Comments on “Rationalist ideologies as eternalism”


Literature review

I’m not sure how much literature review I’ll do in the published version. Their work is definitely relevant, however!

Feyerabend, Gadamer &c.

Pobop's picture

Browsing through the epistemological anarchism of Feyerabend, the hermeneutics of Gadamer, even the wikipedia page about social constructionism, I can’t help but notice how these are all more moderate than the usual strawpersons made of them. Where are the notorious relativists who think reality is ontologically made out of narratives or social conventions?
There are some striking similarities to what you’re arguing here. Feyerabend and Gadamer seem to be motivated by humanitarian and anti-fascist feelings and so they reject fixed conceptions of truth as harmful. Feyerabend for example writes in Against Method

It is clear, then, that the idea of a fixed method, or of a fixed theory of rationality, rests on too naive a view of man and his social surroundings.

I think you could get away with sneaking that part in there somewhere.

Has any of this been an influence?

The catastrophic dumbing-down of pomo

Thank you for the questions, which prompt a rant!

these are all more moderate than the usual strawpersons made of them.

Yes; more moderate, and also more complicated and interesting. And, yes, I draw on the tradition that Gadamer and Feyerabend worked in, although other specific figures (Heidegger and Foucault for instance) are a larger influence.

The major critical theorists—up to about 1985—were brilliant, and had been thoroughly educated in the Western intellectual tradition. They knew what rationality was, knew how to use it, and pointed out its limitations. Unfortunately, most chose to write in obfuscatory riddles. Their insights were difficult enough to understand without that.

Few followers were able to extract the insights. Instead, a couple of generations of academics have learned to imitate the obfuscatory jargon, while understanding and saying nothing.

Postmodernism can only be understood as an analysis of modernity. If you do not understand modernity (including the proper operation of rationality), none of it is meaningful. Instead, you misunderstand it simply as “all systems are false ideologies invented by the powerful as means of oppression, and must be destroyed.”

Where are the notorious relativists who think reality is ontologically made out of narratives or social conventions?

I gather you can find those easily enough in any American college English department. Or at least, you can find people who teach that in class. “Think” is another question. These are religious beliefs, like Young Earth Creationism. They are not actual beliefs, like “the bathroom sink has a persistent drip,” and they get compartmentalized from everyday functioning.

These preachers are second-generation professors who didn’t understand pomo when it was new, and third-generation ones who were mainly taught dumbed-down second-generation pseudo-pomo. They were never taught to think, and can’t. In fact, what they learned was not to think (because that would lead to questioning the bullshit, which gets you ejected from pomodom). What they learned was to replicate the jargon, plus “all systems must be destroyed.”

I worry that this may be catastrophic. Up until the 1980s, a university humanities education did teach you how to think. Since then, it has taught you not to think. What happens as people trained that way move increasingly into positions of power?

Searle on Foucault

It’s probably well known by now, but John Searle recounts meeting Foucault and getting on very well with him. After talking to him for a while and realising that the guy was a very lucid thinker, Searle asked Foucault why he wrote in the difficult style he did. Foucault replied that in France at the time one had to write in an obscurantist style to be taken seriously. To write clearly would cause one to written off as a lightweight. So they wrote the way they did and they are at least partly to blame for being misunderstood.

Only themselves to blame

Yes, that’s a great story. And yes, those guys should take much of the blame for the subsequent disaster. It was a deliberate choice to be obscure, which they made for selfish reasons of academic status-seeking, without regard for the consequences.

This pattern goes back to Hegel. Not that he was the first to be obscure, but he may have been the first to revel in it and make a central modus operandi, and he was certainly the major influence on subsequent Continental obscurantism.

Much of what is wrong with the Western tradition is Hegel’s fault. Unfortunately, he also did have some important good ideas, so one can’t just dismiss him.


Dan's picture

An “obfuscatory jargon” anecdote that my friends are probably tired of hearing: I’ve read the first few pages of Simulacra and Simulations in both English and French. In English I struggled to make any sense of it at all, but I found the French original totally straightforward! English is my native language so this is obviously backwards.

(As I recall, basically the translator was following the French text too closely; a lot of things that sound natural in French are terrible style in English.)

Transfuscra and Transfuscation

Interesting, thank you!

My mentor in this area is fluent in French, and has often said the same about texts she recommends I read. Unfortunately, I don’t read French, and so have to rely on transfuscra exclusively. (“The translation is awful; it’s much better in French, but you can probably still get the gist of it.”)

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