Sunday, June 27, 2010

An Engaging Rant by Edward St. Amant

I suppose his Atheism, Skepticism and Philosophy might also be described as a screed.  In any case, I downloaded it on my admirable Nook, and am currently reading it.  I find myself in sympathy with much that he writes.  He has the disconcerting habit of referring to "women and men" (instead of "men and women") which is not seriously objectionable, but has an annoying whiff of political correctness about it.  He also has a somewhat bewildering habit of citing the years of birth and death of the great figures of philosophy, and others, he more often than not denigrates.  Their respective life-spans do not seem of great importance generally or for purposes of his book.  More significantly for me, his only (passing) reference thus far to pragmatism as a philosophy seems uninformed--he is apparently among those who think, incorrectly, that it sanctions subjectivsim and cultural relativism, a view which I think is defensible only if one hasn't read the pragmatists, or has limited reading to Rorty, who was not one but periodically claimed he was, or James, who was an important figure in pragmatism but was a kind of extremist in certain things.

The Web tells me he's written a good deal, largely fiction it seems, but tells me little about his education or background.  I don't know if he's a professional philosopher; since he's critical of them, I doubt it.  I find him engaging, of course, because we agree that modern philosophy no longer seems concerned with the problems we encounter in life or, to the extent it is concerned, has abandoned reason as the most intelligent means by which to resolve those problems.  Of course, I'm no philosopher, as someone named "Anonymous" noted kindly in response to a prior post about Heidegger.  So the fact that St. Amant may not be one either doesn't in and of itself disturb me.

To summarize his points as I understand them:  Those who are generally referred to as Continental philosophers glorify the irrational and even indulge in mysticism, particularly the "Teutonic" philosophers such as Nietzsche, Hegel and Heidegger; those who are generally referred to as Analytic have narrowed the scope of philosophy to such an extent that it is essentially irrelevant, and can be said to have abandoned reason to the extent that they have accepted Hume's position that we just can't really know whether, e.g., the sun will rise tomorrow.  The Analytics due to the narrowness of their focus have abandoned philosophy as a guide to living and solving the problems of life, and have as a result abandoned the field to the irrationalists and the mystics. 

I'll be interested in where he takes this, but can't help but note that his criticisms of modern philosophy and views regarding what should be the concerns of a philosopher are similar to those of the pragmatists with whom I'm primarily familiar, such as Peirce, Dewey and Hook.  I think he may be too critical of religion qua religion, though think his criticisms of organized religion are apt.  The belief in a God need not be destructive or necessarily contra reason, even if it cannot be established by reason.  Being prejudiced in their favor, I'll note the stoics as representative of such a belief.

He's also clearly engaged in a defense of Western culture and democracy, from what I'd call a classical liberal perspective, and I find that engaging as well.  I suspect he may be a libertarian, although I hope not a Libertarian.  We shall see.  In any case, it's far more likely I'll finish reading his book than I'll finish reading Maimonides' Guide.

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