Author Topic: Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now  (Read 18388 times)

Re: Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now
« Reply #120 on: October 01, 2020, 02:32:13 PM »
It's true his main subjects are evolutionary psychology and linguistics, but his books have branched out from there into social science (including historically and historically based social science) with the advent of The Blank Slate and that was two decades ago.

You think if you had two decades to study something professionally that you would have read a few books?

He's also an admitted novice at philosophy, though a committed atheist... so not very receptive to religious philosophy, if that's what you mean by philosophical argumenst.

Religion aside, you can see his humble attitude in how he addresses the reigning points of divergence from his peers in philosophy departments in "How The Mind Works": and I quote "beats me". 

He is, regarding philosophy, at least very familiar with two giants in philosophy: Daniel Dennett and Jerry Fodor, if you have heard his name - sort of obscure except to students of linguistics. But there's no need to defend him on his philosophical acuity because it is not his area. In "Enlightenment Now" he dares to attack Nietzsche at a refreshingly unphilosophical level. I will have to transcribe that part some time tomorrow. It really made me feel ashamed for my penchant for the great man. And that is a decidedly non-philosophical insight that I am more grateful for than any potential intellectual argument against his ideas.

I was talking about Dawkins there. I wouldn't say this about Pinker so much, though he does have his blind spots, I've criticised him for other things really.

Dawkins is far more guilty of blundering into topics he's not knowledgeable about.

Pinker it's not so much that he's outright wrong, it's that the conclusions he draws are too sweeping and lack the vast shades of grey required and he uses them to advocate things I disagree with.

Re: Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now
« Reply #121 on: October 01, 2020, 02:52:49 PM »
As I recall (and I might be wrong) isn't Pinker's criticism of Nietzsche that he's a cold, power worshipping proto-genocidal maniac? This is literally the most common misreading of Nietzsche out there. I'm not sure how anyone could be that taken with it.

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Re: Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now
« Reply #122 on: October 01, 2020, 02:54:21 PM »
Oh, sorry Thugler. Yeah I totally agree with you about Dawkins and religious philosophy to be honest.

Re Chveik: Personally I only ever heard the argument made as eloquently by Bertrand Russell in the very book he quotes in the passage (History of Western Philosophy - my paperbook has the page folded down on that very page of the chapter, I'm proud to say). I am sure more people have made the argument but personally I mostly hear strong defenses of Nietzsche, and for good reasons, but some misguided reasons, as Pinker outlines.

And here is the excerpt - I realized I could just find the text and copy it without having to transcribe any small part. So don't mind me while I dump this into the thread for the uninitiated.

Bernice: if you think it a misreading, you are saying that Bertrand Russell did not know how to appraise a philosopher

If one wanted to single out a thinker who represented the opposite of humanism (indeed, of pretty much every argument in this book), one couldn’t do better than the German philologist Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900). 109 Earlier in the chapter I fretted about how humanistic morality could deal with a callous, egoistic, megalomaniacal sociopath. Nietzsche argued that it’s good to be a callous, egoistic, megalomaniacal sociopath. Not good for everyone, of course, but that doesn’t matter: the lives of the mass of humanity (the “botched and the bungled,” the “chattering dwarves,” the “flea-beetles”) count for nothing. What is worthy in life is for a superman ( Übermensch, literally “overman”) to transcend good and evil, exert a will to power, and achieve heroic glory. Only through such heroism can the potential of the species be realized and humankind lifted to a higher plane of being. The feats of greatness may not consist, though, in curing disease, feeding the hungry, or bringing about peace, but rather in artistic masterworks and martial conquest. Western civilization has gone steadily downhill since the heyday of Homeric Greeks, Aryan warriors, helmeted Vikings, and other manly men. It has been especially corrupted by the “slave morality” of Christianity, the worship of reason by the Enlightenment, and the liberal movements of the 19th century that sought social reform and shared prosperity. Such effete sentimentality led only to decadence and degeneration. Those who have seen the truth should “philosophize with a hammer” and give modern civilization the final shove that would bring on the redemptive cataclysm from which a new order would rise. Lest you think I am setting up a straw Übermensch, here are some quotations:


 I abhor the man’s vulgarity when he says “What is right for one man is right for another”; “Do not to others that which you would not that they should do unto you.”. . . . The hypothesis here is ignoble to the last degree: it is taken for granted that there is some sort of equivalence in value between my actions and thine.
 I do not point to the evil and pain of existence with the finger of reproach, but rather entertain the hope that life may one day become more evil and more full of suffering than it has ever been.
 Man shall be trained for war and woman for the recreation of the warrior. All else is folly. . . . Thou goest to woman? Do not forget thy whip.
 A declaration of war on the masses by higher men is needed. . . . A doctrine is needed powerful enough to work as a breeding agent: strengthening the strong, paralyzing and destructive for the world-weary. The annihilation of the humbug called “morality.” . . . The annihilation of the decaying races. . . . Dominion over the earth as a means of producing a higher type.
 That higher Party of Life which would take the greatest of all tasks into its hands, the higher breeding of humanity, including the merciless extermination of everything degenerate and parasitical, would make possible again that excess of life on earth from which the Dionysian state will grow again.


These genocidal ravings may sound like they come from a transgressive adolescent who has been listening to too much death metal, or a broad parody of a James Bond villain like Dr. Evil in Austin Powers. In fact Nietzsche is among the most influential thinkers of the 20th century, continuing into the 21st.
 Most obviously, Nietzsche helped inspire the romantic militarism that led to the First World War and the fascism that led to the Second. Though Nietzsche himself was neither a German nationalist nor an anti-Semite, it’s no coincidence that these quotations leap off the page as quintessential Nazism: Nietzsche posthumously became the Nazis’ court philosopher. (In his first year as chancellor, Hitler made a pilgrimage to the Nietzsche Archive, presided over by Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche,Förster-Nietzsche, the philosopher’s sister and literary executor, who tirelessly encouraged the connection.) The link to Italian Fascism is even more direct: Benito Mussolini wrote in 1921 that “the moment relativism linked up with Nietzsche, and with his Will to Power, was when Italian Fascism became, as it still is, the most magnificent creation of an individual and a national Will to Power.”

The links to Bolshevism and Stalinism—from the Superman to the New Soviet Man—are less well known but amply documented by the historian Bernice Glatzer Rosenthal.The connections between Nietzsche’s ideas and the megadeath movements of the 20th century are obvious enough: a glorification of violence and power, an eagerness to raze the institutions of liberal democracy, a contempt for most of humanity, and a stone-hearted indifference to human life.

 You’d think this sea of blood would be enough to discredit Nietzsche’s ideas among intellectuals and artists. But he is, incredibly, widely admired. “Nietzsche is pietzsche,” says a popular campus graffito and T-shirt. It’s not because the man’s doctrines are particularly cogent.

As Bertrand Russell pointed out in A History of Western Philosophy, they “might be stated more simply and honestly in the one sentence: ‘I wish I had lived in the Athens of Pericles or the Florence of the Medici.’”

