. Her subject is inherently interesting. I see this more as a work of art, a close examination of the “banality of evil” rather than a comprehensive statement about Adolph Eichmann.

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  2. When dealing with insights (or the lack of them) into human motivations and deceptions, I wonder how relevant philosophy (analytic or continental) really is. The crucial issues involved seem to be quite accessible to those ordinary human capacities of social observation and insight which are routinely drawn on by writers of fiction, biography and history – and political journalists for that matter.

    I realize that many of the key issues involved (moral questions, for example) can be analysed in an explicitly philosophical way, but it seems that we are dealing here primarily with a type of biographical, social and historical analysis which is not necessarily connected with philosophy-as-a-discipline – though it is certainly philosophical in the more general (and popular) sense of the term.

    I agree that the relatively unconstrained and freewheeling nature of continental philosophy is a major problem. Didn't you remark recently that defining a concept too broadly drains the concept of meaning? Maybe something similar applies to defining intellectual disciplines.

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  3. I don't think that the "analytic|continental" distinction works for parsing those who make good moral decisions.

    When I think of those who attack the "continentals", the first who come to my mind are the right-wing Christian activists who continuously bring up the "postmodernists" for being at the core of what is destroying our society (Deconstructionism and the Left,
    by David Barton: http://www.wallbuilders.com/libissuesarticles.asp?id=95644). Also, some of those in the "analytic" domain are Ayn Rand libertarians (the ones who wear "logic" on their sleeves and who also attack the "postmodernists") or Christian analytic philosophers (e.g., Alvin Plantinga).

    For myself, I like the analytic approach when it can be coded in symbolic logic (like "A logic of 'because'": http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=8403006 - which gives a formal logic for 'because' that is missed in previous "Euthyphro" analysis ).

    Some "continentals" may have some screwed up moral code. But so do some "analytics". (That continentals are antifoundationalists, though, puts them at an advantage over analytics to some degree in formulating good moral code. In that, they are more clear-thinking than many analytics.)

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  4. There is an article in the current American Scholar which addresses the controversy over her writings about the Eichmann trial. She strikes me as an interesting figure; I'm currently reading her Origins of Totalitarianism. It's unfortunate she had a fondness for that loathsome Nazi toady, Heidegger. Too many still do.

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  5. We need to get an analytical philosopher working with V. Klemperer's LTI – Lingua Tertii Imperii: Notizbuch eines Philologen. There, Klemperer records the transformation of everyday language under the National Socialists. Combined with his diaries, you would get the experiential texture of life under a totalitarian regime and plenty of ordinary language examples of the relationship between langage and thought. I would call this a sublation of the analytic/continental opposition ... if I didn't know this forum better ;-)

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  6. Patrick,

    > I don’t think it’s fair to say Arendt didn’t pay attention to facts. <

    That’s not what I said. I said she was a bit casual about some facts concerning Eichmann that were already known at the time of the trial.

    > I see this more as a work of art <

    Yes, or of literary criticism / social commentary. Which is precisely what I dislike about continental-style writing.

    Mark,

    > I wonder how relevant philosophy (analytic or continental) really is. The crucial issues involved seem to be quite accessible to those ordinary human capacities of social observation and insight <

    I disagree, there was nothing ordinary about Arendt’s analysis, which is why it was so surprising and controversial. Whether you want to call that philosophy or something else is up for grabs, but it wasn’t ordinary.

    Philip,

    > I don't think that the "analytic|continental" distinction works for parsing those who make good moral decisions. <

    I’m pretty sure I wasn’t suggesting that, was I?

    > some of those in the "analytic" domain are Ayn Rand libertarians <

    I’m pretty sure any self-respecting analytic philosopher considers Ayn Rand trash, not philosophy.

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  7. Massimo

    > I disagree, there was nothing ordinary about Arendt’s analysis, which is why it was so surprising and controversial. Whether you want to call that philosophy or something else is up for grabs, but it wasn’t ordinary.<

    I did not say – or mean to suggest – that her analysis was ordinary.

    I merely claimed that understanding human motivations etc. draws on ordinary (general, not specifically philosophical) human capacities – social and psychological insight, etc. Biographers and other kinds of writers routinely depend on these modes of perceiving and thinking (to produce their sometimes surprising or controversial works).

