The Decline of Reason?

Everyone should read this.  The copy appearing on that page has errors clearly introduced during the copying process, but the underlying argument is brilliant and biting.  Thanks to Günther Greindl for bringing this to my attention.

11 Responses to “The Decline of Reason?”

  1. Nick Mann Says:

    So far, so good. But Bunge is more complicated than merely this. You should show him beating up another school of scientoids as well. The functionalists. The Dan Dennetts of the world. They waste resources too, and worse: they’re taken seriously by many genuine scientists.

    So many quacks, so little time.

  2. Nick Mann Says:

    Link to a relevant GrupoBunge page:

  3. quantummoxie Says:

    That’s getting almost too philosophical for me. I do know people who like Dennett but I can’t exactly count myself as one of them.

    But I am certainly becoming a fan of Bunge…

  4. Hi Ian,
    I think “this” is to some extent an uncomprehending modernism. Although one can find plenty of quotes that show individual critics of modernism are dumb, nonetheless the critique has some force. Bunge quotes Feyerabend, for example, but not Kuhn. Nor is Lakatos in his sights. What about Quine or Putnam? Going back to the early 20th Century, does he think that Poincaré and Duhem had nothing interesting to say?

    In terms of concepts, recent realists have had great trouble accommodating underdetermination, incommensurability, the pessimistic meta-induction, and the theory-ladenness of observation. Anti-realist philosophers have had an easier time, although positivism, which in retrospect is a rather realist kind of anti-realism, is pretty hard to maintain without giving away the store.

    Accepting that the post-positivist critique has force doesn’t mean that we throw our hands up in despair because nothing has any meaning any more. If we can see only the shadows on the wall of Plato’s cave, nonetheless we can see something. It takes more subtlety to construct models that we can conscientiously advocate, and we can longer appeal to the “truth” of a theory as a reason for people to “adopt” it (whatever that is taken to mean). Many academics don’t “get” what is acceptable and what is not acceptable when the rules are no longer so cut and dried, but there is still stuff we can do.

  5. quantummoxie Says:


    Thanks for your insightful comments. I agree, for the most part, that his analysis is incomplete and, as with anything, it’s not such a black and white affair. I’m not a huge fan of Kuhn and it’s been awhile since I’ve read any Quine, but I am reading Mike Fortun and Herb Bernstein’s book “Muddling Through: Pursuing Science and Truths in the 21st Century,” partly because Herb bribed me (seriously, it’s an interesting book, though I’m not in complete agreement with their tenets).

    Nonetheless, Bunge has some valid points. I am particularly taken by his point about ‘subjective probability’ as a kind of pseudoscience. It has always bothered me that more and more ‘science’ is sold to the public based on statistical results rather than root causes (true, the root causes are not always known). The medical community is very good at this, but it has also been the downfall of climate scientists. Since their arguments include such variability it is easy for opponents to poke holes in them. But the mechanism of global warming is known – it is a simple fact that carbon compounds absorb infrared radiation while molecular oxygen and nitrogen do not. Fortun and Bernstein make a similar point in their book, though they don’t denounce it as pseudoscience. Perhaps that is too harsh a word.

    Anyway, I certainly don’t advocate throwing up my hands “in despair.” But I do advocate attempting to change our culture in science, emphasizing root causes (where applicable) and the fact that there are scientific truths out there, e.g. if I toss a ball up in the air, barring interference from something else, it’s gonna come down every single time!

    Science should teach us to question everything, but at some point we also have to learn to reach conclusions and accept certain physical truths.

  6. Carl Gurtman Says:

    Feminist theories of science are to me, the mirror image of the Nazi’s view of “Jewish Science”.

  7. Briefly: good points are made there, but let’s not “throw out the baby with the bath water.” Interdisciplinary insights and new approaches can be helpful. Let’s be selective and neither credulous nor closed-minded.

  8. I guess I agree with about 80% of Bunge’s rant, but I take issue with his dismissal of existentialism based on the incomprehenisibilty of Heidegger. Heidegger clearly violates Academic Duty #5: Expressing oneself as clearly as possible. So do a lot of poets. I can’t figure out what he’s trying to say and I suspect that no one else can either, but lots of lunatics write interesting poetry.