The ideas fail the first test of moral coherence, namely generalizability beyond the person offering them. If I could go back in time, I might confront him as follows:“I am a superman: hard, cold, terrible, without feelings and without conscience. As you recommend, I will achieve heroic glory by exterminating some chattering dwarves. Starting with you, Shorty. And I might do a few things to that Nazi sister of yours, too. Unless, that is, you can think of a reason why I should not.” [love this part - R]

 So if Nietzsche’s ideas are repellent and incoherent, why do they have so many fans? Perhaps it is not surprising that an ethic in which the artist (together with the warrior) is uniquely worthy of living should appeal to so many artists. A sample: W. H. Auden, Albert Camus, André Gide, D. H. Lawrence, Jack London, Thomas Mann, Yukio Mishima, Eugene O’Neill, William Butler Yeats, Wyndham Lewis, and (with reservations) George Bernard Shaw, author of Man and Superman. (P. G. Wodehouse, in contrast, has Jeeves, a Spinoza fan, say to Bertie Wooster, “You would not enjoy Nietzsche, sir. He is fundamentally unsound.”) Nietzschean values also appeal to many Second Culture literary intellectuals (recall Leavis sneering at Snow’s concern with global poverty and disease because “great literature” is “what men live by”) and to social critics who like to snigger at the “booboisie” (as H. L. Mencken, “the American Nietzsche,” called the common folk). Though she later tried to conceal it, Ayn Rand’s celebration of selfishness, her deification of the heroic capitalist, and her disdain for the general welfare had Nietzsche written all over them.

 As Mussolini made clear, Nietzsche was an inspiration to relativists everywhere. Disdaining the commitment to truth-seeking among scientists and Enlightenment thinkers, Nietzsche asserted that “there are no facts, only interpretations,” and that “truth is a kind of error without which a certain species of life could not live.”

 (Of course, this left him unable to explain why we should believe that those statements are true.) For that and other reasons, he was a key influence on Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, Jacques Derrida, and Michel Foucault, and a godfather to all the intellectual movements of the 20th century that were hostile to science and objectivity, including Existentialism, Critical Theory, Poststructuralism, Deconstructionism, and Postmodernism.
 Nietzsche, to give him credit, was a lively stylist, and one might excuse the fandom of artists and intellectuals if it consisted of an appreciation of his literary panache and an ironic reading of his portrayal of a mindset that they themselves rejected. Unfortunately, the mindset has sat all too well with all too many of them. A surprising number of 20th-century intellectuals and artists have gushed over totalitarian dictators, a syndrome that the intellectual historian Mark Lilla calls tyrannophilia.

 Some tyrannophiles were Marxists, working on the time-honored principle “He may be an SOB, but he’s our SOB.” But many were Nietzschean. The most notorious were Martin Heidegger and the legal philosopher Carl Schmitt, who were gung-ho Nazis and Hitler acolytes. Indeed, no autocrat of the 20th century lacked champions among the clerisy, including Mussolini (Ezra Pound, Shaw, Yeats, Lewis), Lenin (Shaw, H. G. Wells), Stalin (Shaw, Sartre, Beatrice and Sidney Webb, Brecht, W. E. B. Du Bois, Pablo Picasso, Lillian Hellman), Mao (Sartre, Foucault, Du Bois, Louis Althusser, Steven Rose, Richard Lewontin), the Ayatollah Khomeini (Foucault), (Foucault), and Castro (Sartre, Graham Greene, Günter Grass, Norman Mailer, Harold Pinter, and, as we saw in chapter 21 , Susan Sontag). At various times Western intellectuals have also sung the praises of Ho Chi Minh, Muammar Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein, Kim Il-sung, Pol Pot, Julius Nyerere, Omar Torrijos, Slobodan Milošević, and Hugo Chávez.

 Why should intellectuals and artists, of all people, kiss up to murderous dictators? One might think that intellectuals would be the first to deconstruct the pretexts of power, and artists to expand the scope of human compassion. (Thankfully, many have done just that.) One explanation, offered by the economist Thomas Sowell and the sociologist Paul Hollander, is professional narcissism. Intellectuals and artists may feel unappreciated in liberal democracies, which allow their citizens to tend to their own needs in markets and civic organizations. Dictators implement theories from the top down, assigning a role to intellectuals that they feel is commensurate with their worth. But tyrannophilia is also fed by a Nietzschean disdain for the common man, who annoyingly prefers schlock to fine art and culture, and by an admiration of the superman who transcends the messy compromises of democracy and heroically implements a vision of the good society.

Though Nietzsche’s romantic heroism glorifies the singular Übermensch rather than any collectivity, it’s a short step to interpret his “single stronger species of man” as a tribe, race, or nation. With this substitution, Nietzschean ideas were taken up by Nazism, fascism, and other forms of Romantic nationalism, and they star in a political drama that continues to the present day.

 I used to think that Trumpism was pure id, an upwelling of tribalism and authoritarianism from the dark recesses of the psyche. But madmen in authority distill their frenzy from academic scribblers of a few years back, and the phrase “intellectual roots of Trumpism” is not oxymoronic. Trump was endorsed in the 2016 election by 136 “Scholars and Writers for America” in a manifesto called “Statement of Unity.” 116 Some are connected to the Claremont Institute, a think tank that has been called “the academic home of Trumpism.” 117 And Trump has been closely advised by two men, Stephen Bannon and Michael Anton, who are reputed to be widely read and who consider themselves serious intellectuals. Anyone who wants to go beyond personality in understanding authoritarian populism must appreciate the two ideologies behind them, both of them militantly opposed to Enlightenment humanism and each influenced, in different ways, by Nietzsche. One is fascist, the other reactionary—not in the common left-wing sense of “anyone who is more conservative than me,” but in their original, technical senses.

 Fascism, from the Italian word for “group” or “bundle,” grew out of the Romantic notion that the individual is a myth and that people are inextricable from their culture, bloodline, and homeland. 119 The early fascist intellectuals, including Julius Evola (1898–1974) and Charles Maurras (1868–1952), have been rediscovered by neo-Nazi parties in Europe and by Bannon and the alt-right movement in the United States, all of whom acknowledge the influence of Nietzsche.

 Today’s Fascism Lite, which shades into authoritarian populism and Romantic nationalism, is sometimes justified by a crude version of evolutionary psychology in which the unit of selection is the group, evolution is driven by the survival of the fittest group in competition with other groups, and humans have been selected to sacrifice their interests for the supremacy of their group. (This contrasts with mainstream evolutionary psychology, in which the unit of selection is the gene.)

 It follows that no one can be a cosmopolitan, a citizen of the world: to be human is to be a part of a nation. A multicultural, multiethnic society can never work, because its people will feel rootless and alienated and its culture will be flattened to the lowest common denominator. For a nation to subordinate its interests to international agreements is to forfeit its birthright to greatness and become a chump in the global competition of all against all. And since a nation is an organic whole, its greatness can be embodied in the greatness of its leader, who voices the soul of the people directly, unencumbered by the millstone of an administrative state.

 The reactionary ideology is theoconservatism.

Belying the flippant label (coined by the apostate Damon Linker as a play on “neoconservatism”), the first theocons were 1960s radicals who redirected their revolutionary fervor from the hard left to the hard right. They advocate nothing less than a rethinking of the Enlightenment roots of the American political order. The recognition of a right to life, liberty, and ...

