Sunday, October 02, 2016

Swinging cats

Soon-Yi and Allen - I had to pass them because
they walk slow like a couple of tourists
You can't swing a cat without hitting a celebrity in this town. Today I went to a Meetup meeting for Philosophy over on the UES across the park from me and got to meet Massimo Pigliucci who was presenting a lecture with audience participation on the topic of morality vs. ethics. Of course he's not known outside of the world of philosophy, but he's a pretty big deal within it. I had heard the name before but I wasn't aware that Pigliucci was such a prominent critic of Sam Harris - I've been a non-prominent critic of Sam Harris for years on this blog.

After the meeting I found this excellent piece online, Reflections on the skeptic and atheist movements in which Pigliucci says:

I have already mentioned Harris, who writes about ethics with little acknowledgment (or understanding, or both) of just how complex a topic it is, and how much literature there is out there to engage with. As he infamously wrote in the first footnote of chapter 1 of The Moral Landscape, “Many of my critics fault me for not engaging more directly with the academic literature on moral philosophy … [but] I am convinced that every appearance of terms like ‘metaethics,’ ‘deontology,’ … directly increases the amount of boredom in the universe.” Why are we taking such a brazen display of anti-intellectualism as anything more than a clear mark of an overinflated ego? But far from that, Michael Shermer then builds on Harris’ point (or perhaps simply restates it, at much greater length), coming out with yet another “revolutionary” book about the science of ethics, predicated on an argument that had so many holes in it that I felt a bit embarrassed having to explain them in a public forum a couple of years ago [15].
Pigliucci goes after other New Atheists I've expressed dislike for, Dawkins and Hitchens, although he doesn't mention Steven Pinker in this piece (he does elsewhere though.) He also criticizes Neil deGrass Tyson, which surprised me, but then I wasn't aware that Tyson had dismissed philosophy. And he goes after P. Z. Myers, unfairly, I thought, although I will agree that his Pharyngula can get really nasty - but I found it much worse before everybody realized what an asshole Dawkins was. And of course Dawkins himself was a contributor to the nastiness of Myers' blog, as I found out directly through personal experience.

I also disagree with Myers on some issues, most especially his defense of identitarians (aka Social Justice Warriors) like Suey Park of #cancelcolbert infamy, and I tangled with him briefly over Hillary Clinton a couple of months ago on Twitter. But he's generally one of the good guys. And naturally he had plenty to say in response to Pigliucci.

I'm surprised it took me so long to really become acquainted with Pigliucci's critiques of the New Atheists, since he's especially well-qualified to defend philosophy from their attacks, being not only a long-time skeptic/atheist activist but also an evolutionary biologist as well as a philosopher. 

I came to know the New Atheist celebrities not through their various political controversies but through my disagreements with evolutionary psychology. Which I discovered via the anthropologist Marvin Harris, who criticized it back when it was known as sociobiology. 

And I came to philosophy also from Marvin Harris, through his criticism of Hegel (and the Hegelian dialectic) and his quoting Schopenhauer. In fact currently if you Google "Marvin Harris, Hegel, Schopenhauer" my blog post is the first hit.

So like so many New Atheist notions, the idea that philosophy is no longer of value, to be replaced by "real" science is overweening and absurd.

After the Philosophy-in-Manhattan Meetup, I walked home through Central Park when I was stuck on a path walking behind a slow couple in front of me. To my annoyance it was another one of these old man with a much younger woman couples, which I see so often on the Upper West Side due to old men using their wealth by buy women. But as I passed their slow asses I realized it was in fact Woody Allen and Soon-Yi. 

I once fantasized that if I ever ran into Woody Allen, whom I despise at least as much as New Atheists, I would kick him, but thanks to this natural experiment I have discovered I would not. But I still think he's a creep. And he walks like a freaking tourist.