    But the latter part of your reply addresses (and appears to concede) the essential point I was trying to make.

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  8. I just read a bit more about Arendt’s coverage of the Eichmann trial. She was accused of not attending the whole trial and missing parts that would have contradicted the thesis of her report. If she did this, it was incompetence. Her thesis regarding the banality of evil probably characterized a lot of people in Germany during Nazi rule, but in that case it did not fully characterize Eichmann and she was charged with reporting on his trial.

    If this is the criticism you’re making, then it's not a fair distinction between “Continental” and “Analytic” philosophy. Regardless of the “form” if the content is misinterpreted because of bias then the work is flawed. Both Continental and Analytic philosophy are susceptible to this.

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    1. I agree that she whiffed on Eichmann and that Massimo got that right. Interesting that she may have taken a deliberate "powder" on covering parts of his trial, and so wouldn't have missed those contravening facts that came to light if she had just attended.

      That said, was her analysis meant to be more "extraordinary," or more "controversial," based on her own philosophical roots? Was it even intended, in part, to be an indirect defense of Heidegger? (If evil is banal, then, per Ciceronius, we can't call him out for being a Nazi toady, then can we?)

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  9. Mark,

    > I merely claimed that understanding human motivations etc. draws on ordinary (general, not specifically philosophical) human capacities – social and psychological insight, etc. <

    But if you play that game, then Einstein didn’t do anything other than use the normal powers of reasoning and intuitions common to all human beings... I’m not sure what the point is in claiming that what a philosopher was doing is not philosophy after all.

    Patrick,

    > If this is the criticism you’re making, then it's not a fair distinction between “Continental” and “Analytic” philosophy. Regardless of the “form” if the content is misinterpreted because of bias then the work is flawed. Both Continental and Analytic philosophy are susceptible to this. <

    Of course, but my experience reading both literatures is that continental writers are more casual with the facts, just like Arendt was. Which is why I used her as an example of the limits of continental philosophizing (but also of its merits: most analytical philosophers couldn’t be bothered with social and political debates, John Rawls being of course one of the exceptions).

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  10. Isn't the case that analytic philosophers can be casual with facts as well? (I'm thinking first of Alvin Plantinga, of course, the Christian analytic philosopher. Are there other examples?) I don't know if either type is more or less casual with the same facts than the other.

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    1. Well, there's the new trend in analytic philosophy to prove that evolution cannot be true and to prove intelligent design is true comes to mind(Nagel,Meyer and Jerry Fodor).
      http://deisidaimon.wordpress.com/2010/02/25/embarrassingly-bad-philosophy-on-public-show/

      Or when one of the most respected meta-physicians makes bogus claims about the enlightenment:
      http://www.patheos.com/blogs/hallq/2012/07/peter-van-inwagens-argument-for-christianity/

      Speaking of Plantinga, I've never heard any continental philosopher that claimed that demons cause natural disasters and was still taken seriously. I've also never heard of continental philosophers defend intelligent design creationism so fervently.

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  11. The focus of the post is Arendt's work on the Eichmann trial. My reaction was to question whether it is particularly useful to call this sort of work 'philosophy'.

    Some other works of hers are more plausibly so designated – but it's worth noting that she herself rejected the label 'philosopher'.

    Many would see all this as a trivial matter. And, in a sense, it is.

    But, for what it's worth, I think that the terms 'philosophy' and 'philosopher' are rapidly losing meaning – in part because they are currently being employed to cover such a very wide range of very disparate disciplines.

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  12. Mark,

    > it's worth noting that she herself rejected the label 'philosopher'. <

    Yes, but that’s part of a broader fashionable rejection of that label by continentalists of the time.

    > I think that the terms 'philosophy' and 'philosopher' are rapidly losing meaning – in part because they are currently being employed to cover such a very wide range of very disparate disciplines. <

    I disagree, the problem is that philosophy has always been a broad, meta- sort of discipline, so it is particularly difficult to demarcate it from other fields. But as you say, this isn’t really a substantial point.

