March 04, 2006
Dennett responds to the Wieseltier Review of his book
For those of you who have not been following this controversy, have a look at this first. Dennet himself has now protested Wieseltier's review in a letter to the New York Times Book Review:
Apparently The New York Times Book Review has discovered a new stunt. The most blatant examples — but there have been others recently — occur in Leon Wieseltier's campaign against "scientism" in his review of my book "Breaking the Spell" (Feb. 19). [Read an overview of bloggers' responses to the review.] Here's how it works: When you can't stand the implications of some scientific discipline X, but can't think of any solid objections, you brand them instances of the sin of Xism and then you don't have to take them seriously! What next? A review that warns about the pernicious "meteorologism" that keeps scolding us about global warming, or the "economism" that has the effrontery to inform us that the gap between rich and poor is growing? Wieseltier helps himself to several other instances of the trick in his review: he trots out the old chestnut reductionism, from which all serious meaning evaporated years ago, and sneers at my rationalism (a handy retort to any reasonable person when you can't think of anything better to say — "Stop being so, so, so . . . rationalistic!")
More here. [Scroll down, there is also a response from Wieseltier.] Also in the New York Times Book Review, Jennfer Schuessler reports on "Responses to the Review of 'Breaking the Spell'":
At Leiter Reports, University of Texas philosophy professor Brian Leiter challenges Wieseltier's "sneering" dismissal of the idea that science can shed some light on all aspects of human life. "'The view that science can explain all human conditions and expressions, mental as well as physical' is not a 'superstition' but a reasonable methodological posture to adopt based on the actual evidence, that is, based on the actual expanding success of the sciences . . . during the last hundred years," writes Leiter.
Silly Humans, Three Quarks Daily and The Secular Outpost offer more criticism in the same vein, with Silly Humans taking aim in particular at Wieseltier's accusations that Dennett is guilty of "scientism." "Scientism," writes Silly Humans' Michael Bains, is "the ultimate meme. It is insanely inane since it ignores the fact that Science is only a method for revealing the material workings of reality. Since it misdefines what science is, it says absolutely nothing about it." While generally sympathetic to Dennett, Chris Mooney at the Intersection takes issue with some of Dennett's own language, in particular his "unfortunate idea" of labeling religious nonbelievers "brights," which he floated in an op-ed in the Times in 2003.
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