Why Alex Rosenberg – and a number of other philosophers – are wrong just about everything

[Alex Rosenberg, thinking]

Here is the abstract of a new paper I published about the general issue of what I call scientistic reductionism in philosophy, focusing on one of its main proponents, Duke University philosopher Alex Rosenberg. You can download the full paper, published in the Journal of Cognitive Historiography, here.

There is a pernicious tendency these days among some philosophers to engage in a “nothing but” attitude about important questions. According to this attitude, consciousness, volition, reason, and morality are “illusions”, “nothing but” the epiphenomena of specific neural processes. Alex Rosenberg is a particularly good (though by no means the only) illustration of this problem, which is why his work is presented and analyzed in some detail in this contribution. The general attitude displayed by Rosenberg et al. falls squarely under the rubric of “scientism”, the notion that science (however vaguely and very broadly defined) is the only reliable source of knowledge and understanding, and that all other disciplines (especially the humanistic ones) ought to bow to its dictates. The results are, predictably, incoherent and pernicious, as it is illustrated here via a number of examples.

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Massimo is the K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy at the City College of New York. He blogs at platofootnote.org and howtobeastoic.org. He is the author of How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life.

3 thoughts on “Why Alex Rosenberg – and a number of other philosophers – are wrong just about everything”

  1. I haven’t read the paper yet, but I know your position based on past readings.

    I’m closer to your position with respect to successful scientific description, but I have to admit I feel the pull for what’s driving the kind of view by those like Rosenberg and Dennett. I struggle with this from a metaphysical standpoint, it’s very strange to me how in a universe that started with nothing but phenomenon that can be described by physics, phenomenon that can not be adequately described by physics can arise. Like I’m more comfortably inclined to think the process of emergence itself is some kind of yet known physics. Unless it’s not true that the universe starts with nothing but phenomenon described by physics, and physical reality is just more complicated than that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I understand the pull. That said, I’m not sure I would put Dennett in the same category as Rosenberg. When I participated to Sean Carroll’s workshop on moving naturalism forward, years ago, they were often at each other’s throat…


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