Thursday, June 04, 2009

[philosophy] sophistry and pseudo-intellectualism

Wittgenstein, in Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus [1922] opined:

What can be said at all can be said clearly; and whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.

It would surprise some for an anti-philosopher to quote Wittgenstein but there we are. In that matter, he was quite right.

One of the major tasks of my students at university was to take tomes by seemingly eminent writers and to spend 70% of the available time translating them into a form of English that an educated English speaker could comprehend, thence to break down the key concepts into clear writing and the remaining 10% of the time both internalizing the points made and deciding if they were worth the effort of undertaking the exercise in the first place.

I reject utterly the thesis that in order to be labelled intellectual, one must speak or write in an unintelligible manner, coining obscure personal definitions and bamboozling the hoi-polloi with one’s erudition. There is, unfortunately, in academia, this attitude that to retain one’s chair, one must speak and write in a learned [read opaque] form and there are various assumed unassailable truisms, e.g. Voltaire had something edifying to say.

The thing one must never do is to mock the holy cows, something I very much did in my piece on philosophy being sophistry. You’d need to be a roamer of the hallowed halls to appreciate how badly that post would have gone down in certain circles and how ‘lager loutish’ the writer of it would be viewed by his erstwhile colleagues. ‘Philistine’, ‘pseudo-intellectual’ and ‘amateur’ are just three ad hominems to be flung at such a one who would thus betray his peer group.

It’s not the philosophy itself which I take issue with but the way certain assumptions about the deist position are taken as read before the discussion even gets underway. The false syllogisms and the false first premises in philosophical discussions, as taught in university courses, can be both breathtakingly specious and horrifying at the same time, especially when ad hominem is projected back onto the detractor, never an acceptable position in a philosophical discussion in the first place.

Hence my charge of sophistry in the manner in which philosophical discussion takes place in so many instances.

Cassandra may be right to say that philosophy does not equal sophistry but the two certainly have a nodding acquaintance with one another in the halls of academia.

On Saturday there’ll be a short post showing how the use of gobbledegook to reinforce, in the initiate, the all-knowingness of the adept is a key strategy in the broader community, particularly with groups like Common Purpose.

8 comments:

Lord T said...

When you attack philosophers you attack us all. We all have at least one nugget in us and many of us can philosophise(?) for hours.

Although I don't actually understand how someone can make a career or a living out of it. It’s more suited to a discussion in the home or in a pub (If you can find one open)

Punch said...

Here is the essence of the problem, to my eyes.

In philosophy, essence is the attribute or set of attributes that make an object or substance what it fundamentally is, and which it has by necessity, and without which it loses its identity.

James Higham said...

Lord T - I attack a particular brand of philosopher and the attitude that says 'you have to prove your point but I'm under no obligation to prove mine because I'm a famous name', e.g. Voltaire, Hegel and 'my view is fashionable' e.g. evolution, rationalist science etc.

It's amazing that these people make pretence of being 'scientific' and rational but employ appalling tactics of suppression and illogical denial based on nothing but their 'intuition', saying: 'I can't prove you're wrong and i have nothing to put up against your evidence but your evidence is not evidence and I feel in my bones I'm right, therefore I'm right and lots of people will support me too.'

That's the [i]Rationalist stand.

It's particularly rabid around the topic of Christianity when all reason goes to the dogs on the Rationalist side and they have to go round daubing on the sides of buses because they can't actually support their argument.

Punch - it makes sense.

Steve Hayes said...

I reject utterly the thesis that in order to be labelled intellectual, one must speak or write in an unintelligible manner, coining obscure personal definitions and bamboozling the hoi-polloi with one’s erudition.

You and Stanslav Andreski both. And I third that motion.

ScotsToryB said...

James,

'One of the major tasks of my students at university was to take tomes by seemingly eminent writers and to spend 70% of the available time translating them into a form of English that an educated English speaker could comprehend, thence to break down the key concepts into clear writing and the remaining 10% of the time both internalizing the points made and deciding if they were worth the effort of undertaking the exercise in the first place.'

'In philosophy, essence is the attribute or set of attributes that make an object or substance what it fundamentally is, and which it has by necessity, and without which it loses its identity.'

If one thing is made of elements then any lost element makes it something else.

Oops, scratch that, try:

If one thing has parts then any lost part makes it something else.

Philosophy.
Simples.


If a part is added is the essence also changed?

AArgh.

But seriously what does 'internalizing the points made' mean?

STB.

James Higham said...

internalizing the points made

Yes, it does look a bit double entendre, on reflection.

xlbrl said...

Wittgenstein is especially interesting because he made a great case for each period of his life before he rejected it for the next. But at the last stage he had the humility to say, 'Just improve yourself; that is the only thing you can do to better the world.'
Not an inspiring message for professors, philosophers, and politicians.

James Higham said...

Have to concede I've quoted him a few times myself but as I've stuck my neck out postulating that philosophy is sophistry, I'd best not concede too much.