Re: Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now
« Reply #123 on: October 02, 2020, 12:41:53 AM »
What Pinker does there, I think, is avoid grappling with a problem.
He sees the sometimes despicable ideas that intellectuals have come up with and tries to find ulterior motives: they were vain, they were narcissistic, they were snobs etc. Ironically this was often Nietzsche's tactic.

But the real problem, which he is avoiding, is this: Most of the time, these philosophers came up with their ideas not because they were evil or vain but because they were philosophers. They were using the same tools as the enlightenment thinkers he admires, they wrote books that used sustained rational argumentation, and they ended up in weird places following those very methods. He wants to simultaneously praise rationality and damn a ton of philosophers, which almost inevitably leads to contradictions.

Pinker cherry-picks Nietzsche quotes to give a false view of what reading Nietzsche is like- go and read "On The Genealogy of Morals" and you'll see the real problem- Pinker is absolutely right to think that we can see a foreshadowing of Nazi ideas in Nietzsche's praise of the vitality of Roman culture and his hatred of the "slave mentality" of Judaeo-Christian culture, but to pretend that it's an idiotic book that reads like something off of a Neo-Nazi blog, (the impression you'd get from those quotes) is to avoiding problems with rationality itself can lead to- really "smart" people can end up with bizarre views.

I do recommend Ernest Gellner's (pro-Enlightment) Reason and Culture as a good overview of rationality and its discontents.

chveik

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Re: Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now
« Reply #124 on: October 02, 2020, 01:30:16 AM »
Quote
Bernice: if you think it a misreading, you are saying that Bertrand Russell did not know how to appraise a philosopher

that's just an argument of authority, it's very common to see a philosopher misunderstand the arguments of another's (especially when it happens during the whole continental/analytic division)

it's pure sophistry, instead of bothering to read Nietzsche and looking into his philosophy of history (in this case), he's just using some dodgy quotes and the fact that he might have influenced nazism in some way. that's the problem with people always going on about the enlightnement, they don't seem to take Reason very seriously.

besides, since Voltaire was a slave trader, Kant a massive racist, Fichte shaped German nationalism etc. it's very easy to use this argument against his 'humanist' heroes.

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Re: Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now
« Reply #125 on: October 02, 2020, 10:30:33 AM »
Well then... is to say "(it is a fact that) his reading is a misreading" not itself an appeal to authority? I at least named mine.

Secondly, to say Voltaire was racist would be irrelevant to the man's ideas. Nietzsche, on the other hand, expressly detested liberal democracy, and to point this out with quotations is not mere tittle-tattle, but a direct confrontation of his political-philosophical system.[1]

But in any case, Chveik. Why do you defend Nietzsche's rejection of "the first principle of moral coherence", as Pinker puts it? If you are weaker than me, for example, does that mean that I can dispose of you as I will?
 1. I cannot resist saying that I am, in fact, a big fan of Nietzsche. I have read him in the original German, and I appreciate his visionary thinking on the "deep" need for religion, his attendant criticisms of liberal thought, and his iconoclastic treatment of Christian morality: and so it is quite amazing to me that I find myself arguing against him on such a left-wing forum as CaB. I blame Foucault.
« Last Edit: October 02, 2020, 10:56:32 AM by Retinend »

chveik

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Re: Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now
« Reply #126 on: October 02, 2020, 03:59:37 PM »
well if you frame the question that way, I wouldn't defend him. but I don't think it's as straightforward as that.

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Re: Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now
« Reply #127 on: October 02, 2020, 05:51:07 PM »
For the record, I think you are right, but I do think Pinker/Russell's simple riposte something of a hard "brake" on my enthusiasm for him.

Re: Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now
« Reply #128 on: October 11, 2020, 05:49:56 AM »
Jason Hickel:
Quote
... And in 2018 Steven Pinker published the bestselling Enlightenment Now, a book-length Buzzfeed article with graphs stacked up in support of a grand meta-narrative of progress. A linguist by profession, Pinker has made a name for himself in recent years – notably through his much-viewed TED talks – as a commentator on world-historical trends, and now stands as a leading figure of the ideological movement that has come to be known as New Optimism.

... There’s nothing wrong with celebrating progress. Humanity has made some extraordinary gains in recent history that deserve our attention. But that’s not really what New Optimism is about. The movement’s core argument isn’t just that things have improved, but rather that the progress we’ve seen has been fuelled by the spread of capitalism around the world. As Pinker puts it: ‘Industrial capitalism launched the Great Escape from universal poverty in the 19th century and is rescuing the rest of humankind in a Great Convergence in the 21st.’ Some prominent voices within the movement take this further, and argue that it’s not just capitalism that we have to thank, but specifically the neoliberal variety that has dominated the world economy since the 1980s.

... It’s a powerful story. In today’s political climate, New Optimism is routinely weaponized by those who seek to defend an economic model that has otherwise been haemorrhaging credibility. It has become a kind of last-ditch battle cry for the status quo.

... In their hands, the story of human progress has been distorted into a cartoonishly simple narrative wherein capitalism is responsible for virtually everything good that has happened in modern history and nothing bad. The fact that the most important gains in human welfare have been won by labour unions and social movements, enabled by publicly funded research and secured by public healthcare and education systems, almost always in the face of determined and even violent resistance from the capitalist class, is never acknowledged. Egregious disparities in social indicators between classes and nations are papered over in favour of aggregate trends. And the decidedly regressive sides of capitalism – colonization, genocide, plantation slavery, oil wars, regular attacks on workers’ rights and welfare systems, and, perhaps most damningly, climate change and ecological breakdown – are either downplayed or ignored altogether.

... For one, the good-news story relies on an extremely low poverty line of $1.90 per day. ... But, remarkably, there is no empirical basis for the $1.90 line in terms of its ability to satisfy basic human needs. It is arbitrary and meaningless as a measure of global poverty. In fact, we have mountains of evidence showing that people who live just above this line remain crushingly poor in every respect, with terribly high levels of malnutrition, infant mortality, and low life expectancy.

... The literature on this issue is now vast, and yet – remarkably – New Optimists like Gates and Pinker have never engaged with it.

When we measure global poverty using evidence-based poverty lines, the story changes completely. At the $7.40 threshold – which is still at the low end of the metrics scholars have proposed – we find that the number of people in poverty hasn’t declined at all. Rather, it has grown dramatically since 1981, going from 3.2 billion to 4.2 billion, according to World Bank data. Six times higher than the 730 million Gates and Pinker would have us believe.

Those 4.2 billion people make up 58 per cent of the world’s population, which is a staggering proportion. That is down from 71 per cent in 1981 – a welcome decline, but a far cry from the dramatic plunge that the New Optimists claim. Suddenly the grand story of progress seems tepid, mediocre and – in a world that’s as fabulously rich as ours – completely unacceptable. What’s more, the vast majority of the gains that have been achieved over this period have come from one region: China and the East Asian tigers. Even if we take just China out of the equation, we find that the proportion of people in poverty today is almost exactly the same as it was in 1981, with no net progress at all.

