We now get to the next to the last chapter in Paul Feyerabend’s recently (and obviously posthumously published) Philosophy of Nature. (Here you will find part I; part II; part III; and part IV.) Recall that the point of this rather idiosyncratic book is to provide a broad account of the transitions among three major “forms of life” representing three ways in which humans have made sense of the world: myth, philosophy, and science. This chapter is about the pre-Socratics until Parmenides, while the last (very long) chapter will cover everything that has happened over the past couple of millennia, up to modern physics. (Yes, I know.)
As readers of this blog, of my books, and of pretty much everything else I’ve written so far know, I value rational discourse and (still) believe it to be the only way forward open to humanity. But boy it can get frustrating, sometimes! One such example occurred recently, during an increasingly surreal discussion I had with one of my relatives — about politics, pseudoscience (specifically, the non-existent connection between vaccines and autism), conspiracy theories (9/11), and much, much more.
I’ve been reading and commenting on a book that has little to do with the range of subject matters usually covered here at Footnotes to Plato: C. Kavin Rowe’s One True Life: The Stoics and Early Christians as Rival Traditions (if you are interested in my ongoing commentary over at How to Be a Stoic, check part I, part II; and part III; there will be one more, forthcoming soon). The reason I’m bringing this up here is because of Rowe’s chapter 8, entitled “Can we compare?” His goal is to eventually show that Stoicism and Christianity are fundamentally incompatible ways of life, with distinct — and incommensurable — internal logics. I don’t think so, but that’s another story. What’s interesting here is that Rowe deploys the influential philosophy of Alasdair MacIntyre to lay the grounds for his conclusion, and MacIntyre’s philosophy is very much relevant to ongoing discussions about, say, science vs pseudoscience, or atheism vs religion, and a number of other dichotomous positions that we often approach with the assumption that we can meaningfully compare and decide which is more rational or rationally defensible.
I’m going to start a new occasional series here at Footnotes to Plato: a book club. I read books all the time, of course, though lately a heck of a lot of them have to do with Stoicism and ancient philosophy. Some are more worthy than others to share, and from time to time I have written individual commentaries on interesting books or even single chapters. But this new series, identified by the corresponding category on the blog, will actually present multi-part commentaries on a whole book, either chapter by chapter, or at the least on clusters of interesting chapters. My choice for the first series is Paul Feyerabend’s Philosophy of Nature.
I promise, this is the last round concerning this particular discussion, at the least on my part. To recap: Danny Hakim, an investigative reporter for the New York Times, published a critical piece on certain aspects of GMO technology; my friend and fellow skeptic Steve Novella responded; I commented critically on Steve’s response; and he responded to my criticism. The current post, however, isn’t going to be yet another blow-by-blow affair, for a few reasons: i) it would be even longer than the last installment, which I fear would severely test readers’ patience; ii) there is a diminishing return to going deeper and deeper and insert more and more qualifications to any argument; and iii) it seems to me that most of what Steve and I wanted to say has been said already.
by Steve Novella
I always enjoy when someone whom I respect and who cares about using careful and valid arguments disagrees with me. It is an opportunity for me to correct any mistakes I have made, to deepen my understanding of the topic, or at least tighten up my arguments.
Genetically Modified Organisms, or GMOs, are a hot topic of controversy in the public arena, just like vaccines, or climate change. Public defenders of science, what are often referred to as “skeptics” (among whom I count myself), have taken sides on all these issues, trying to do their best to bring some sanity and evidence-based clarity to bear upon them. The problem is that while it is beyond doubt that vaccines do not, in fact, cause autism; and it is also pretty darn clear that human beings do, at the least in part, cause global warming; the thing about GMOs is slightly more complex. Make that a lot more complex.