    On the other hand, there are many existentialist philosophers out there who do express themselves clearly, and one of their main concerns is the fact that analytic philosophers often claim to point to truth where none exists. If one searches for the truth and discovers that it doesn’t exist, then he should express that (Academic duty #1).

    That is not a denial of science. Science cannot tell me what the meaning of my life should be. This is simply an area of inquiry that is outside of science and its methods, which revolve around empirically measurable quantities. Many analytic philosophers would say that we must examine the ‘essence’ of life and humanity in order to determine how to maximize the excellence of that essence. Many Existentialists would say that ‘meaning’ is dependent on the person, thus there is no one meaning of life. Rather, there are as many meanings as there are people, maybe more. Excellence of essences is not measurable, and thus can mean just about anything. I tend to agree with the existentialists on this one.

    To discover that there is no objective truth in one arena in no way implies that truth itself doesn’t exist, just as knowing the difference between facts and opinions doesn’t imply that facts don’t exist. If I claim that ‘meaning’ can only exist in a person’s mind (which I agree with), that doesn’t imply that gravity doesn’t exist just because it has meaning to me.

    Existentialism has a lot of parallels with science, including the use of operational definitions to avoid ambiguities and cultural biases. I’ve even heard claims that Existentialism influenced science in this regard and not the other way around, although I’m not in a position to back this assertion up with citations, and I suspect that tracing influences in this way is a fool’s errand, as the truth is never quite so simple.

    There is a big difference between analyzing existentialist thought and coming to your own conclusions, versus signing up for a philosophical movement and drinking the Kool-Aid. I believe there should be room in academia for the former. After all, physicists still learn about ‘the ether’ and the Bohr model of the atom, even though they are not accurate reflections of reality, and for the same reason: exploring ideas that are useful stepping stones to deeper thought. Academies are supposed to teach us how to think, not what to think. Part of learning how to think involves learning what others have thought, even if we don’t agree with their conclusions. I have never had a philosophy teacher require or even urge that we become an anything-ist. Maybe I got lucky, but my philosophy professors just expected us to learn what the eminent figures in the field said, and never required us to believe any of it. (I cannot say the same of professors of radical feminist theory or sociology of science.)

    That being said, I agree that Heidegger’s writing is completely unfathomable, and I suspect that the reason he is still taught is that many philosophy professors are unwilling to admit that they don’t know what the hell he’s talking about.

  9. Nick Mann Says:

    Cheat. Read George Steiner’s little book titled “Martin Heidegger”. Suddenly it all makes sense. For one thing Steiner knows how to write.

    He even discusses the infamous Nazi Period and the ghastly Rektoratrede. Nothing’s excluded.

  10. J.D. Devine Says:

    Apology for the post-moderns….

    When, after all it was hard science that called knowledge into question…
    And the state of 20th century knowledge had to be qualified (and not just quantified)…
    When the towering figures of knowledge were required to step up and state how a gaping uncertianty, and a cavernous black abyss had to be explained…
    When science had no option but to postulate that knowledge and being were one (thanks to Hiedegger and Husserl)…
    I am compelled to ask, what error was made in post modern epistemology?
    What taboo was violated in feminist knowledge?
    When, after all, it was certain that all the efforts at science included the failures of psychiatry, sociology, biology, and zoology…
    When the structures we work within appear to be the product of that work, and not the context for it…
    When all context is proved by logic to be relative…
    And the absolute evades even the most trained eye…
    How can the call against reason be interpreted as anything but the rebellion against mundane knowledge?
    When, after all categorical knoweldge gives us over to bureaucrats of trifles, and the bookkeepers of petty facts…
    Let us not reduce science to the digits and letters.
    Nor philsophy to the postulates of a reality
    that I could have reached by television, or the Webster’s dictionary.

  11. Neil Bates Says:

    JD, one of the worst IMHO notions around (I wonder if it’s modern or post-modern) is that we are computational intelligences. Check my post at

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