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.
Friday, July 26, 2013
New Rationally Speaking collection: A Skeptics' Skeptic
You see, I’ve been writing about “skepticism” (meaning, taking a skeptical stance on pseudo-science, pseudo-philosophy, pseudo-politics, and a few other “pseudos”) since as far back as 1997, when I began organizing Darwin Day events at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. From time to time, over the intervening 16 or so years, I found myself turning my gadfly-sh keyboard toward other skeptics, usually famous ones.
The reason is that it seems to me that a community — such as the skeptic / atheist / humanist (S/A/H, for short) one — that prides itself in its intellectualism and openness to reason and evidence, ought to critically examine its own tenets and positions, especially when espoused by prominent members of said community. Indeed, one of the gratifying things about being a skeptic is precisely that, by and large, we don’t act like a church. We recoil from dogmas, and we don’t ostracize dissenting members of our community, immediately rushing to build a new church down the street. Or do we? Well, okay, the recent history of the S/A/H community actually does sometimes eerily recall religious schisms and doctrinal disputes. Still, at least we don’t burn people at the stakes, or launch fatwas against them!
The gentle reader will notice that several of the essays included in the Skeptics’ Skeptic collection are, ahem, quite ironic, even sarcastic at times, certainly more so than the typical Rationally Speaking post. There are reasons for that. To begin with, the people targeted here are Big Boys who can definitely take the heat (many are academics, and academics are selected for having a thick skin). Moreover, rest assured that they can (and have, in several cases!) fight back with equal or larger force.
But the most important explanation for my above-average forcefulness here is that I take public intellectualism seriously, and these people are somewhat major public intellectuals. They influence countless others, and they therefore bear the responsibility of writing rigorously as well as clearly. When they don’t (in my opinion, of course) I call them out.
It should go without saying, but I’ll say it any way: contra persistent insinuations to the contrary (by, say, The Discovery Institute, the inane “think tank” that promotes Intelligent Design creationism), these and other writings by yours truly do not signal the beginning of a move away from my philosophical naturalism, support for science, or defense of reason. They are simply cases in which I deploy precisely those tools to engage the best minds of the S/A/H, so that we as a broader movement can keep Carl Sagan’s famous “candle in the dark” alit against the always numerous and always powerful forces of obscurantism and repression.