Richard Dawkins as 'Anti-Philosopher'

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Jonathan.s
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Richard Dawkins as 'Anti-Philosopher'

Post by Jonathan.s »

Richard Dawkins appeared on Australian TV earlier this year, to debate with Cardinal George Pell, who is a Catholic bishop, on a show called Q and A, which is filmed in front of a live audience.

I don’t like Dawkins, but I am not Catholic, nor even specifically Christian, and didn’t feel that the Cardinal Pell was a very effective advocate on the night. He blustered a lot, in my view. But Dawkins is, I think, philosophically inept in the extreme. Here is a brief excerpt.

He was asked the following question:
Without religion, where is the basis of our values and in time, will we perhaps revert back to Darwin's idea of survival of the fittest?
I very much hope that we don't revert to the idea of survival of the fittest in planning our politics and our values and our way of life. I have often said that I am a passionate Darwinian when it comes to explaining why we exist. It’s undoubtedly the reason why we're here and why all living things are here. But to live our lives in a Darwinian way, to make a society a Darwinian society, that would be a very unpleasant sort of society in which to live. It would be a sort of Thatcherite society and we want to - I mean, in a way, I feel that one of the reasons for learning about Darwinian evolution is as an object lesson in how not to set up our values and social lives….

...Science is working on the problem of the antecedent factors that lead to our existence. Now, “why” in any further sense than that, why in the sense of purpose is, in my opinion, not a meaningful question. You cannot ask a question like “Why do mountains exist?” as though mountains have some kind of purpose. What you can say is what are the causal factors that lead to the existence of mountains and the same with life and the same with the universe.
(My emphasis. Rest of transcript is here.)

Now, my analysis of this exchange is that Dawkins really doesn’t comprehend that there is a question as to ‘why humans exist’, which is a completely different kind of question to ‘why do mountains exist’.

After all, humans are intelligent, self-aware beings who can ask such questions as ‘why are we here?’ This question is especially poignant because human life often seems fragile and painful in the extreme; we often have to struggle to make sense out of it, and the question 'Why'? often forces itself on us with great urgency.

It is fairly plain from Dawkins answer that he thinks this is a meaningless question (he says this in plenty of other places also). He is entitled to his view, but I think it disqualifies him from discussing anything the least philosophical. I don't think the man has any philosophical depth whatever. And like most shallow people, he really has no comprehension of what it is that he doesn't get. As someone once said about Ronald Reagen, 'if you waded through his deepest thoughts, you wouldn't get your feet wet'.

This is both annoying and saddening, seeing as how he is one of the top-selling authors on the topic of 'God' in the Western world.
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John
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Re: Richard Dawkins as 'Anti-Philosopher'

Post by John »

Maybe I'm misunderstanding the point your making but are you saying that a position that claims that humans are not here for a purpose is invalid, or shallow and inept, philosophically?

Like I say though, maybe I've misunderstood the point you're making.
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Jonathan.s
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Re: Richard Dawkins as 'Anti-Philosopher'

Post by Jonathan.s »

To put it differently, the question as to 'why we are here' is not the same kind of question as 'why do mountains exist'.

If someone were to ask me 'why mountains exist', I would point them in the direction of books on geology and plate tectonics.

The question 'why are we here?' (or 'does life have a purpose' ) is a completely different kind of question. And you can say this, without even venturing into whether there is, or is not, an answer to the question. So I am not saying that there is 'a purpose', but I am saying, to dismiss the question as meaningless, denotes a particular kind of mentality.

There are instrumental explanations, and there are philosophical questions - and they are questions of different kinds. To even ask a philosophical question denotes a philosophical outlook on life - which I cannot really ever see in Dawkin's writings.
chaz wyman
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Re: Richard Dawkins as 'Anti-Philosopher'

Post by chaz wyman »

Jonathan.s wrote:Richard Dawkins appeared on Australian TV earlier this year, to debate with Cardinal George Pell, who is a Catholic bishop, on a show called Q and A, which is filmed in front of a live audience.

I don’t like Dawkins, but I am not Catholic, nor even specifically Christian, and didn’t feel that the Cardinal Pell was a very effective advocate on the night. He blustered a lot, in my view. But Dawkins is, I think, philosophically inept in the extreme. Here is a brief excerpt.

He was asked the following question:
Without religion, where is the basis of our values and in time, will we perhaps revert back to Darwin's idea of survival of the fittest?
I very much hope that we don't revert to the idea of survival of the fittest in planning our politics and our values and our way of life. I have often said that I am a passionate Darwinian when it comes to explaining why we exist. It’s undoubtedly the reason why we're here and why all living things are here. But to live our lives in a Darwinian way, to make a society a Darwinian society, that would be a very unpleasant sort of society in which to live. It would be a sort of Thatcherite society and we want to - I mean, in a way, I feel that one of the reasons for learning about Darwinian evolution is as an object lesson in how not to set up our values and social lives….

...Science is working on the problem of the antecedent factors that lead to our existence. Now, “why” in any further sense than that, why in the sense of purpose is, in my opinion, not a meaningful question. You cannot ask a question like “Why do mountains exist?” as though mountains have some kind of purpose. What you can say is what are the causal factors that lead to the existence of mountains and the same with life and the same with the universe.
(My emphasis. Rest of transcript is here.)

