Science fans talking about philosophy is never. Not. Funny.
According to RationalWiki, “The Dunning-Kruger effect occurs where people fail to adequately assess their level of competence — or specifically, their incompetence — at a task and thus consider themselves much more competent than everyone else. This lack of awareness is attributed to their lower level of competence robbing them of the ability to critically analyse their performance, leading to a significant overestimation of themselves.”
Being Ignorant About Knowledge
Science fans are used to referring to Dunning-Kruger when they’re debating creationists in the low-hanging fruit orchards, where they’re adept enough at philosophy to see the weakness in the fundies’ arguments. However, when the subject itself is philosophy, science fans demonstrate the Dunning-Kruger effect themselves as they show a somewhat less than comprehensive grasp of the discipline. In discussions here at Patheos Nonreligious about “What Good is Philosophy?” or “Philosophy is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat,” or “Overthinking: Why Do We Make Easy Hard?,” the science fans come across as anti-intellectual and truly proud of themselves for it. Even a Philosophy 101 student would get a poor grade for howlers like these:
Yes, as I said, metaphysics is the philosophical pursuit of imaginary things — like supernatural thus-and-such.
So, whenever I see the word “metaphysics”, I always translate that to mean “not physics”.
But the metaphysics is nonsense. Rubbish. Utter batshit. (Ask me what I really think!)
For the most part, metaphysics is mental masturbation, and no amount of discussion of the subject is going to alter or improve our knowledge of nature.
Make up your mind, science fans! Are we supposed to be critical thinkers or not?
Science, Hold the Philosophy
I suspect that the people who are most dismissive of philosophy are the ones who are the least familiar with it. New Atheist nabobs are infamous for trashing philosophy: Lawrence Krauss, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and even Stephen Hawking have all made immature, derisive comments about philosophy. So the science fans are just toeing the party line, defining philosophy as effete numbnuttery that pales next to the important knowledge-generating disciplines of the hard sciences. Their celebrity spokesmockers have told them that their ignorance about philosophy is something to be celebrated, and that’s good enough for them.As Daniel Dennett (who’s no slouch when it comes to science fandom) has pointed out, however, science itself is a philosophical pursuit. Maybe science fans don’t want to admit that the foundation of their knowledge comes with a lot of problematic philosophical baggage: anyone who believes that the theory-dependent pictures science gives us map perfectly to a theory-independent reality, or that science is our sole source of valid knowledge, has no business criticizing others for their credulity. That’s the trouble with critical thinking: you have to apply it to what you believe, not just what others believe.
Philosophers and Philistines
I would expect that, if I’m wrong that science fans are largely unfamiliar with the literature of philosophy, the discussions I linked above would contain a lot of references to actual philosophers, and the nuanced differences among different schools of thought. However, glaring in its absence is any mention of living philosophers other than Christian apologist William Lane Craig, or of philosophers that were at least alive at the turn of the millennium. Hearing science fans describe philosophy, you’d never know that there were heated debates between pragmatists like Richard Rorty and analytic philosophers like Hilary Putnam over the degree to which our minds represent reality, that Saul Kripke and Gareth Evans battled over the causal theory of reference, or that Martha Nussbaum and Judith Butler differ greatly in how they define the aims and nature of feminist theory. To hear science fans tell it, philosophy is just navel-gazing that serves no purpose in our culture.
So tell me, science fans, what’s the last book of philosophy you’ve read? Are there any twenty-first century philosophers you think are worthwhile?