This is a crucial point, because the economic success of China and the East Asian tigers is due not to the neoliberal policies that the New Optimists espouse, but rather to state-led industrial policy, protectionism and regulation. These countries have integrated into the world economy, to be sure, but they have done so on their own terms. Contrary to the New Optimist narrative, they cannot be recruited in defence of Washington Consensus neoliberalism. To do so is intellectually dishonest. After all, policies used by China – such as capital controls, industrial subsidies and forced technology transfers – have long infuriated free marketeers, including Gates.

... Things have improved a bit on the poverty front since 2000, to be sure. But World Bank data shows that the most impressive gains (outside of East Asia) have come from Latin America. These improvements have coincided with the Pink Tide, the leftwing governments that have swept to power across much of the continent since the turn of the century, in many cases challenging the US’s economic power over the region. Their gains against poverty have been driven by social-welfare, not ‘free market’, policies. Whatever one might think about these governments – and there are plenty of critiques to be made – this doesn’t sit well with New Optimists’ narrative. It’s an uncomfortable fact that they have never acknowledged.

... Steven Pinker is fond of saying that progressives who criticize his rosy good-news narrative ‘hate progress’, because any improvements that have been delivered by capitalism are, as he puts it, ‘humiliating to their worldview’. It’s a bizarre claim, and only makes sense if one accepts a very narrow definition of progress. You see, the New Optimists are content to measure progress as any improvement on the past. From this perspective, an increase in income of even two cents per year gets held up as a grand story of success.

For progressives, this isn’t good enough. In the progressive tradition, progress is measured not against a pre-existing state but rather against what is just. From the perspective of justice, it is not acceptable that 60 per cent of humanity should be crippled by poverty when even a small shift of existing global income from the rich could put an end to their suffering in a single stroke. These are the kind of advances that progressives want to see: the world’s majority receiving decent wages, fair prices for their resources, and an equal share of global yields to which they disproportionately contribute. These are not radical demands, and they would be easy to implement – yet for some reason Pinker and other New Optimists actively reject such a future. For them, the inequitable distribution of global income is acceptable, and indeed is to be celebrated, so long as the poor get another penny or two each year.

[Emphasis added.]

Full: https://newint.org/features/2019/07/01/long-read-progress-and-its-discontents

Re: Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now
« Reply #129 on: October 11, 2020, 02:26:36 PM »
Everyone loving Capitalism for getting China out of poverty tend to overlook Mao and Deng for some bizarre reason

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Re: Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now
« Reply #130 on: October 12, 2020, 07:55:00 PM »
Quote
If the waves began to reflect, they would suppose that they were advancing, that they had a goal, that they were making progress, that they were working for the Sea's good, and they would not fail to elaborate a philosophy as stupid as their zeal.

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Re: Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now
« Reply #131 on: October 15, 2020, 11:11:23 AM »
(Okay, delurking time again. I apologise in advance for this.)

Bernice: if you think it a misreading, you are saying that Bertrand Russell did not know how to appraise a philosopher


Russell is notoriously biased and inaccurate whenever he talks about anything outside the analytic tradition.

[/sub] The ideas fail the first test of moral coherence, namely generalizability beyond the person offering them. If I could go back in time, I might confront him as follows:“I am a superman: hard, cold, terrible, without feelings and without conscience. As you recommend, I will achieve heroic glory by exterminating some chattering dwarves. Starting with you, Shorty. And I might do a few things to that Nazi sister of yours, too. Unless, that is, you can think of a reason why I should not.” [love this part - R]

The reason this argument is point-missing is because Russell's response to Nietzsche's rejection of traditional morality is, ultimately, a threat of potential violence - "if you do X I'll do Y to you" - but this just plays into Nietzsche's claim that moral arguments ultimately amount to nothing more than one person's power vs. another person's power. This is why reciprocal Golden-Rule type arguments have to be made very carefully (Kant ties himself in near-impenetrable knots over this).

Russell's argument that Nietzsche's view 'fails the first test of moral coherence' is irrelevant given that Nietzsche obviously rejects the whole idea of 'moral coherence' in the first place: his whole schtick is based on arguing that seemingly-obvious moral claims aren't philosophically coherent or defensible in the way that most moral philosophers treat them as, and that moral philosophers in general just aren't really doing the thing they claim to be.

Now this worldview obviously drives Nietzsche to some very strange and objectionable places indeed. But his views aren't just trivial in the way that Russell is portraying them.

Some tyrannophiles were Marxists, working on the time-honored principle “He may be an SOB, but he’s our SOB.” But many were Nietzschean. The most notorious were Martin Heidegger and the legal philosopher Carl Schmitt, who were gung-ho Nazis and Hitler acolytes. Indeed, no autocrat of the 20th century lacked champions among the clerisy, including Mussolini (Ezra Pound, Shaw, Yeats, Lewis), Lenin (Shaw, H. G. Wells), Stalin (Shaw, Sartre, Beatrice and Sidney Webb, Brecht, W. E. B. Du Bois, Pablo Picasso, Lillian Hellman), Mao (Sartre, Foucault, Du Bois, Louis Althusser, Steven Rose, Richard Lewontin), the Ayatollah Khomeini (Foucault), (Foucault), and Castro (Sartre, Graham Greene, Günter Grass, Norman Mailer, Harold Pinter, and, as we saw in chapter 21 , Susan Sontag). At various times Western intellectuals have also sung the praises of Ho Chi Minh, Muammar Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein, Kim Il-sung, Pol Pot, Julius Nyerere, Omar Torrijos, Slobodan Milošević, and Hugo Chávez.

Well this is just disingenous muckraking on Pinker's part. 'Here are some writers I don't like who at one point expressed support for some bad men, presented without any nuance or context whatsoever'. Of course Bertrand Russell was also supportive of Lenin in the 1920s, and Frege (who basically invented mathematical logic and was one of the founders of analytic philosophy) was a rabid antisemite who probably died a Nazi. But Pinker leaves those inconvenient facts out, because 'their political views weren't relevant to their work', because he's just decided that they weren't.

(I honestly fail to see why Voltaire's attitudes towards race and slavery can be separated from his work in a way that, say, Sartre's attitudes towards Maoism can't. It seems to just boil down to 'I agree with writer X therefore their objectional views are irrelevant to their work, but I disagree with writer Y so their objectionable views condemn them for all time and mean I don't have to bother engaging with them'.)

(Fuckit post? Yes, fuckit post.)

Re: Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now
« Reply #132 on: October 15, 2020, 10:26:30 PM »
Excellent points.

I also think that Pinker is failing to pinpoint just where Nietszche's thinking stands in relation to Enlightenment principles, and the nature of the antagonism.

The core Enlightenment philosophy can be expressed as something like "Don't trust in custom and tradition, think things through for yourself rationally". But if Nietzsche is right, and we have secret, hidden motivations that are obscure even to us- for example, hunger for power (as Ominous Dave raises above), then our ability to think things through independently and logically becomes more questionable. And Nietzsche's stance here is recognisable as part of a family of related ideas that other people have advanced: for example, Freud thought we had hidden sexual motivations which we couldn't comprehend (without expensive therapy) but which affected our thoughts and actions; both Nietzsche and Freud were influenced by Schopenhauer who emphasised the influence of animal needs such as hunger on the human mind.

