The trouble with philosophy

The Quillette article In Defense of Scientism generated significant disagreement in the comments.

Articles on Quillette about social-justice and politics-related topics get much less criticism than the above example. The authors erred by venturing into philosophy, but why do people care so much?

Philosophy is difficult subject that does not take kindly to dilettantes. If you don’t know what you’re talking about , it will be very obvious that you don’t those to those who do, and you cannot BS it or ‘wing it’. It also generates very heated responses despite the subject matter not having much applicably in the ‘real world’ or high stakes in the same way a political policy piece would. Even subjects such as economics do not generate the sort of posturing and pretensions of superiority that philosophy does. Philosophy is not a ‘hard’ science, yet experts in philosophy have very strong convictions about what is philosophically correct or not, or what makes a sound philosophy argument or not, that you don’t see as often in other liberal arts subjects such as psychology, art, history, literature, or economics.

For example, regarding economics, as discussed a few weeks ago, Arnold Kling’s article erroneously comparing Germany’s post-ww1 debt to America’s current debt situation did not generate any rebuke (except for my own objection, and I am not an economist) by other economists or commentators. Arnold’s argument was wrong by making a faulty comparison, yet unlike in the case of philosophy , no one seemed to care, whereas had Arnold had made an incorrect philosophical argument ,it would have been immediately noticed and he would have received a torrent of criticism and rebuke, some of it personal and excoriating, by experts.

A couple years ago, Scott wrote an article attempting to define postmodernism, and although the article was not bad, he got so much criticism he added a disclaimer to the top retracting the article, which is the only time I have ever seen him do this; and furthermore, Scott studied philosophy in college, so it’s not like he’s a total novice, yet apparently it wasn’t good enough.

When astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson questioned the usefulness of philosophy, he got considerable push back, almost as if he had committed heresy. But comparably few people, it seems, have come to the defense of psychology during the so-called “replication crisis” even though psychology is ‘closer’ to being a ‘real’ science than philosophy.

Jordan Peterson’s comments on ‘Postmodern Neo-Marxism’ have generated much more debate online than anything he has said about Christianity, Freud, or Jung. This is probably why he no longer talks as much about postmodernism, because it detracts from the other content in his lectures and he’s tried of having to try to explain it.

Even to this day on sites such as Zero Hedge and on many Reddit subs, I see people make falsehoods about economics-related topics such as QE (“It’s money printing!” (no it’s not)), or the US debt (“America is in a debt crisis!” (it isn’t)), or incorrect applications and interpretations of the GDP formula (“You can grow the economy by cutting-out imports!” (you cannot)), and no one calls them out on it, or very few compared to being wrong about philosophy. But also, much less debate. You cannot get people to debate economics stuff with the same sort of fervor as intellectuals debate philosophy.

If one goes around arguing that Einstein was wrong about the equivalence principle, one should expect rebuke, and justifiably so, but philosophy it seems is held to the same standards. Philosophy is perhaps the only liberal arts subject that is treated with the same sort of objectivity as a ‘hard’ science, because so many want to believe it is, because when you’re reading these difficult, complicated tomes and learning the terminology, you want to believe that there is a deeper sort of truth behind it that can be made rigorous and objective in the same way as scientific truth.