    Philip,

    > Isn't the case that analytic philosophers can be casual with facts as well? (I'm thinking first of Alvin Plantinga, of course, the Christian analytic philosopher. Are there other examples?) <

    I honestly think analytical philosophers as a group tend to be much more attentive to facts (because they have a higher respect for science) than continentalists. And I do *not* consider Plantinga — or any theologian — a philosopher, sorry.

    paco,

    > Well, there's the new trend in analytic philosophy to prove that evolution cannot be true and to prove intelligent design is true comes to mind(Nagel,Meyer and Jerry Fodor). <

    Neither Nagel nor Fodor support ID, as much as they are mistaken in their criticism of evolutionary theory. And Meyer is a hack, not a serious philosopher. (And no, this ins’t a “no true Scotsman's fallacy, since I am certainly not arguing that analytical philosophers are always right or careful, but the ones brought up here are particularly egregious examples that do not undermine my general point).

    > I've also never heard of continental philosophers defend intelligent design creationism so fervently. <

    Yeah, too bad though that their reject of science and postmodern inclinations have been fodder for much ID nonsense.

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    1. But isn't it ironic that a leader in the promotion of intelligent design, the Discovery Institute, is also a leader in the in the attack on postmodernism?

      Software scientists and coders have an affinity for some postmodernists: Jean Baudrillard (1929-2007) and Jacques Derrida (1930-2004), for example.

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    2. I don't understand why you insist on labeling all christian philosophers as theologians, seems to me that you confuse philosophy of religion with theology, to me the first focuses on justifying the claims of religious beliefs and prove or disprove their truth, while the second pretty much takes the dogmas of religion for granted.

      Also neither Plantinga nor others like Swinburne ,Van Inwagen , Robert M Adams, etc.. went to divinity school, all of them hold chairs the on the most respected philosophy departments and have published books and papers on philosophy journals. So they technically count as philosophers in the analytic tradition. Or in the case of someone like Craig, the two labels can apply. And yet you insist in not recognizing them as philosophers, because that would mean that you have to take their arguments instead of dismissing them out of hand.

      Maybe Nagel or Fodor are not directly supporting the ID movement, but their ignorance of evolution shows the "high respect" that they hold for biology.



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  13. paco,

    > I don't understand why you insist on labeling all christian philosophers as theologians <

    Because in my mind whoever starts any argument with the premise “there is a god out there” is not doing philosophy anymore.

    > seems to me that you confuse philosophy of religion with theology <

    On the contrary: many philosophers of religion are not themselves religious.

    > all of them hold chairs the on the most respected philosophy departments and have published books and papers on philosophy journals. So they technically count as philosophers in the analytic tradition. <

    I guess then that I don’t give a damn what kind of chair one holds and where. Again, if you start your “philosophizing” from a supernaturalistic premise you are not doing philosophy in my book.

    Imagine a Christian biologist, who holds a chair in a respected university, who starts his papers with the premise that intelligent design is true. Same here.

    > you insist in not recognizing them as philosophers, because that would mean that you have to take their arguments instead of dismissing them out of hand. <

    They have no arguments worth considering, not after the Middle Ages. They are very clever neo-Scholastics. I haven’t gotten the time for that.

    > Maybe Nagel or Fodor are not directly supporting the ID movement, but their ignorance of evolution shows the "high respect" that they hold for biology. <

    There is no maybe about it. And they are not ignorant of evolution. They just take the wrong path in their philosophizing, and they have been duly criticized for that.

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    1. I don't think they start with the premise,as I said, philosophy of religion is about trying to prove such premise.
      And yes, I aknowledge there are atheist philosopers of religion like Mackie,Michael Martin,Oppy,Rowe and Sober. unlike you, think that the arguments of these religious philosophers present a serious challenge to naturalism to deserve a reply.

      I don't see you claiming that Coyne is not a scientist just because he disagrees with you on matters about evolution, so why claim these people are not philosophers just because you disagree with them?

      If you insist that they have no serious arguments, yet they have gotten the highest distinctions in the academic philosophy (Plantinga for example, was president of the Western branch of the APA), then I think you should conclude that academic philosophy has low standards in separating sense from non-sense, and is in no better position than continental philosophy. Since in your view, just about any crackpot can achieve the highest status in academia as long as he sounds technicall enough, just like contintentals can pass as great thinkers if are obscure enough.


