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Friday, October 26, 2018

Thus Faked Zarathustra

In his WSJ article,  Robert P. Crease takes Steven Pinker to task for the incorrect interpretation of Nietzsche in Pinker's book Enlightenment Now. Here's an excerpt from Crease's article:
The danger is not Mr. Pinker’s silly interpretation. It’s the confident assumption that one can cull a sentence out of context, take it literally, and know its meaning. That may be fine for scientific papers, but most language does not work like that. In everyday life, humans often find they express themselves more effectively by speaking allusively, evocatively, breezily, playfully, impressionistically, satirically, provocatively, imperatively or even wickedly than by speaking with scientific literalness. They also need to know the full story behind which the words are spoken. 
Mr. Pinker’s certainty about his take on Nietzsche’s words—as well as the pass that reviewers have given him concerning his remarks about philosophers—reflects the urge to cram language into a single, scientific model to which all language should conform. That’s antithetical to the humanities as a discipline, one of whose ambitions is to cultivate fluency in the full sweep of human expression. 
Interpreting intellectual remarks out of context threatens not only the humanities but the climate in which culture, to say nothing of good scholarship, thrives. The humanities need some equivalent of Carl Sagan or Richard Dawkins, speaking for the rest of our knowledge and practices the way they did for the sciences, to take on the mission of blasting away degradations of intellectual discourse.
Ouch. 

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