Sunday, June 23, 2013

"I often wished I had never written that fucking book"

Update: July 6, 2013 - Salon just posted a response to White's "literarily lazy, inconsistent and mendacious" posthumous attack on Hitchens by Carlo Dellora, an honors student at the University of Melbourne.

Paul Feyerabend was "one of the twentieth century's most famous philosophers of science...[and] an imaginative maverick" who was shocked at the response to his attack on reason and scientific method. It is not completely clear why Feyerabend finally uttered the title of this post (and the subtitle of my blog) in reference to his tour de force, but it might have served Curtis White well to reflect on this episode in the history of the philosophy of science before calling a dead man a liar. White's justification? "I do no more than what Hitchens himself did. Speaking of Jerry Falwell, Hitchens pointedly refuses a 'compassionate word' for this 'departed fraud.'"

But what I am most concerned with here is not White’s "sloppy or altogether missing knowledge" of what constitutes a valid moral justification for his own action. Instead, I want to focus on "how irresponsible his thinking is" with respect to the justification and value of science. And it really is pretty simple...

The arts have also made significant contributions, including contributions to our understanding of the danger of science used for savagery and the power (to move us) of appeals to emotion. And I believe Hitchens would agree with this. I starting following Hitch in 1981, and I disagreed with him (strongly) on some issues (Iraq). But he was nothing if not a huge fan of, and major contributor to, western philosophy and literature. And a passionate advocate of science and reason and eloquent explainer of how science inspires more awe than religion.

The arts, philosophy, and literature are powerful normative forces (for good or evil), and science is also a powerful force that can be used for either good or evil. We should use them wisely. But science is also the best way to find out what is true. And it's anti-dogmatic, and encourages doubt, which is the only thing it's ok to be dogmatic about if what you value is truth.
"For my part, I should wish to preach the 'will-to-doubt'...[because] what is wanted is not the will to believe, but the will to find out, which is the exact opposite.
 - Bertrand Russell

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