And just as it is possible to undermine our faith in an individual's ability to think things through by pointing out all the irrational, animalistic and unlovely drives behind their thoughts, it is also possible to "overmine" their thoughts and beliefs by showing that these thoughts are somewhat socially determined by larger social structures that a person is situated in: their thoughts are shaped by their language, by the national culture that they live in, by the social class they were born into, by some grand historical force of the type Hegel and Marx wrote about etc. It might be impossible to think our way out of traditions and customs, as rational thought requires us to do, because we don't know how deep their influence goes.

All these (mostly 19th century) ideas posed challenges to the Enlightenment ideal of an individual thinking things through independently. Weirdly, a lot of contemporary pop-science seems to me to be kind of similar undermining and overmining in its stance towards human agency: Wherever there is a possibility of arguing that our thoughts are caused by something other than a human mind thinking them ( by neurology, by evolutionarily programmed instincts, by a deep structure that organizes our language, by sociobiology, by a deterministic reality in which free will does not exist), that opportunity will be taken by the pop-scientists with relish. (The young Dawkins was an honourable exception when he closed the Selfish Gene by re-affirming human agency despite genetic influences).

Personally, I don't think that any of the above challenges strikes a killer blow against the idea of an individual's use of rationality. But, considering these issues can show us that if we want to think rationally, it is necessary to be honest with oneself about one's own motivations and background. At the point, it becomes possible to see the promise in enlightment-style thought.

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Re: Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now
« Reply #133 on: October 18, 2020, 12:08:54 AM »
Nietzsche sounds like he was a "just asking questions" kinda guy.

Re: Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now
« Reply #134 on: October 18, 2020, 01:02:30 AM »
"Wherever there is a possibility of arguing that our thoughts are caused by something other than a human mind thinking them ( by neurology, by evolutionarily programmed instincts, by a deep structure that organizes our language, by sociobiology, by a deterministic reality in which free will does not exist)"

it's interesting that you frame this as the human mind somehow being outside/somehow different to, those things you mention. I suppose that dualism at play. Personally I think (or do I?) that dualism is one of the most destructive pranks played on the human race in recent memory. Believing that our mind somehow exists separately from our body puts them in conflict, rather than being part of the same mechanism. It's kind of what Buddhism is getting at. to live each movement fully "in the moment", with thoughts simply being artefacts created by the workings of your brain, no better or worse than any other sensation created by the body. I've been a much happier person since I started meditating and started to reintegrate my thoughts back into my body, rather than treating them as 'me' and viewing my body as something else.

Re: Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now
« Reply #135 on: October 18, 2020, 11:01:57 AM »
"Wherever there is a possibility of arguing that our thoughts are caused by something other than a human mind thinking them ( by neurology, by evolutionarily programmed instincts, by a deep structure that organizes our language, by sociobiology, by a deterministic reality in which free will does not exist)"

it's interesting that you frame this as the human mind somehow being outside/somehow different to, those things you mention. I suppose that dualism at play. Personally I think (or do I?) that dualism is one of the most destructive pranks played on the human race in recent memory. Believing that our mind somehow exists separately from our body puts them in conflict, rather than being part of the same mechanism. It's kind of what Buddhism is getting at. to live each movement fully "in the moment", with thoughts simply being artefacts created by the workings of your brain, no better or worse than any other sensation created by the body. I've been a much happier person since I started meditating and started to reintegrate my thoughts back into my body, rather than treating them as 'me' and viewing my body as something else.

Rene Descartes' descriptions of mind-body dualism (see, for example Meditations Chapter 2) are foundational texts for, and defining examples of Enlightenment rationality, as are his defences of the existence of God in Meditations chapters 3 and 5.
That's not to say that rational attacks on his ideas haven't been made, nor to say that his ideas are true, just that if we want to make special claims about the Enlightenment, to talk about it, as Pinker does, as if it's the source of what's good and progressive in modern thought, then we can't just dismiss ideas like dualism as pranks, out-dated superstitious mistakes etc.


Re: Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now
« Reply #136 on: October 18, 2020, 04:58:24 PM »
I agree but I think that entire fundamental belief that the mind is somehow ‘something else’ is incorrect and is a hangover of religious ‘human exceptionalism’ that is at odds with a materialistic view of reality.

Doesn’t mean of course that the Enlightenment didn’t produce great things though.

Ominous Dave

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Re: Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now
« Reply #137 on: October 18, 2020, 05:50:23 PM »
Delurking again! Hooray.

"Wherever there is a possibility of arguing that our thoughts are caused by something other than a human mind thinking them ( by neurology, by evolutionarily programmed instincts, by a deep structure that organizes our language, by sociobiology, by a deterministic reality in which free will does not exist)"

Well to argue that our thoughts are caused by our mind thinking them just seems a bit confused. Surely our thoughts just are our minds thinking them? Identity relations aren't the same as causal relations.

Personally I think (or do I?) that dualism is one of the most destructive pranks played on the human race in recent memory.

Am tempted to agree with this, but I doubt for the same reasons as you. (Also we're really stretching the definition of 'recent memory' here.)

Believing that our mind somehow exists separately from our body puts them in conflict, rather than being part of the same mechanism.

Well to digress for a bit, I tend to frame the question in terms of intentionality[1]. What makes my thought about the teacup on my table about the physical teacup on my table? Well it can't just be the physical facts about what's going on in my brain and body, because it seems entirely possible that a different set of physical facts about me could be the case yet my thought about the teacup could still be about the teacup. So there seems to be something about intentionality that isn't straightforwardly reducible to physical facts.

Which isn't to say that there aren't obvious physical facts which could make it impossible for me to think about things - a brain injury say, or most obviously death. The question is whether it's possible to define any one-to-one relationship between the physical events in my brain and the things in the world that they supposedly count as thoughts-about, in a way that preserves any meaningful notion of 'aboutness'. The counterfactual arguments against that seem to me to be quite strong. (I'm probably just channelling Donald Davidson here.)

It's kind of what Buddhism is getting at. to live each movement fully "in the moment", with thoughts simply being artefacts created by the workings of your brain, no better or worse than any other sensation created by the body.

Doesn't traditional Buddhism claim that material reality is literally an illusion (at least in some sense)? It's certainly a bit of a stretch to invoke it to support a materialist account of the mind.

I've been a much happier person since I started meditating and started to reintegrate my thoughts back into my body, rather than treating them as 'me' and viewing my body as something else.

Genuinely happy to hear that, and I hope the rest of this post didn't come across as too snarky.
 1. Which sort of means 'aboutness', for anyone who wasn't raised in the same weird analytic philosophy cult as me.

Retinend

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Re: Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now
« Reply #138 on: October 20, 2020, 10:02:45 AM »
Sorry to derail the thread with more Pinker/Russell vs Nietzsche chat but...

Russell is notoriously biased and inaccurate whenever he talks about anything outside the analytic tradition.

Most of the book (A History of Western Philosophy) is dedicated to pre-modern philosophy. Analytic philosophy is a very small proportion of the book. It wouldn't continue to be read as much as it is if it were entirely inaccurate about the majority of its content.


