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Pseudophilosophy

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Pseudophilosophy is any idea or system that masquerades as philosophy while significantly failing to meet some suitable intellectual standards. The term is pejorative, and most applications of it are quite contentious. The term bears the same relationship to philosophy that pseudoscience bears to science.

The term is not infrequently used more casually to express contempt, irritation, or just dislike toward some idea or system of ideas. It is not, for the most part, used technically within academic philosophy, though it is likely to occur in philosophers' judgments on larger aspects of culture, their advice to new students, their assessments of other disciplines, and so forth.

The Oxford Companion to Philosophy gives the following definition by Nicholas Rescher: "pseudo-philosophy consists in deliberations that masquerade as philosophical but are inept, incompetent, deficient in intellectual seriousness, and reflective of an insufficient commitment to the pursuit of truth." Rescher adds that the term is particularly appropriate when applied to "those who use the resources of reason to substantiate the claim that rationality is unachievable in matters of inquiry."

Table of contents
1 Some accusations of pseudophilosophy
2 See also
3 External link

Some accusations of pseudophilosophy

Academic pseudophilosophy

When W. V. Quine and several other academic philosophers wrote to Cambridge University protesting the award of an honorary degree to Jacques Derrida, saying that Derrida's work "does not meet accepted standards of clarity and rigor" and that it is made of "tricks and gimmicks similar to those of the Dadaists," the word may have been useful to them.

Alfred Korzybski's theory of General Semantics has been given this appellation (again, by Quine), and post-structuralism has been widely accused of this (see the Sokal Hoax).

Similarly, Schopenhauer wrote the following about Hegel:

If I were to say that the so-called philosophy of this fellow Hegel is a colossal piece of mystification which will yet provide posterity with an inexhaustible theme for laughter at our times, that it is a pseudophilosophy paralyzing all mental powers, stifling all real thinking, and, by the most outrageous misuse of language, putting in its place the hollowest, most senseless, thoughtless, and, as is confirmed by its success, most stupefying verbiage, I should be quite right.
-- Arthur Schopenhauer, On the Basis of Morality, trans. E.F.J.Payne (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1965), pp.15?16 ([1])

Schopenhauer's critique of Hegel is directed at his perception that Hegel's works use deliberately impressive but ultimately vacuous jargon and neologisms, and that they contained castles of abstraction that sounded impressive but ultimately contained no verifiable content. As the Quine incident shows, similar accusations have been made more recently against postmodernists and the adherents of French critical theory like Derrida, Jean Baudrillard, Julia Kristeva, and Jean-François Lyotard.

Ayn Rand's Objectivism

Ayn Rand's Objectivism is also frequently accused of being pseudophilosophy. Several strains of opinion converge in this claim. Rand was a self-taught philosopher; not only were her concerns out of the mainstream of academic philosophy during the years she was active, but also her grasp of the historical problems of philosophy was not at what many academic philosophers would regard as a scholarly level. (Her proposed resolution of the problem of universals, for example, treated it as a question of epistemology even though the existence and nature of universals has usually been taken as a question of metaphysics.) She often tried to convey her opinions through the popular medium of what she called "romantic realist" novels. She and some of her followers were regarded as having dogmatic tendencies, and tended not to recognise degrees of dissent from Rand's conclusions; this led others to see her as a cult leader. Some commentators have further claimed that, perhaps largely as a result of the aforementioned tendencies, Rand's philosophy is not especially competently developed and that at some points it undermines itself (both of which are fairly common criticisms of purportedly revolutionary philosophies developed by those said to have little sympathetic acquaintance with the history of the field). The charge that Objectivism is a "pseudophilosophy" generally implies disapproval of one of these aspects of Rand's style of thought and presentation.

Academic reception of Objectivism has improved in recent years. There are currently fellowships for the study of Objectivism at several major philosophy departments, including the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Texas, as well as business schools of universities such as the University of Southern California. A number of books have been published to comprehensively present the philosophy, including by Dr. Leonard Peikoff. Other works have been directed at academic audiences, such as Viable Values by Dr. Tara Smith and The Biological Basis of Teleological Concepts by Dr Harry Binswanger. An academic journal, the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies has been publishing critical essays of Ayn RandÒs philosophy since 1999.

Pseudophilosophy in popular culture

Other works that have been labelled as "pseudophilosophy" include the religious poetry of Kahlil Gibran, or the material in Richard Bach's fable Jonathan Livingston Seagull or James Redfield's The Celestine Prophecy. Here, the label of pseudophilosophy is used to criticise these works as being conventional, sentimental, or platitudinous; and of lacking rigor, system, or analytical content.

Robert Pirsig's novels Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Lila, and his system Metaphysics of Quality are usually put under this rubric by professional scholars.

Another cultural phenomenon that has been labelled "pseudophilosophy" is the radical philosophical scepticism that is the central premise of the motion picture The Matrix.

See also

External link