An Intellectual Truce

Steven Pinker in New Republic writing Science Is Not Your Enemy – An impassioned plea to neglected novelists, embattled professors, and tenure-less historians – for an intellectual truce. (Posted by BHA on Facebook)

Not quite sure why particularly the neglected, embattled and tenure-less, but a plea for a truce between science and humanities. Good to add Pinker to Al Khalili amongst the scientists recognising that ongoing war is not the way forward. Science has no monopoly on intellectual rationality so it, or rather it’s more righteous scientistic humanists, really should stop attacking the humanities if they don’t want to be seen as the enemy.

The Catch-22 is that because scientistic rationality holds sway politically, socially and culturally, the humanities are indeed embattled when it comes the cycles of funding and resources. The Mexican stand-off does require the party holding the upper hand to fold first, but it takes two in any event. Pinker is of course making the case for the scientistic side only, so …


Diagnoses of the malaise of the humanities rightly point to anti-intellectual trends in our culture and to the commercialization of our universities. But an honest appraisal would have to acknowledge that some of the damage is self-inflicted. The humanities have yet to recover from the disaster of post-modernism, with its defiant obscurantism, dogmatic relativism, and suffocating political correctness.

If anything is naïve and simplistic, it is the conviction that the legacy silos of academia should be fortified and that we should be forever content with current ways of making sense of the world. Surely our conceptions of politics, culture, and morality have much to learn from our best understanding of the physical universe and of our make-up as a species.

But it’s not simply commercialisation and anti-intellectual trends is it Mr Pinker? That is being simplistic. It’s a reaction to an intellectualism based on scientistic standards alone. It’s a reaction to scientistic commercialism based on objective “outcomes”. Sure there were excesses in post-modernism and the like, their excesses were probably making a point, and all schools have their extremists somewhere along the line. The politically correct suffocation is if anything caused by the scientistic standards in policy-making, which exclude all non-objective standards of “correctness”.

Surely our conceptions of science and rationality have much to learn from our humanistic values. It takes two to truce.

[Post Note : Link to John Brock’s blog – Cracking the Enigma – and his post on Bronowski in response to the Pinker post comments on Twitter. One to follow – majoring on Autism – another topic here.]

3 thoughts on “An Intellectual Truce”

  1. That illustrates the point perfectly, how pernicious the problem really is. Pointing out that “surely” is not an argument, is not an argument either. You know I know Dennett, and you know I know you know that’s a Quninian allusion, so … let’s not waste each other’s time:

    Anyway, it wasn’t an argument it was a statement BTW. So why not address the actual issue, it said “surely” to emphasise that the issue was complementary to Pinker’s own assertion – plea in fact, but not an argument in any way – that the humanities have something to learn from science. The point I made was science (the scientistic) have just as much to learn from the humanities. Agree, disagree, question, suggest alternative statement that could be agreed on, etc …?

    (Surprised you picked on this post, given the last one on Krauss )

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