The reason this argument is point-missing is because Russell's response to Nietzsche's rejection of traditional morality is, ultimately, a threat of potential violence - "if you do X I'll do Y to you" -

Russell responded to Nietzsche with the threat of violence? Joking, but I can't tell what you mean. Can you clarify?

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this just plays into Nietzsche's claim that moral arguments ultimately amount to nothing more than one person's power vs. another person's power. This is why reciprocal Golden-Rule type arguments have to be made very carefully (Kant ties himself in near-impenetrable knots over this).

OK. Why should we believe Nietzsche when he says that moral arguments are "nothing more" than that? Why not believe Pinker, who says that these moral arguments are fit for humans to use in order to improve their condition? If it's good enough for that (which is in evidence), why fret about the (lack of) transcendent nature of the rule?

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Russell's argument that Nietzsche's view 'fails the first test of moral coherence' is irrelevant

given that Nietzsche obviously rejects the whole idea of 'moral coherence' in the first place:

I'm lost. The criticism of Nietzsche for being incoherent is irrelevant because Nietzsche rejects coherence? Sounds more like a riddle than a counterpoint.

I sort of get it, though: In my reading, the reason he so often turned conventional morality on its head was in order to make us examine the concept of morality and see beyond our platitudes about it. He pointed out that to be meek and christian is often not morality at all, but a reflex, and that to strive for what is heroic is also a kind of morality, or is better than mere moralizing, because it creates new possibilities in the world (such as the replacement of God with man, famously).

To me he was trying to see beyond platitudes, which is an attempt to improve morality by making it more complex. I also think that to write a books about morality presumes tacit belief in "coherence" of subject matter. I don't know what an argument in favour of incoherence would even look like, since, as Pinker says in the book, the moment one opens one's mouth one is presuming that one will be understood. Can "understanding" itself exist without a coherence (meaning "coming together") of various information? I would say "no".

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Now this worldview obviously drives Nietzsche to some very strange and objectionable places indeed. But his views aren't just trivial in the way that Russell is portraying them.

I agree they are not trivial, but at the end of the day, after all the chin-stroking, one needs to decide whether they are good ideas or bad ideas. The specific bad idea that Russell and Pinker criticize is the notion that the strong-willed and "noble" in soul ought to inherit the earth.

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Well this is just disingenous muckraking on Pinker's part. 'Here are some writers I don't like who at one point expressed support for some bad men, presented without any nuance or context whatsoever'. Of course Bertrand Russell was also supportive of Lenin in the 1920s, and Frege (who basically invented mathematical logic and was one of the founders of analytic philosophy) was a rabid antisemite who probably died a Nazi. But Pinker leaves those inconvenient facts out, because 'their political views weren't relevant to their work', because he's just decided that they weren't.

He might well have included those people. The point is identical regardless of the specific individuals he chooses: the point is that intellectuals glorifying dictators with their intellectual capacities is far from unheard of (and for that reason, your example of Frege - who was antisemitic only in private - would not be fit for Pinker's purpose).

What's more, you boil it all down to "here are some writers I don't like", but Pinker passes no comment on the thinkers in that paragraph. He is not making a hitlist of writers he thinks are bad. Or do you know for a fact he detests Greene, Pinter, Yeats, Shaw and would like to defame them? Come on.

To get back to the intellectuals defending dictators: since it is not unheard of, it is important to recognize (lest we become such an intellectual) that there is a moral responsibility inherent in which intellectual ideas we glom on to. I will admit that a lot of the pleasure of reading Nietzsche for me is the pleasure of feeling a sense of superiority; believing in my own will to power. I reject it in the clear light of day, though. I hope no public figure comes around in the next few decades that excites my sympathy for his righteous will to power and makes a believer out of me, as the soixante-huitards were so made by Mao. To me this is a sobering thought, not banal muckraking.
« Last Edit: October 20, 2020, 11:30:43 AM by Retinend »

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Re: Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now
« Reply #139 on: October 20, 2020, 11:16:32 AM »
And to underscore something: it is, as everyone reading this will know, very typical in books of intellectual history to discuss the reverberations of big ideas regardless of how differently they started. A classic example is how Hegel begat Marx. It might be that Nietzsche is, on the whole, still a thinker whom it is still acceptable to champion. I agree with that. Pinker does not. The point being that - if intellectual history books teach us one thing, it is that there is no clear line between philosophy and life. Marx begat Stalin and Nietzsche begat Hitler. For that reason I disagree with Astronaut Omens when he intimates that Nietzsche was "just doing philosophy" and going where the muse took him, which should mean that Pinker is barking up the wrong tree or something.
« Last Edit: October 20, 2020, 11:44:14 AM by Retinend »

Re: Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now
« Reply #140 on: October 20, 2020, 12:03:43 PM »
But aren't you effectively saying there that, pragmatically, it would have been better if Nietzche had never published his ideas? That it would have been more morally responsible of him to destroy his writings, even if he had arrived at his ideas sincerely and making use of what he considered rational thought?


And if that is the case, what does that say about the enlightenment ideals of reason and the free exchange of ideas?

Re: Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now
« Reply #141 on: October 20, 2020, 12:53:22 PM »
The above aren't really intended as 'gotcha!' rhetorical questions- I want to know what you mean by 'moral reponsibility'- you're talking as if the intellectuals who supported dictators were being lazy or something, when in almost every case they were sincere and made rational justifications for their ideas.
Again, none of this is to defend any of those mistakes, but to argue that we cannot celebrate Enlightenment values like rationality without some acknowledgement of the acres of intellectual rubbish those values have created. Pinker avoids doing this painful and necessary work in the text you quoted by acting as if Nietzche,  et al belonged to some completely intellectual tradition ..

(edited to add)
....or only made mistakes because of irrational vices such as vanity.
« Last Edit: October 20, 2020, 01:39:07 PM by Astronaut Omens »

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Re: Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now
« Reply #142 on: October 20, 2020, 01:55:11 PM »
To address the second point first: I think, as you do, that all intellectual history is interconnected. There is no such thing as a clean break in history at all. Voltaire and Rousseau were both considered "enlightenment" figures at the time. But as time has gone on it's Voltaire who is seen as more typical of enlightenment values and Rousseau more typical of the ideas of the subsequent "counter-enlightenment" AKA romanticism. Nietzsche is, of course, not a million miles away from either in his style, because he is in the same "adversarial philosopher" mould that these individuals epitomized. Everything is interconnected.

And so I do understand why you prefer the historical approach... but I still appreciate that the historical approach would not serve Pinker's ends (namely, to delineate where the proverbial Rousseau and Voltaire diverge, not where they share common ground). I personally think the book is excellent and it just wouldn't be the same book if it were written with a more historical approach. This is an "ideas first" book, getting to the heart of the progressive ideas that are like water to a fish today, but did not exist in the age of Shakespeare. You assert that we cannot celebrate the good without acknowledging the bad. But, in conclusion, are you not merely saying that the book is not sufficiently historical in approach?