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    2. Again, there is a difference btw philosophy of religion and theology. The problem with many of the people you mention is that they do both. Since they are smart, they get good at one and then sneak in the other.

      This also explain why they are famous in contemporary philosophy (though I seriously doubt they would gladly accept the label "analytic").

      I disagree with Coyne within what we both consider reasonable limits. If Jerry were to suddenly embrace ID I would no longer consider him a serious scientists, regardless of where he teaches or how many awards he may have previously gotten.

      I never said that Plantinga et al. are "crackpots." I simply said they are not doing serious philosophy whenever they engage in supernaturalism. If the APA disagrees, so be it.

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    3. Well, since their serious work consists of proving Christianity is true (or a properly basic belief in the case of Plantinga), that would put you at odds with the rest of the philosophy academia, you have taken the trouble of engaging in debates with ID proponents to defend good science from pseudoscience, but you don't seem to be doing the same thing when it comes to engaging with these people to defend what you think is good philosophy. Or you prefer to ignore them, so they can take all of the philosophy departments.

      Despite the fact that I also think a lot of their arguments are bad, I think some of the arguments put forward by these philosophers are merit consideration,for example: Plantinga killed the logical problem of evil for good, and Adams showed that divine command theory can be immune to the eutyphro dilema (despite your attempts to dismiss it as just a "rationalization").

      Although I think philosophy of religion is not the only example of analytic philosophers making silly arguments(like p-zombies and modal realism), other examples are here. ;p
      memegenerator.net/Scumbag-Analytic-Philosopher

      Also, Nagel has recommended the work of Meyer and Demski, so seems to me that he is supporting ID, or at least thinks that it is more plausible than Darwinian evolution.


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    4. > you have taken the trouble of engaging in debates with ID proponents to defend good science from pseudoscience, but you don't seem to be doing the same thing when it comes to engaging with these people to defend what you think is good philosophy <

      I have debated Craig, and have written about the silliness of theology aplenty. But my main interest remains pseudoscience, not religion. Plenty of others have taken up the slack though.

      > Plantinga killed the logical problem of evil for good, and Adams showed that divine command theory can be immune to the eutyphro dilema <

      I *really* don't think so. They have put forth very Scholastic, clever, rationalizations. But rationalizations they remain nonetheless.

      > I think philosophy of religion is not the only example of analytic philosophers making silly arguments(like p-zombies and modal realism) <

      I put those in very different categories. But look, if your point is that it is much easier to go wrong in philosophy (sometimes spectacularly so!) than in science, we agree. I'm writing a whole book on why that's the case (logical space - the province of philosophy - is much less constrained than empirical space - the province of science).

      > Nagel has recommended the work of Meyer and Demski <

      If I remember correctly, "recommend" is too strong, and it was only Meyer, not Dembski. (But I could be wrong, haven't checked recently.)

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    5. You mean the debate which you lost miserably, since you didn't prepare well enough (like most of the other atheists who debate him). And I'm not the only one who thinks this, other atheists think the same.

      I think the consensus among philosophers or religion (both theists and atheists)is that the logical problem of evil is officially dead, the evidential problem of evil being the one still discussed. Also, Stephen Law didn't use the eutyphro dilemma in his debate against Craig since he accepts that his version on DCT is immune to it.

      And yes, I see your point on the nature of philosophy makes it more prone for big mistakes to be made, but since you don't stop labeling other people as philosophers when they make those mistakes (for example you don't stop calling David Chalmers or Peter Singer philosophers because their positions on consciousness and ethics differ from yours), I don't see why you take the label out of people who give bad arguments for religion even though they have the same qualifications. I don't see any reason why they must go on different categories. You could just call them philosophers who are wrong.

      I also think that the very bad shape in which analytic philosophy is now is more due to a decline of standards and not taking science seriously enough,than the nature of the discipline itself.

      Seems like Nagel is really sympathetic to ID.
      from Wikipedia :

      In 2009 he recommended Signature in the Cell by the philosopher and ID proponent Stephen C. Meyer in The Times Literary Supplement as one of his "Best Books of the Year." Nagel does not accept Meyer's conclusions but he endorsed Meyer's approach, and argued in Mind and Cosmos that Meyer and other ID proponents, David Berlinski and Michael Behe, "do not deserve the scorn with which they are commonly met."

