Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Oh, My Daddy is a Left-wing Intellectual

Oh, my daddy is a left-wing intellectual
He supports the Co-op Movement do or die
We must nationalionize, he cries
Down with private enterprise
But his divi comes from shares in ICI

Alex Glasgow - Oh, My Daddy is a Left Wing Intellectual (The Songs of Alex Glasgow Vol 1)


Apart from its introductory material and a postscript, The Intellectual by Steve Fuller, consists of two essays and a dialogue, with an additional relevant preface to the paperback edition.

The dialogue is in the form of a fictional argument between a Philosopher and an Intellectual. Although the author accepts that philosophers can sometimes also be intellectuals, he feels that too few professional philosophers reach such heights.

The mixture of a dialogue with essays, presents problems for the reader. How are Fuller’s views on intellectuals being reflected in the dialogue? Is Fuller himself to be seen in the guise of the dialogue’s Intellectual who has various deep disputes with the Philosopher? Or are Fuller’s views to be seen in the interplay between the arguments of the two characters? After all he believes (obsessively) in the power of dialectical discourse.

When the above problem is resolved, there is still the question of trying to fit the other two essays in with the dialogue. This isn’t easy.

Fuller would probably argue that my above questions don’t matter as long as he makes the reader think about the issues raised. But the problem for the reader is that the views of intellectuals presented in the essays are often at variance with those of the Intellectual of the dialogue. Such confusion might actually hinder the development of a Socratic discourse in the mind of the reader.

One area of distinction between the Intellectual of the dialogue and the intellectuals of the essays is that the former is much more dismissive of philosophy itself (as you would expect in the drama of a dispute; but it is still a poor fit for the reader.)

Surprisingly, the essays give a chuck-on to a whole host of Philosophers to whom he grants the accolade of “intellectuals”. But this is partly due to the fact that Fuller is given to a form of name dropping. For Philosophers alone, he includes Protagorus and other Sophists, Erasmus, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Russell, Sartre and Heidegger. Yet is only part of a small book of around 35,000 words.

It should be noted, however, that the Greek Philosophers who are closer to Fuller’s paradigm for intellectuals were universal “lovers of wisdom”. Generalists and not specialists. He only grants Bertrand Russell the title of intellectual once Russell had graduated from being a mere logician !

Whilst the Intellectual in the dialogue does recognise that philosophers can reach his own lofty status, he is extremely grumpy about four areas of Modern (i.e. post-Descartes) Philosophy. And these feelings do impact upon Fuller’s approach in the essays.

(1) Continental Philosophy is criticised as being given to closed systems, which override both questions and challenges by reverting inward to their own pre-programmed systems.

(2) Analytic Philosophy (the sort I studied in the 1960’s) is mainly seen as being involved in knit-picking ways of avoiding significant questions, by centring upon the meaning of the use of words - hence this knit-picking review.

(3) Science is often seen as a mixture of the too low or the too high. Either as low level theorising operating within specific and restricted areas, or as a form of non-cashable Philosophy of Science. The latter is seen as either involved in unfathomable jargon or (like Analytic Philosophy) acts to close down its investigations. Hence Karl Popper’s theory of “falsification” (that a scientific claim is only meaningful if presented in a way that in logic it is open to a possible falsification), is dismissed by the Intellectual in the dialogue.

(4) Metaphysics is also slated. Whilst it can escape the knit-picking arguments used against it by Analytic Philosophy, it falls (as with Continental Philosophy) into the trap of employing closed, immovable systems. On this matter, Fuller is now on the side of Popper and he calls for the use of open reasoning in an Open Society.

There seems to me to be two problems about Fuller’s approach. If we dismantle all of the above, we seem to be left empty handed. Whilst it also seems to be unfair to Popper. Clearly there is an intellectual connection between Popper’s call for an Open Society (which Fuller accepts in 4 above) and the open minded nature of his test of falsification (which Fuller rejects in 3 above.)

Yet Fuller’s attitude on Popper does not arise from a lack of knowledge, for he is also author of another work entitled ’Kuhn vs. Popper’ ( 2003, ICON books.)