The main question, though, is what I'm talking about when I say that intellectuals have a moral responsibility to eschew supporting dictators... I just think so. Don't you? Even if I know that some intellectuals will continue doing it some of the time, it's still bad. And I don't want to fall into that trap due to being intellectually primed that way, as so many men and women more intelligent than I (and I never said "lazy") have been.

edit: oh, and should Nietzsche have burned his books? Nope. But the Übermensch is one of his worst ideas, and should be viewed as such, imo.
« Last Edit: October 20, 2020, 02:21:25 PM by Retinend »

Ominous Dave

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Re: Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now
« Reply #143 on: October 20, 2020, 04:49:47 PM »
Sorry to derail the thread with more Pinker/Russell vs Nietzsche chat but...

Most of the book (A History of Western Philosophy) is dedicated to pre-modern philosophy. Analytic philosophy is a very small proportion of the book. It wouldn't continue to be read as much as it is if it were entirely inaccurate about the majority of its content.

Sorry, I should've been more specific: by 'outside the analytic tradition' I really meant 19th/20th Century thinkers who are (usually) regarded as being outside or opposed to that tradition (Hegel, Nietzsche, Heidegger etc. - basically what's generally referred to as 'Continental philosophy' and its antecedents).

(He also seemed to never really get much of Wittgenstein was on about, despite once describing him as the greatest genius he'd ever met. But that's a whole other bunfight.)

Russell responded to Nietzsche with the threat of violence? Joking, but I can't tell what you mean. Can you clarify?

"I will achieve heroic glory by exterminating some chattering dwarves. Starting with you, Shorty. And I might do a few things to that Nazi sister of yours, too." I mean, this sounds like a threat of violence to me, albeit obviously not a serious one. The point is that the Russell quote you posted (which to be fair I haven't actually looked up the context of) is in effect a (fictionalised) assertion of his ability to cause harm, which Nietzsche would obviously say just plays into his view that moral arguments are really assertions of power.

OK. Why should we believe Nietzsche when he says that moral arguments are "nothing more" than that? Why not believe Pinker, who says that these moral arguments are fit for humans to use in order to improve their condition?

But what if we disagree about what 'improving the condition' of humans means? Or if we think that what's naturally good for one sort of human is different to what's naturally good for another sort (which is the sort of view that was often used to justify slavery)? Or if improving the condition of everyone is practically impossible so we have to choose whose to improve?

The point is that it's difficult to get from this kind of 'natural good'-type argument to any kind of egalitarian view of morality without some pre-existing moral assumptions sneaking in somewhere. And the idea that 'X is rationally justified' and 'X is useful for purpose Y' both reduce to the same thing gets you to a very troubling philosophical place if you follow it through all the way (which Nietzsche was arguably the first thinker to really appreciate).

If it's good enough for that (which is in evidence), why fret about the (lack of) transcendent nature of the rule?

Well as a pragmatist in general I'm in sympathy with this. But any sort of pragmatism must always rest on the assumption that the practical thing it's trying to achieve is in some way worth doing in the first place, so it doesn't really get us off the hook of morally justifying the rule.

I'm lost. The criticism of Nietzsche for being incoherent is irrelevant because Nietzsche rejects coherence? Sounds more like a riddle than a counterpoint.

Nietzsche rejects moral coherence, in the sense that he doesn't think a rationally-justifiable version of morality is possible. If someone reacts to this by pointing out that he hasn't offered a rationally-justifiable version of morality, his response is going to be 'Well, duh' (or whatever the 19th Century literary German equivalent of that is).

I don't know what an argument in favour of incoherence would even look like, since, as Pinker says in the book, the moment one opens one's mouth one is presuming that one will be understood. Can "understanding" itself exist without a coherence (meaning "coming together") of various information? I would say "no".

I sort-of agree, but this is a wholly negative point: the fact that we can't meaningfully describe a (logically) incoherent world doesn't imply that any particular version of coherence must exist. It doesn't really rule anything out other than a thing that can't be described in the first place.

I agree they are not trivial, but at the end of the day, after all the chin-stroking, one needs to decide whether they are good ideas or bad ideas.

I agree they're bad ideas, I just think they're bad ideas that are important to understand. (Which is almost what philosophy is: a history of bad ideas that are dangerously easy to fall into if we don't understand them well enough.)

But to try and get to the heart of what I'm really waffling on about here, I'm sceptical of this opposition Pinker and his ilk set up between Good Ideas vs. Bad Ideas: are ideas good because they're true, because they're morally praiseworthy, or because they practically lead to better outcomes? Too often these things are just assumed to necessarily dovetail with each other, which it's hard to come up with a non-circular justification for.

To put it in possibly oversimplistic terms: would society be better if everyone believed in things that are true rather than things that are false? And is there a non-circular justification for thinking this (ie, one that doesn't implicitly depend on the truth of beliefs being linked to their ability to create a better society)? I think this is a serious question (that obviously goes back to Plato, but maybe we shouldn't open that can of worms).

He might well have included those people. The point is identical regardless of the specific individuals he chooses: the point is that intellectuals glorifying dictators with their intellectual capacities is far from unheard of (and for that reason, your example of Frege - who was antisemitic only in private - would not be fit for Pinker's purpose).

What's more, you boil it all down to "here are some writers I don't like", but Pinker passes no comment on the thinkers in that paragraph. He is not making a hitlist of writers he thinks are bad. Or do you know for a fact he detests Greene, Pinter, Yeats, Shaw and would like to defame them? Come on.

That's fair enough, and Frege was probably a bad example.

Really my point should've been that whether a writer's support for this or that Evil Man says anything about their work has to be taken on a case-by-case basis. It's probably impossible to fully separate Heidegger's support for the Nazis from his work just because there's such an undercurrent of German nationalism and agrarian nostalgia that runs through everything he wrote even after WW2 (if anything, I find the later, weirder stuff even more creepily fascist than the early stuff). But I don't see how you can get to Maoism from 'Being and Nothingness'. That's why I don't think a context-free list like the one Pinker provides means all that much.

To get back to the intellectuals defending dictators: since it is not unheard of, it is important to recognize (lest we become such an intellectual) that there is a moral responsibility inherent in which intellectual ideas we glom on to. I will admit that a lot of the pleasure of reading Nietzsche for me is the pleasure of feeling a sense of superiority; believing in my own will to power. I reject it in the clear light of day, though.

I hope no public figure comes around in the next few decades that excites my sympathy for his righteous will to power and makes a believer out of me, as the soixante-huitards were so made by Mao. To me this is a sobering thought, not banal muckraking.

I suppose I just had a different experience of reading Nietzsche. For me he's most valuable as an ironic satirist of the Western philosophical tradition, who's actually surprisingly funny at times. I tend to skip the ranty Ubermench stuff (which IMO it's never entirely clear how literally we're meant to take in the first place, at least in the earlier books before the syphilis took hold).

(God this post has been fucking long, hasn't it? Oh well.)

Retinend

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Re: Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now
« Reply #144 on: October 20, 2020, 06:23:24 PM »
Sorry, I should've been more specific: by 'outside the analytic tradition' I really meant 19th/20th Century thinkers who are (usually) regarded as being outside or opposed to that tradition (Hegel, Nietzsche, Heidegger etc. - basically what's generally referred to as 'Continental philosophy' and its antecedents).

