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Dawkins Review of Intellectual Impostures. Guattari, one of many fashionable French ‘intellectuals’ outed by Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont in. Intellectual Impostures by Sokal and Bricmont. Robert Taylor cheers to the rafters the attack by Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont on modern French philosophy’s. originally published in French, as: Impostures intellectuelles; US title: Fashionable Nonsense; UK title: Intellectual Impostures; US subtitle: Postmodern .

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You can read four articles free per month. To have complete access to the thousands of philosophy articles on this site, please. Those caught in the altogether include the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan; the inteellectual critic Julia Kristeva; the sociologist of science Bruno Ihtellectual the social philosopher Baudrillard; the philosopher Gilles Deleuze and linguistic sexologist Luce Irigaray.

The book is aimed not so much at these individual writers but at the very tone of voice adopted by cultural and academic intellectuals over the last 25 years.

They are accused of appropriating or denigrating the concepts of natural science in their writings and lectures without ever understanding these concepts in the first place. The first part of the book, based on a well known hoax article that Sokal published a intllectual of years ago, intends to poke fun at and puncture the intelletual of these and other pompous intellectuals and it does so with devastating effect.

They quote the following beginning of a word sentence from Paul Virilio. And as far as we can see it means precisely nothing. As the book explains, the problem is that much of what these authors write is utterly meaningless.

Ipostures scientific and mathematical concepts are simply scattered around in order to impress the reader with a superficial display of erudition. The conclusions reached are not proved by careful explanation but simply announced with the implication that the reasoning is obvious.

Postmodernism disrobed

The result is that a lot of big name academics get bigger names while the rest of us are none the wiser.

Anyone familiar with contemporary writings in the fields of social science, cultural criticism and continental philosophy will recognise the pompous, verbose, self-important and entirely humourless style that Sokal and Bricmont criticise. It might be argued that these concepts are used as metaphors, or are to be understood as analogies, however the purpose of analogy ought to be to make things clearer, where here it serves only to obscure.


The more philosophically interesting intellecttual of the book are the sections on Kuhn and Feyerabend and those who have taken their work as proof of a radical Epistemic Relativism.

This is the idea that science is only one theory of knowledge amongst many and that science has no greater claim to untellectual than any other belief systems. Sokal and Bricmont see this as allowing the rot exposed by the rest of the book to set in. The authors argue that just because scepticism about the real world is irrefutable, this is no good reason to believe it is justified.

Conversely just because empirical information rests on unproven assumptions is no reason for not following it. They make some interesting points, which are all the better for being uninhibited by the protocol of professional philosophy. One feels they are saying explicitly what is implicit but unsaid in the work of many professional philosophers.

They point out that radical scepticism or solipsism is self defeating — not least because no one could live in accordance with it. They also remark that scientific reasoning is not really very different from the way anybody would set about solving an everyday problem. They compare the reasoning of science with the methods of detecting crimes — both develop theories and gather evidence to support them. However, while trying to bring out the similarity of science and everyday reasoning, the authors are strongly against the conflation of the everyday uses of words and specific technical senses.

Alan Sokal + Jean Bricmont

It might be argued that for those without the breadth and depth of scientific knowledge that the authors display i. Although they make limited attempts to explain the background of scientific concepts, in the end the lay reader will have to either accept what they say or reject it.


They are however scrupulous about setting out quotations and references. Obviously aware of the criticism they could expect from those quarters attacked in the book, they made sure their sources were pretty bomb proof.

A question which runs through the book, although expressly avoided, is perhaps the most philosophically fundamental. How far can the social sciences achieve the same goals as the natural sciences?

Intellectual Impostures (Alan Sokal, Jean Bricmont) – review

After finishing the imposturfs, one is left with the nagging feeling that the wild world of human nature will never succumb to categorisation and prediction. Perhaps simply aping the techniques of physics and chemistry is not a good way to proceed. The radical sceptical solution to this is to allow all systems of reasoning intellectuao same credibility — science is reduced to one narrative amongst many.

Obviously, the problem with this is that it allows status to the most obscurantist and unpalatable ideas — creation theory, eugenics, all must be allowed their stand.

It will still be necessary to evaluate and examine these competing theories intellextual, and to do this some kind of objective stance will always be necessary. Throughout the book Sokal and Bricmont return to the same theme of devotion to theory itnellectual empirical evidence. Most of the authors they criticise have attempted to run off with theory before looking to see if they are on the right track.

The quality of a scientific theory is always based on the quantity of evidence.

Perhaps we need to look at ourselves longer and more closely before embarking on a science of mankind. This site uses cookies to recognize users and allow us to analyse site usage. By continuing to browse the site with cookies enabled in your browser, you consent to the use of cookies in accordance with our privacy policy.


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