In the 115 pages outside of the dialogue, Fuller is much more generous in granting his accolade of “intellectual” to philosophers and others. Fifty people are given the title. Ten of whom I grant, I had never heard of before. Most of those I had come across fit my own (admittedly analytic usage) of the term. They are thinkers who are highly skilled, widely knowledgeable and use reasoning and detailed empirical research in ways that the rest of us (in our critical and reflective moments) find to be innovative , informative and telling.

But Fuller reduces the scope of my above categorisation by continuing to exclude those he sees as specialists, advocates of closed systems and manipulators of ideas. The problem here is that Fuller is seemingly looking for idealised intellectuals, rather than human intellectuals with warts. Yet this is strange given his feelings for the importance of arguments and disputes, which leads him to say that it is better that we criticize him than that we report what he says uncritically. I should be in for some Brownie points.

On Fuller’s criteria we should really delete some people from his own list of intellectuals. Galileo should go as a specialist. John Gray when a Thatcherite should go for advocating a closed system. Whilst most of us would expect the Sophists to go as manipulators. Fuller does however defend the Sophists, whom he claims are misunderstood.

Noam Chomsky makes the list. But on Fuller‘s terms should he? When Chomsky produced his work on linguistics he was in a specialist area. As a political pundit, he clearly reveals a closed mind operating in a closed system - or so Oliver Kamn insists.

On the positive side (when he isn’t doing his own weeding out), Fuller sees intellectuals as having an interest in meta-politics. So as some-one with a joint degree in Politics and Philosophy (and an interest in their synthesis), how can my biases not be appealed to?

To give meta-politics its place, he says we need to look for independence of thought, rejection of personal interests, a search for truths and a “democratic sentiment” which leaves people to decide on matters for themselves.

Ignoring the question of how far we can tolerate the intolerant, he feels that we should exclude nothing from our agenda; even forms of racism, creationism and sexism should be investigated on their own terms as they might contain truths. What we find worrying about them are best grappled with through his beloved avenue of dialectical reasoning.

After the first publication of the hardback edition of his book in 2005 ( and as outlined in the Preface to this paperback edition), he went on to give evidence in defence of the teaching of creationism alongside Darwin’s theory of evolution in the Kitzmiller Vs Dover Area School District case in Pennsylvania. He felt that both positions (and those investigating them) would benefit from the interchanges.

As I am myself given to listening or reading Wagner (a racist), St Augustine (philosophically, a form of pre-creationist), and Schopeneur (a misogynist), I don’t necessarily disagree with what he is after; although I am more than sceptical of his Pennsylvanian hopes. But in the context of this book, it is clear that his willingness to make such concessions to strongly anti-social ideas, enables him to grant the title of “intellectual” to many who fall way short of his otherwise perfectionist criteria.

The paradox is that under my own above criteria, I am more than willing to designate, say, Schopeneur as an intellectual. But I don’t think that Fuller should via his own (mistaken) criteria. This is because Schopeneur’s use of his concept of “the will” is a closed and circular one.

In his book, Fuller is described as “a trainee Multi-media public intellectual”. I presume that he feels that in his academic work, he has already established his credentials and he is now training to adapt his skills to a post-modern canvas.

I hope that, within his own standards, this works. For as a self claimed socialist he comes up with a couple of telling points on New Labour and on a 36 year olds perception of the meaning of socialism. See the final paragraph of page 135 and the overlapping paragraph on pages 159/60.

A final word on dialectics. I am all for its use in the Socratic or educational sense, as I tried to pursue such avenues for 27 years as a tutor in Adult Education. I don’t, however, want people to be carried over into Hegelian Idealism or into the worst bits of Marx and Engels which is their Historical Materialism. Neither does Fuller, as these approaches are clearly part of Continental Philosophy and Metaphysics.

Yet, Fuller is such a strong advocate of dialectical reasoning that, he should really be more open minded about Empiricism, Logical Analysis, Metaphysics, Continental Philosophy and Scientific Methods.

It is a pity that he downgrades all these, whilst giving a boost to the anti-social theories of racism, sexism and creationism which thrive on non-intellectual techniques.