I am already aware of the term. But "outside the analytic tradition" was seeming to imply Russell was only interested in the analytic tradition and ignorant outside of it, which needed correction.

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"I will achieve heroic glory by exterminating some chattering dwarves. Starting with you, Shorty. And I might do a few things to that Nazi sister of yours, too." I mean, this sounds like a threat of violence to me, albeit obviously not a serious one. The point is that the Russell quote you posted (which to be fair I haven't actually looked up the context of) is in effect a (fictionalised) assertion of his ability to cause harm, which Nietzsche would obviously say just plays into his view that moral arguments are really assertions of power.

That was a quote from Enlightenment Now. It is a sort of (highly ironic, fictional, impossible) threat, I suppose, but Nietzsche's "obvious" response would be unconvincing, there. Pinker's "threat" demonstrates that you can't go around saying that might is right and complain when the chickens come home to roost. The response "moral arguments are assertions of power" would be no defense against the awful will of the Übermensch, which Nietzsche passionately exalted in his works. The upshot is that the idea is not a very good one if it's so easily turned on its head. It is an incoherent idea because Nietzsche would not welcome being treated as he prescribes Übermenschen ought to treat the weak.

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But what if we disagree about what 'improving the condition' of humans means? Or if we think that what's naturally good for one sort of human is different to what's naturally good for another sort (which is the sort of view that was often used to justify slavery)? Or if improving the condition of everyone is practically impossible so we have to choose whose to improve?

Do you not consider it "better" that you won't have to shovel coal this winter in order to keep warm? Or that you don't have to worry about unrefrigerated food starting to rot within 48 hours of purchase? Or buying ink and paper to send that message? Or that you can engage in the wider world via the internet during a global pandemic lockdown? I won't belabour the point because you get it. Do we in fact disagree?

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Nietzsche rejects moral coherence, in the sense that he doesn't think a rationally-justifiable version of morality is possible. If someone reacts to this by pointing out that he hasn't offered a rationally-justifiable version of morality, his response is going to be 'Well, duh' (or whatever the 19th Century literary German equivalent of that is).

What work are you referring to in which he makes this argument? Zur Genealogie der Moral? That's not rejecting coherence it's rejecting transcendent Christian morality. Whether he is talking about Herrenmoral or Sklavenmoral he is talking about systems of morality which are coherent unto themselves.

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I suppose I just had a different experience of reading Nietzsche. For me he's most valuable as an ironic satirist of the Western philosophical tradition, who's actually surprisingly funny at times. I tend to skip the ranty Ubermench stuff (which IMO it's never entirely clear how literally we're meant to take in the first place, at least in the earlier books before the syphilis took hold).

I don't think he was a satirist, or that he was writing in an ironic way. I think he was deadly serious in all of his writings, but wrote in a way that was visionary, somewhat mad, but completely sincere. He spent his whole life reading ancient texts and was a very lonely man. He was not a barrel of laughs satirist.

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Re: Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now
« Reply #145 on: October 20, 2020, 07:32:19 PM »
I don't think he was a satirist, or that he was writing in an ironic way. I think he was deadly serious in all of his writings, but wrote in a way that was visionary, somewhat mad, but completely sincere. He spent his whole life reading ancient texts and was a very lonely man. He was not a barrel of laughs satirist.

I struggle to see how that can prevent someone from being humorous.

Ominous Dave

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Re: Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now
« Reply #146 on: October 20, 2020, 07:43:51 PM »
Pinker's "threat" demonstrates that you can't go around saying that might is right and complain when the chickens come home to roost.

But that doesn't imply that it's wrong to say 'might is right', just that you should be careful about where you say it, which isn't a moral argument really.

The response "moral arguments are assertions of power" would be no defense against the awful will of the Übermensch, which Nietzsche passionately exalted in his works.

But no moral arguments would be a defence against the will of the Ubermensch, because the Ubermench isn't going to listen to any of them anyway. This is why it's dangerous to fetishise the idea of arguments being efficient weapons when fighting real-life social battles (which I'm not saying you're doing, it's just a thing I seem to see happening a lot in the kind of circles who tend to revere Pinker).

Do you not consider it "better" that you won't have to shovel coal this winter in order to keep warm? Or that you don't have to worry about unrefrigerated food starting to rot within 48 hours of purchase? Or buying ink and paper to send that message? Or that you can engage in the wider world via the internet during a global pandemic lockdown? I won't belabour the point because you get it. Do we in fact disagree?

Well no, but you're picking easy cases. The question of (say) whether it's better for me to become a reclusive Buddhist monk or an online Antifa activist isn't easily reducible to this kind of 'pleasurable experience vs. unpleasurable experience' schema. And I'm sceptical of the idea that the reason for that is because we just haven't worked hard enough on the problem. (The idea that we can start from basic biological human needs and arrive at something approaching a recognisable way of reasoning morally actually needs to be argued for, it can't just be assumed as I think people like Pinker sometimes do.)

And for what it's worth I'm not really convinced the reason I don't have to shovel coal is because I'm the beneficiary of the bounties of Enlightenment reason, rather than because I happened to grow up relatively affluent in a rich country that achieved most of its wealth through often-genocidal imperial expansion.

What work are you referring to in which he makes this argument? Zur Genealogie der Moral? That's not rejecting coherence it's rejecting transcendent Christian morality. Whether he is talking about Herrenmoral or Sklavenmoral he is talking about systems of morality which are coherent unto themselves.

Ok, well here's where I have to hold my hands up and admit that I haven't thoroughly read Nietzsche all that recently. But tbh it doesn't seem a very controversial claim that he's rejecting the possibility of a rationally-justifiable morality (at least one with true premises as well as conclusions).

I don't think he was a satirist, or that he was writing in an ironic way. I think he was deadly serious in all of his writings, but wrote in a way that was visionary, somewhat mad, but completely sincere. He spent his whole life reading ancient texts and was a very lonely man. He was not a barrel of laughs satirist.

But there's no contradiction between being satirical and ironic and being deadly serious. I mean there's that entire bit of Beyond Good and Evil which reads like a (very weird) one-liner standup act ("One is most dishonest towards one's God: he is not permitted to sin!" is basically a joke, isn't it?).

Re: Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now
« Reply #147 on: October 20, 2020, 07:47:15 PM »
I don't think he was a satirist, or that he was writing in an ironic way. I think he was deadly serious in all of his writings, but wrote in a way that was visionary, somewhat mad, but completely sincere. He spent his whole life reading ancient texts and was a very lonely man. He was not a barrel of laughs satirist.

I struggle to see how that can prevent someone from being humorous.

I see you're representing the Cioran Fan Club today.

chveik

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Re: Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now
« Reply #148 on: October 20, 2020, 07:50:22 PM »
not a big fan of Cioran actually. in any case, I don't see what's wrong with being able to find a philosophy text funny.

Re: Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now
« Reply #149 on: October 20, 2020, 07:55:29 PM »
not a big fan of Cioran actually. in any case, I don't see what's wrong with being able to find a philosophy text funny.

Oh, I wasn't being serious. He was just the first lonely writer who reads ancient texts and happens to be funny that came to mind.

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