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    6. Hah ... Paco is so wrong on divine command vs. Euthyphro. That said, I've seen other graduate degree holders in theology believe similar, or worse, even claiming that Euthyphro doesn't apply to the god of Christianity. (The particular person making that claim was not a conservative evangelical, let alone a fundamentalist, but rather a Harvard grad who believed in Tillich's Ground of Mush.)

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  14. Massimo,

    I have followed your blog for a while and there is something that puzzles me:

    for a (serious) philosopher whose main interests concern the philosophy of science and the demarcation problem (or the pseudoscience issue as you claim above) it seems to me rather poor that the only criteria you seem to advance to distinguish pseudoscience (from science) is to differ from the scientific orthodox view.

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  15. "But my main interest remains pseudoscience, not religion."

    Mine is to fight just about everything the (current) Republican Party stands for.

    :)

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  16. paco,

    > You mean the debate which you lost miserably, since you didn't prepare well enough <

    Your opinion. I think I did pretty darn well considering that it was my first debate ever. And a few years later I kicked his ass in Atlanta (but by that time I also had a PhD in philosophy...).

    > the evidential problem of evil being the one still discussed <

    Whatever.

    > Stephen Law didn't use the eutyphro dilemma in his debate against Craig since he accepts that his version on DCT is immune to it. <

    See above.

    > since you don't stop labeling other people as philosophers when they make those mistakes ... I don't see why you take the label out of people who give bad arguments for religion even though they have the same qualifications. <

    I thought I explained this with the Coyne analogy: if Jerry and I disagree on even important issues of evolutionary theory (and we do) we are still having a conversation as colleagues. If he brings in ID the conversation is over.

    > the very bad shape in which analytic philosophy is now <

    I think this idea that analytic philosophy is in bad shape is way overblown. According to which standards, exactly? There are plenty of philosophers who practice it, plenty of good papers coming out, and plenty of journals and conferences. It seems to me a pretty standard academic field.

    > In 2009 he recommended Signature in the Cell by the philosopher and ID proponent Stephen C. Meyer in The Times Literary Supplement <

    I know, I have commented on that before. It still doesn’t make Nagel an ID supporter, as it is clear from what he has written since. Which doesn’t mean he’s not wrong, obviously.

    Vasco,

    > for a (serious) philosopher whose main interests concern the philosophy of science and the demarcation problem (or the pseudoscience issue as you claim above) it seems to me rather poor that the only criteria you seem to advance to distinguish pseudoscience (from science) is to differ from the scientific orthodox view. <

    I don’t know where you got that, or, frankly, even what counts as the “orthodox” view. If you read Nonsense on Stilts it should become clear that my criteria for demarcation are not trivial. There is also a new collection of essays I edited for Chicago Press on this topic coming out at the end of July.

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    1. I haven't seen that debate, but I seriously doubt that you beat him, for the same reasons that you couldn't beat a professional boxer. He is an expert at what he does and you are not.

      So you prefer to keep using old arguments that have already been refuted, what would you think of people who still use the Aquinas's cosmological argument or Paley's argument from design and after you start refuting them they just put their fingers in their hears? Because that is what you appear to be doing.

      I can see the point on rejecting ID proponents, since they would not be meeting the standards of what counts as science (although Nagel would disagree).

      But I don't think philosophers arguing for religion are not violating what counts analytic philosophy, since they are talking in the logical space. And I think their arguments sometimes have more substance and rigor than say, Chalmer's zombie argument or the simulation hypothesis.

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    2. Again, you are entitled to your opinion about the Craig debates (though it is a strange thing to make an a priori argument here, you should watch the debate before giving me your verdict).

      Craig is a professional rhetorician, but his rhetoric is empty, so it isn't quite as difficult as you make it to be to show that the emperor has no clothes.

      As for my take on Euthyphro, argument from evil, etc., I am not alone in thinking that Plantinga, Swinburne & co have lost and simply refuse to admit it (just ask, say, Dennett, what he thinks about it). They are playing what Ladyman and Ross refer to as neo-Scholasticism, I'm not interested.

      Zombies and simulation hypothesis, as ill conceived as they are, are still framed within naturalism, which at this point is the only viable philosophical framework. hence my analogy with Coyne: we can debate all we want within Darwinism, but you go to ID and the debate is over.

