13 Search Results for: ben+winegard

Against Scientism—A Rejoinder to Bo and Ben Winegard

In ancient Athens, shortly after the death of Socrates, word got out that Plato had come up with a definition of man. Man, according to Plato, was “a featherless biped.” Once he heard this, a philosopher by the name of Diogenes plucked the feathers from a fowl, brought it to Plato’s Academy, and declared, “Behold Plato’s man!” Plato’s definition, as Diogenes’s antics proved, had failed. In their essay “In Defence of Scientism,” Bo and Ben Winegard’s definition of scientism suffers from a similar lack of precision. Scientism, they insist, is simply “the view that scientific attitudes and methods can enhance all modes of empirical inquiry.” This definition is misleading because no one is arguing against the use of scientific methods in scientific pursuits. Critics of scientism worry about the application of scientific methods outside of empirical fields. The great Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek, for example, wrote that scientism, “involves a mechanical and uncritical application of habits of thought to fields different from those in which they have been formed.” Simply put, scientism is the application …

Meaning Matters

Everyone seems to be talking about meaning at the moment. Many appreciate that our lives need some kind of existential structure—cultural worldviews, social roles, and goals that give us purpose. Some speculate that we are suffering a crisis of meaning in the modern Western world for a variety of reasons including increased social alienation, automation, and the decline of religion. Others believe that meaning comes from within the individual, that we can abandon traditional beliefs, duties, and attachments and fashion our own existential framework. Some argue that meaning isn’t really that important at all and that we should instead focus solely on practical concerns such as physical health, economics, education, and the environment. As a behavioral scientist who has spent nearly two decades conducting research in existential psychology, I have some thoughts on why we should care about meaning and how modern life challenges our search for it. First, meaning is important. Perceptions of meaning in life influence a wide range of life outcomes. People who have a strong sense of meaning in life, compared …

The Twilight of Liberalism?

The place and the object gave ample scope for moralizing on the vicissitudes of fortune, which spares neither man nor the proudest of his works, which buries empires and cities in a common grave; and it was agreed, that in proportion to her former greatness, the fall of Rome was the more awful and deplorable. ~Edward Gibbon Is liberalism dying? Thirty years ago, those words would have provoked hearty laughter. Its chief ideological competitor, communism, had just collapsed, leaving it without serious rival. Some optimistic thinkers asserted that we had reached an ideological “end of history” and that, having triumphed over all viable alternatives, liberalism would govern “the material world for the long run.” Today, however, few are so optimistic. The rise of populism, of Trump, of opiate epidemics, of bitter polarization, and of yawning economic inequality have tempered the triumphalism of those who once celebrated the inevitable victory of markets and democracy. The good news is that this growing pessimism has compelled reflection and reanalysis; the bad news is that plausible solutions remain out of …

In Defense of Scientism

I hear the jury’s still out on science. ~Gob Bluth In science, the jury is always out. This is because science is a methodological approach to the world, not a set of inflexible principles or a catalog of indisputable facts. Truth is always provisional. Science does not hold something to be incontrovertibly true. It says, “This appears to be true according to the best available theory and evidence.” On science, the jury long ago returned a verdict: it is awesome. It has conquered deadly diseases and eradicated oppressive superstitions. It has increased human flourishing and extended life expectancies. It has put humans on the moon and many fathoms under the ocean’s surface. It has uncovered the forces that guide the crudest motions of matter and those that govern the most exquisite processes of life. In short, it has vastly improved human existence while dramatically increasing our knowledge of the universe. Despite all this, skeptical philosophers and pundits continue to forward arguments against scientific “arrogance”—or against what they see as science’s hubristic attempt to crowd out …

The Preachers of the Great Awokening

“Yea, on the contrary, Justice calls aloud for an infinite Punishment of their Sins.” Jonathan Edwards From the sun-blanched beaches of California to the snow-covered cities of New England, a religious fervor is sweeping the United States. PhD-toting preachers spread the faith with righteous zeal, denouncing those who violate its sacred principles. Sinners are threatened not by an angry god, but by a righteous mob. The impenitent among them are condemned to be outcasts, while the contrite, if they properly mortify themselves and pledge everlasting fealty to the faith, can secure enough lost status to rejoin society, perhaps forever marked by a scarlet epithet. Racist. Sexist. Ableist. This is the religion of Wokeness, and this is the era of the Great Awokening. In the following article, we will explore this quasi-religion, Wokeness, as a status system that functions predominantly to distinguish white elites from the white masses (whom we will call hoi polloi). It does this by offering a rich signalling vocabulary for traits and possessions such as education, intelligence, openness, leisure, wealth, and cosmopolitanism, all …

