Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Bill Vallicella gets email from a reader who, to quote one of the Geico cavemen, is “not 100% in love with [my] tone” in The Last Superstition. According to this reader (who, to be sure, does say some kind things about the book), my polemical style, no less than Daniel Dennett’s, is depressing evidence that professional philosophers “can and will immediately sacrifice civility and courtesy if they think it will best serve to advance their metaphysical/social/political ideals.”
This is unjust. As I make clear in the book and have made clear in earlier posts here, I take the tone I do with the likes of Dawkins, Dennett, et al. because they have been “asking for it.” I would never take such a tone (“immediately” or otherwise) with a serious atheist like Quentin Smith, J. J. C. Smart, or the late J. L. Mackie – regardless of whether doing so would “advance [my] metaphysical/social/political ideals.” Perhaps the reader in question also believes that policemen returning fire toward armed bank robbers who are shooting at them contribute to the crime rate just as much as the latter do. If not, I would ask him to consider that sometimes it matters “who started it,” and that in issues of public controversy as much as in maintaining law and order, rough tactics must sometimes be used against thugs who would otherwise trample upon the innocent. (The “innocent” in the case at hand being unwary non-specialist readers who might be deceived into thinking that the New Atheists must, given their bravado and public stature, have at least something of interest to say.)
Anyway, I have addressed the issue of the occasional appropriateness of polemics in philosophy at length here and, most recently, here.
Check out the comments section of Bill’s post for a drive-by piece of lightweight New Atheist-style commentary from A. C. Grayling, whose volume Against All Gods has at least one advantage over the better-known works of the Big Four: it is as thin physically (64 pages) as it is intellectually.
UPDATE: The reader in question kindly clarifies his remarks in the comments section below.