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    3. Question: If Jerry Coyne were to suddenly embrace ID you would no longer consider him a serious scientist (a hypothetical), but you currently DO consider him to be a serious scientist despite the fact that he DOES embrace islamophobia?

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  17. This is fascinating, thank you for the movie recommendation I am very curious to see how the movie would represent her.

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  18. Tom,


    perhaps you are not clear that Islamophobia - assuming that Jerry suffers from it (and I'm not convinced) - is an ideological position, not a scientific one, let alone one that has to do with his specialty as an evolutionary biologist.

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    1. Massimo,

      Perhaps YOU are not clear that even ideological positions are somewhat amenable to scientific analysis. Viewpoints ought to be based upon the best available scientific evidence and not upon hatred and prejudice.

      Robert Pape has conducted the best scientific study to date, showing that suicide bombings are correlated with military occupation – not religion as in Jerry Coyne’s delusion.

      The fact that someone is speaking outside of his area of specialty has not stifled your comments in the past. Dawkins recently re-tweeted insane charges that the Obama administration was being infiltrated by a conspiracy of Muslims. That, I think, is deserving of comment from someone who purports to be interested in rational thought.

      But, you seem to prefer to disagree with Dawkins, Harris, Coyne, etc. over the most obscure and arcane points, and are strangely silent when they adopt incredibly unscientific and crazy viewpoints regarding prominent political issues – even to the point of ignoring Robert Pape’s scientific scholarship in deference to Coyne’s reputation and loud mouth.

      I think this is a real betrayal to your stated mission of “tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them”.

      Do you not consider it prejudice for Dawkins to suggest that a cabal of Muslims are attempting to take over the Obama Administration? Do you not consider it prejudice for Coyne to suggest that the religion of Islam is responsible for the violence that the best science shows to be due to military occupation?

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  19. On philosophy and theology:

    Most of my current friends are philosophobes (if that is the right word). They are not religious (they are basically atheist or agnostic), but if I mention any philosophy or philosopher to them (really, if could be anyone: Plato, Hume, ..., doesn't matter), they react as if I were a member of Campus Crusade For Christ trying to share a tract with them.

    Philosophy, it turns out, is like theology in that way: You can't talk about it without some getting upset at its even being brought up.

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  20. Philip,


    Yes, I noted the same attitude over and over, and I'm frankly worried about what that says of the skeptic / atheist movement. I'll be on a panel discussion about this at the forthcoming TAM, and I just submitted a technical paper on the scientistic turn of the New Atheism. (Of course, it will be published in a philosophy journal...)

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    1. That should be interesting.

      (Maybe this at the core of scientism: philosophobia.)

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    2. For what it's worth, I wrote my little essay on philosophobia here.

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  21. Tom,

    if you think I have been shy about criticizing Coyne, Dawkins, etc. you have simply not been paying attention to my writings. The point remains that one can espouse the wrong political opinion and still be a good scientists (or philosopher). The world just isn't black and white like that.

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    1. This "point" NEVER seems to hold true whenever someone makes reference to Heidegger on these posts. His nazi sympathies always seem to render any consideration of his philosophic thought as abhorrent. But of course his obscurantism could never be equated with "good scientists (or philosophers)," whatevere that phrase is meant to convey.

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  22. The question isn’t whether you have been shy about criticizing Coyne, Dawkins, etc. the question is whether you have been willing to take them on vis-a-vis their crazy, prejudicial, unscientific opinions regarding Muslims.

    I don’t recall you ever doing so. I searched your last 12 references to Dawkins. If Muslims are mentioned at all, your remarks are more supportive than critical.

    So, let me ask you flat out: do you believe that Dawkins, Coyne, etc. are correct in their beliefs regarding Muslims? Particularly, Dawkins’s belief that Muslims were plotting to infiltrate the White House and take it over? Or Coyne’s belief that Suicide Bombing is caused by reading the Koran (not supported by any Scientific study), rather than being caused by military occupation (supported by Robert Pape’s scientific study and confirmed by interviews with captured terrorists). Or, Harris’s belief that the European Fascists have the correct ideas concerning Muslims?

