Readers will recall that Harvard cognitive psychologist Steve Pinker has been getting it from all sides for his defense of scientism, as has neuroscientist and author Sam Harris.
(Scientism: The belief that science can and should dictate morality instead of being governed by it. For some irrational reason, possible research subjects object to the former view.)
Arch-Darwinist Richard Dawkins has apparently chosen to weigh in about something else so it was left to hardline materialist philosopher Daniel Dennett to defend Pinker at Edge. Readers can judge whether this kind of thing will help much: From Edge editor Brockman,
Given Wieseltier’s screed, we can all be thankful that this is happening. His clueless attack is evidence that he doesn’t know, and doesn’t even know that he doesn’t know. It’s no accident that Prospect Magazine has scientists (and Edge contributors) Richard Dawkins, Steven Pinker, Daniel Kahneman, and Jared Diamond at, or near, the top of their “World’s Greatest Thinkers 2013” poll (“a snapshot of the intellectual trends that dominate our age”). Or that The Guardian has proclaimed Edge the world’s smartest website.
That is all too bad for Edge, not for its intellectual competitors.
Wieseltier is afraid that the humanities are being overrun by thinkers from outside, who dare to tackle their precious problems—or “problematics” to use the, um, technical term favored by many in the humanities. He is right to be afraid. It is true that there is a crowd of often overconfident scientists impatiently addressing the big questions with scant appreciation of the subtleties unearthed by philosophers and others in the humanities, but the way to deal constructively with this awkward influx is to join forces and educate them, not declare them out of bounds. The best of the “scientizers” (and Pinker is one of them) know more philosophy, and argue more cogently and carefully, than many of the humanities professors who dismiss them and their methods on territorial grounds. You can’t defend the humanities by declaring it off limits to amateurs. The best way for the humanities to get back their mojo is to learn from the invaders and re-acquire the respect for truth that they used to share with the sciences.
This, from a defender of Darwinism who even seems to be trying to look like Darwin, at the very time when real research is actually headed in the opposite direction (here, here, and here, just for example).
Well, John Brockman, he is yours.