Thursday, February 18, 2010

Readings: Everything That Really Matters

I am currently reading the novel 36 Arguments for the Existence of God, by one of my very favorite contemporary writers, Rebecca Goldstein. Or, as she designates herself on the title page of this offering: Rebecca Newberger Goldstein.

The excerpts I will share below involve a discussion between two doctoral candidates, each a disciple of the brilliant, if eccentric, faculty star: Prof. Jonas Elijah Klapper. The pair had been for a late-night drink at a student hang-out and had been accosted and “good-naturedly” ridiculed by a group of other grad students for being Klapper’s students. The older of the pair speaks first:
xxx“Of course [that’s a typical opinion of Klapper]. Jonas gets that all the time from so-called philosophers. He’s the only one who’s doing real philosophy these days, ever since the logical positivists set out to hunt down and exterminate any genuine philosophical insights. These are the guys who run around calling out ‘meaningless’ wherever they find something difficult and profound. …If they can’t bag it in some trivial empirical test, they blast it out of the skies with ‘meaningless.’ Look, according to these guys, even Nietzsche isn’t a real philosopher, and that—to use one of their own favorite ploys—is a reductio ad absurdum if ever there was one.”
xxx“Why didn’t we set the guy straight? Shouldn’t we have defended Professor Klapper?”
[asks the younger of the two]

Now, here follows the points that grabbed me, and with which I tend to wholeheartedly agree (even if Rebecca Goldstein may not, btw):

xxx“There’s no point. These guys are ideologues. Their worldviews would crumble if you got them to give up their positivistic, nihilistic scientism. The English departments are mired in political ideology, and the philosophers are buried in scientistic ideology. Jonas is the sole defender of the faith.”

The liberal arts, like the departments of political science and economics, have been invaded and successfully colonized by ideologues. But the issue is not—as is often bruited about by the rightwing ideologues—that they are political leftists; the issue is that they are positivists, dominating disciplines which should be the domains of creative thinkers and idealists. If this trend is not reversed, the soul of our living, organic, age-old civilization is kaput; replaced by a debased anti-culture of mass-produced, repeatable and disposable, inorganic facts.