“Equalitarianism” and Progressive Bias

“In individuals, insanity is rare; but in groups, parties, nations, and epochs, it is the rule.” –Friedrich Nietzsche   “I want to understand how a normal brain becomes conservative,” my professor said. “That is the thing that most puzzles me.” At the time (I was in my early twenties) I completely agreed*. That was the question. Sometimes I would stare at a picture of G. W. Bush like Hamlet staring at a skull, pondering how any sane human could have voted for him. It just didn’t make sense. Progressivism was so obviously correct that it baffled me that anyone could deviate from its basic principles. I didn’t hate conservatives. I even knew one or two. I was just befuddled by them. Most social scientists feel today about conservatives as my professor and I did then. Almost all social scientists (especially social psychologists) are socially liberal, and most of them voted for Barack Obama over Mitt Romney. To many of these scientists, conservatives are like eccentric antiquities that belong in a museum, where they can be …

A Tale of Two Bell Curves

“The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie, deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive and unrealistic” ~ John F. Kennedy 1962 To paraphrase Mark Twain, an infamous book is one that people castigate but do not read. Perhaps no modern work better fits this description than The Bell Curve by political scientist Charles Murray and the late psychologist Richard J. Herrnstein. Published in 1994, the book is a sprawling (872 pages) but surprisingly entertaining analysis of the increasing importance of cognitive ability in the United States. It also included two chapters that addressed well-known racial differences in IQ scores (chapters 13-14). After a few cautious and thoughtful reviews, the book was excoriated by academics and popular science writers alike. A kind of grotesque mythology grew around it. It was depicted as a tome of racial antipathy; a thinly veiled expression of its authors’ bigotry; an epic scientific fraud, full of slipshod scholarship and outright lies. As hostile reviews piled up, the real Bell Curve, a sober and judiciously argued …

On the Reality of Race and the Abhorrence of Racism

Most people believe that race exists. They believe that Denzel Washington is an African American, that George Clooney is a Caucasian, and that George Takei is an Asian.* Many intellectuals, however, contend that this belief results from an illusion as dangerous as it is compelling. “Just as the sun appears to orbit the earth”, so too do humans appear to belong to distinct and easily identifiable groups. But, underneath this appearance, the reality of human genetic variation is complicated and inconsistent with standard, socially constructed racial categories. This is often touted as cause for celebration. All humans are really African under the skin; and human diversity, however salient it may appear, is actually remarkably superficial. Therefore racism is based on a misperception of reality and is as untrue as it is deplorable. With appropriate qualifications, however, we will argue that most people are correct: race exists. And although genetic analyses have shown that human variation is complicated, standard racial categories are not arbitrary social constructions. Rather, they correspond to real genetic differences among human populations. …

Getting Voxed: Charles Murray, Ideology, and the Debate on IQ

“The impulse to think that environmental sources of differences are less threatening than genetic ones is natural but illusory.” Charles Murray “Convictions are more dangerous enemies of the truth than lies.” Friedrich Nietzsche Recently, the popular online political outlet Vox published an article in response to Charles Murray’s interview on Sam Harris’s “Waking Up”1 podcast that illustrates the insidious effect ideology can exert on science. The article, written by a group of esteemed scholars, Eric Turkheimer, Kathryn Paige Harden, and Richard E. Nisbett, contended that Murray is still “peddling junk science” about race and intelligence, thereby duping otherwise critical scholars like Harris with pseudo-scholarship and sophistry. The article attempts a moderate, scientifically sound criticism of hereditarianism (i.e., the contention that at least part of the Black-White IQ gap is genetic). Unfortunately, the result is a tendentious and ideologically skewed attack on Murray that forwards cherry picked studies, ignores copious data, and dismisses the impressive explanatory power of hereditarianism with a wagging finger of moral disapproval. Turkheimer et al did not dispute many of the most important points discussed in …

The Rise of Donald Trump

I. Since early February, Donald J. Trump, a brash and boorish businessman with a spotted past and tenuous fidelity to American conservatism, has dominated the Republican primaries, winning victories across states as disparate as Vermont, Hawaii, and Alabama. His opponents and much of the GOP establishment argue that he is vulgar, ignorant, and xenophobic—a comically stupid and coarse would-be Fascist who has no place in American politics. But to his many fervent supporters, these criticisms are at best irrelevant; at worst, they demonstrate the supercilious despair of the establishment and add to Trump’s outsider appeal. In the face of such denunciations from the powers that be, Trump keeps winning. At the ballot box—winning. On television—winning. In Twitter battles—winning. And the polls suggest he will keep winning so long as his rivals remain divided. To some, his rise is evidence of the racism that hides beneath the veneer of polite society in America. Certainly, he has voiced some disconcerting opinions; and he has aroused the support of some unsavory political figures. Quite possibly he is, in …