    You seem to have no trouble putting the “nonsense on stilts” label on people who claim that vaccines are dangerous when such theories are unsupported. Why does Coyne get a pass on claiming that the religion of Islam leads to violence without being supported by any study, and being contrary to Pape’s study?

    For the record, I am using Glenn Greenwald’s definition of “Islamophobia”:

    It signifies (1) irrational condemnations of all members of a group or the group itself based on the bad acts of specific individuals in that group; (2) a disproportionate fixation on that group for sins committed at least to an equal extent by many other groups, especially one’s own; and/or (3) sweeping claims about the members of that group unjustified by their actual individual acts and beliefs.

    In other word, the prejudice that you claim to fight in your masthead.

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  23. Today (6/22) Dawkins gleefully re-tweeted the following:

    >1. Religio ad absurdum. Pork-laced bullets designed to send Muslims straight to hell, on sale in America. http://huff.to/1c7gQAn via @Whoozley [6/22/13]<

    Dawkins taking pleasure at this is reminiscent of the Nazis who used to gleefully hold down orthodox Jews, shave their beards and stuff their mouths with pork.

    Massimo, if you attempt to rationalize this, or make excuses for Dawkins -- if are not willing to speak out against THIS, then I lose all respect for you.

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  24. Speaking as an ex-Muslim humanist who still has very strong ties to the Muslim community,I see nothing Islamophobic in Dawkins' tweet. I also think that this bit of news is hilarious and is just another example of the comical stupidity of certain segments of the American public. The resemblance to Nazis is all in your head, dude. Having read several of Dawkins books, I don't see him as especially focused on Islam (one could make that case about Harris, certainly); he spends much more time on Christianity and spends a fair amount of time on Judaism, via the both the Old Testament and a fascinating section on the Israeli educational system in 'The God Delusion.'

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  25. Dear Cultural (ex)Muslim,

    Dawkins is more restrained in his books. I've read all of them, but the books will not give you the true flavor of the type of insane things that Dawkins believes.

    For example, Dawkins has said that “Islam is surely the greatest man-made evil in the world today”.

    And “Yes, Christians are much much better”.

    And “Religion poisons everything. But Islam has its own unmatched level of toxicity”.

    And “It is the nauseating presumption of Islam that marks it out for special contempt”.

    The fact of the matter is that Dawkins IS especially focused on Islam. Now, see the definition of “Islamophobia” I am using in my previous post.

    Also, I do not think the subject matter of the tweet was “hilarious” – I think it is vile and disgusting to take pleasure in the contemplation of causing someone anguish by desecrating bodies. Dawkins does not write to say that this subject is “vile” or even that it is “comical” or “stupid” of certain segments – his only comment is to criticize religious believers for being offended by someone desecrating dead bodies (Dawkins’s “Religio ad absurdum” – that is, it is RELIGION that is absurd, not the people who are offering to sell the bullets seeking to offend religion believers).

    Perhaps instead of comparing Dawkins to the Nazis, I should have compared him to the Marines that urinated on dead Afghan soldiers. Seeking to demean the dead Muslims, the Marines wound up saying more about themselves than about the Muslims. The same goes for Dawkins.

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  26. Massimo,

    I think you might be engaging in a little No True Scotsman rhetoric when it comes to Christian philosophers. But, just because their work in philosophy of religion (or theology, if that's what you want to call it) is awful (and it really is awful), that doesn't nullify their work in other areas of philosophy. For instance, Plantiga has done really good work in the philosophy of modality and modal logic. He has also written great books in epistemology as well even if his conclusions for religious epistemology are terrible (and they are). One of my professors (who is a staunch atheist and naturalist) highly recommended Plantiga's book "Warrant: The Current Debate."

    I agree with you about the quality of their work, but I do not think it is fair to discount them as philosophers just because their work in one area is pretty terrible.

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    1. Laurence,

      I don't think I do. First, I make a distinction between philosophy of religion (which I count as philosophy) and theology (which I don't). Second, yes, any work by Plantinga & co. that doesn't start with theological premises obviously needs to be addressed on its terms and cannot be dismissed. But anything that starts with (or implies) "there is a god, therefore..." is utter baloney as far as I'm concerned, and doesn't count as serious philosophy in my book.

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