Brett Williams's Reviews > Anything Goes: Origins of the Cult of Scientific Irrationalism

Anything Goes by David Stove
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A postmodern's nightmare

Stove dismantles liberal anti-West postmodernists crowding our university humanities with unrelenting sense, humor and insult. Berkley's Feyerabend, MIT's Kuhn, U of London's Popper and Lakatos take a whipping so stinging, their institutions of "higher learning" should be smoldering (and ashamed) for the length of their existence.

Chapter 1 reveals their overused technique of quoting success-words like "knowledge," "truth," "proof," implying the opposite of what these words mean just as done above with "higher learning." Chapter 2 is so dry it reads like a math text but does give examples of word games played. Reminiscent of art historians trying to explain art by telling us who the artists were, Stove reveals postmodern philosophers and sociologists expressing a similar inability to separate what science is from what scientists do. Appendices following chapter 1 & 2 summarize how funny and farcical postmodernism ("cultural studies" or whatever they call themselves this afternoon) really is.

So ends the first two, occasionally laborious chapters with chapter 3 (and little of the text is a cruise), showing us not how irrationalists ply their trade but how such silliness got started and why it's sustained. In a riveting passage we find Einstein doing psychological damage to Newton (as far as the public and philosophers are concerned) and what was believed to be his concrete truths. (With no mention of non-intuitive quantum mechanics around the same time.) There seems some embarrassment from the philosophers of science with an enduring determination not to be bitten by certainty again, adopting the easy and now popular method of avoiding certainty rather than striving to be correct. Thus Hume, forgotten for 150 years, is resurrected to service in the 20th century for a movement "of retreat from confidence in science which was so high, and constantly rising, in the two preceding centuries," writes Stove. Oddly, Stove fails to note overreaction to Einstein by the likes of Kuhn who claim one theory completely replaces another. Newton has been used never more than today by every aircraft, missile, satellite, automobile and tricycle maker in the world. Apparently Newton is doing just fine on earth, though he has a perilous time near stars, black holes and quasars.

If, as postmoderns promote, there is no accumulation of knowledge and generalizations of specifics through inductive reasoning are wrong, Stove's reader is provided simpler questions outside labyrinthine logic arguments. e.g. Given these postmodern rules, has the knowledge of say, driving a car, always been known to humanity - since Homo erectus perhaps? Or was it later acquired adding to our overall knowledge? Each time Feyerabend bought a new car, assuming he did, did he have to learn to drive all over again, since experience of one specific case cannot be generalized to other cases? Or maybe, as Stove notes, Feyerabend didn't drive, but simply turned himself into a bird. To Feyerabend that is just as likely, and as reasonable to believe as our ability to justifiably and accurately apply induction. Stoves example that "all fires are hot" further clarifies the obvious. Postmodern designs try desperately to convince us that we can never know if fires "will be hot," or if fires we never saw or experienced were hot. Despite clear violations of physics - which philosophers don't grasp - this kind of mental acrobatics is what makes the whole movement so inane, and incomprehensibly dominant in academia. But if we remember it doesn't have to make reasoned sense to serve political extremes - discounting all certainty and Western-style knowledge for insertion of other preferences - then what Stove has done is reveal the transparent nature of the Emperors elaborate clothes.
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