No book was ever turned from one language into another, without imparting something of its native idiom; this is the most mischievous and comprehensive innovation

August 14, 2013 § Leave a comment


Here’s what I want: I want Steven fucking Pinker to take a copy of Spinoza’s Ethics and explain one of the propositions to me. Not all of them; not the whole book. One. Just one proposition. I’ll even do him a solid – I’ll let him read it in English, instead of embarrassing him by making him try to translate Latin. Or maybe the Critique of Pure Reason. Can you explain that to me, Pinker? Hell, can you explain any of Kant’s critiques?

I’m gonna go out on a limb and say “no.” In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb that Steven fucking Pinker has not read a single one of these thinkers he so casually and authoritatively name-drops since his undergraduate years, if then. If Pinker has ever read all of Leviathan, I will eat my fucking copy of the book.

Let’s be absolutely clear – not a single one of the thinkers this asshole claims for “science” were scientists. Not a single one of them thought of themselves as scientists; not a single one had a concept of “science” that was anything like the concept Pinker is so anachronistically imposing on them. All of these men, even if they didn’t think of themselves as “a philosopher,” thought of their work as “a philosophy.” It’s right in the texts, if you take the time to read them. And the way you can tell Pinker has no fucking clue what he’s talking about is that he misses the two most important examples that would actually support his claim: Francis Bacon and Robert Boyle. Of the thinkers that he lists, Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz are the only ones who actually conducted anything that might even remotely fit the bill of “scientific experimentation.” Smith was an economist. Rousseau was a dilettante. Kant… I mean, the idea of describing Kant as a an “evolutionary psychologist” is just… OMFG.

“I often long to travel back in time and offer them some bit of twenty-first-century freshman science that would fill a gap in their arguments or guide them around a stumbling block.”

Did you follow that, folks? Stephen fucking Pinker, the great scientific genius, is going to go back in time to correct Spinoza’s arguments and “guide” him. The idea that these thinkers wrote “in the absence of formal theory” is so reductive and offensive. Descartes’ Discourse on Method, Spinoza’s Tractatus de Intellectus Emendatione and his correspondences with Olderburg and others, Hume’s Treatise… these thinkers were conscious of formal method and self-reflexive about it in a way few scientists today are even remotely capable of. Incredibly, implausibly, each of these philosophers invented an inferential method, from the ground up, instead of taking for granted any assumption they were taught.  read more

PHOTOGRAPH: Markus Pritzi


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