Here’s a letter that The American Scholar declined to publish. Unfortunately, the magazine has no electronic presence. The printed copy is the only access. The article “Getting It All Wrong” appeared in the Autumn 2006 issue. I reprint the letter here with the permission of LÃƒÂ¡szlÃƒÂ³ Bencze, who happens to be my professional photographer. (Note that the picture on the UD banner is not by LÃƒÂ¡szlÃƒÂ³; one of his will be appearing in the next week or so when the entire blog is revamped.)
The American Scholar
1606 New Hampshire Avenue, N.W.,
Washington DC 20009
24 September 2006
Re: “Getting It All Wrong”
It is not often one reads an article which contradicts itself so unashamedly as Mr. Boyd’s “Getting It All Wrong.” He wishes to refute the conclusions of Derrida, Menand and others of the post-modern crew who claim there is no truth. (Is that true?)
Unfortunately, he founds his own case on evolution which tells us “our brains are not guarantors of truth [or] citadels of reason…Evolution has no foresight and no aims, least of all an aim like truth.” This being so, there is no reason to suppose that any concepts, including evolution itself, are anything more than incidental artifacts of a long process of survival. They cannot be measured against a universal standard because any such standard is likewise an artifact of evolution and so ad infinitum.
Given this corrosive world view, it is plain the literary critics really have understood the implications of evolution: There are no universals, only communities of belief. Nor have we any way to distinguish worth amongst any of them, not even in the sciences. Nor can evolutionary epistemology be “progressive,” even imperfectly as Mr. Boyd asserts, because (as he makes clear above) there is no goal towards which it can progress.
Is it possible to refute Menand’s Theory without refuting the evolutionary premises which nourish it? Like squaring the circle with straightedge and compass, the task, though tantalizing, will prove futile.