Now, my analysis of this exchange is that Dawkins really doesn’t comprehend that there is a question as to ‘why humans exist’, which is a completely different kind of question to ‘why do mountains exist’.
No, I think it is you that has the problem assuming that the question has to be different for humans and mountains - WHY? Why do you feel that humans have to be made into a special case?
Jonathan.s wrote:
After all, humans are intelligent, self-aware beings who can ask such questions as ‘why are we here?’ This question is especially poignant because human life often seems fragile and painful in the extreme; we often have to struggle to make sense out of it, and the question 'Why'? often forces itself on us with great urgency

It is fairly plain from Dawkins answer that he thinks this is a meaningless question (he says this in plenty of other places also). He is entitled to his view, but I think it disqualifies him from discussing anything the least philosophical. I don't think the man has any philosophical depth whatever. And like most shallow people, he really has no comprehension of what it is that he doesn't get. As someone once said about Ronald Reagen, 'if you waded through his deepest thoughts, you wouldn't get your feet wet'.
Do you think you are failing to make a distinction between forward looking purposes that we decide for ourselves and the antecedent questions of how we got here, for which we have no power to change?
Jonathan.s wrote: This is both annoying and saddening, seeing as how he is one of the top-selling authors on the topic of 'God' in the Western world.
The question of antecedent purpose is meaningless. This would require that the purpose was preconceived. This would require a conceiver, which is redundant since there is a perfectly good efficient explanation for how humans have their origin. The point Dawkins is making is that as intelligent beings we have the power to look ahead.
chaz wyman
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Re: Richard Dawkins as 'Anti-Philosopher'

Post by chaz wyman »

Jonathan.s wrote:To put it differently, the question as to 'why we are here' is not the same kind of question as 'why do mountains exist'.
The question 'why' is the mistake. Ask "how" did mountains get here and 'how' did humans get here and the answer is of the same kind; formal, efficient, and material causes NOT teleological ones.
Jonathan.s wrote:
If someone were to ask me 'why mountains exist', I would point them in the direction of books on geology and plate tectonics.

The question 'why are we here?' (or 'does life have a purpose' ) is a completely different kind of question.
It is not a question at all. It is without merit. You might as well ask what is the purpose of a mountain with the same meaning. Asking what is the purpose of rain, and answering to make the grass grow is as ridiculous as what are humans on the planet for.
Jonathan.s wrote: And you can say this, without even venturing into whether there is, or is not, an answer to the question. So I am not saying that there is 'a purpose', but I am saying, to dismiss the question as meaningless, denotes a particular kind of mentality.
WHy do you think it is different asking why are we here, and what is the purpose of a mountain?
Jonathan.s wrote: There are instrumental explanations, and there are philosophical questions - and they are questions of different kinds. To even ask a philosophical question denotes a philosophical outlook on life - which I cannot really ever see in Dawkin's writings.
The species of your fallacy is special case pleading from anthropomorphism.
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Jonathan.s
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Re: Richard Dawkins as 'Anti-Philosopher'

Post by Jonathan.s »

The distinction between 'rational beings' and 'inanimate objects' is not a hard one to make. The inability to make such distinction would not bode well for subsequent philosophical analysis, in my view.
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Re: Richard Dawkins as 'Anti-Philosopher'

Post by vegetariantaxidermy »

I've always thought 'why are we here?' is a silly question. Why is the sun there? Is it there for the specific purpose of ensuring we get a nice tan? As a matter of fact we give the Universe meaning. Our awareness of the Universe is what gives it meaning. The Universe, in effect, exists only in our brains. There ya go. The meaning of life in a nutshell. :D

ps Richard Dawkins is anything but shallow.
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Jonathan.s
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Re: Richard Dawkins as 'Anti-Philosopher'

Post by Jonathan.s »

Maybe it's more the case that science has to leave out questions of purpose and meaning for the very simple reason that such questions are not amenable to quantitative analysis. But many people - even many scientists! - realize the shortcomings of turning this into a philosophy.
Erwin Schrodinger wrote:I am very astonished that the scientific picture of the real world around me is deficient. It gives a lot of factual information, puts all our experience in a magnificently consistent order, but it is ghastly silent about all and sundry that is really near to our heart, that really matters to us. It cannot tell us a word about red and blue, bitter and sweet, physical pain and physical delight; it knows nothing of beautiful and ugly, good or bad, God and eternity. Science sometimes pretends to answer questions in these domains, but the answers are very often so silly that we are not inclined to take them seriously.
//edit//
vegetariantaxidermy wrote: The universe, in effect, exists only within our brains
I am sure the universe existed long before our brains came along - but I agree with what I think you meant, regardless.
Last edited by Jonathan.s on Thu Aug 16, 2012 11:57 am, edited 1 time in total.
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John
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Re: Richard Dawkins as 'Anti-Philosopher'

Post by John »

Jonathan.s wrote:To put it differently, the question as to 'why we are here' is not the same kind of question as 'why do mountains exist'.

If someone were to ask me 'why mountains exist', I would point them in the direction of books on geology and plate tectonics.
So why not just point someone to a book on chemistry or biology when the question is asked of humans?
Jonathan.s wrote:The question 'why are we here?' (or 'does life have a purpose' ) is a completely different kind of question. And you can say this, without even venturing into whether there is, or is not, an answer to the question. So I am not saying that there is 'a purpose', but I am saying, to dismiss the question as meaningless, denotes a particular kind of mentality.
If you begin from a religious viewpoint then you might also consider that mountains are there for a purpose so the argument could be made that no such questions, whether of humans or mountains, are unworthy of consideration. However, as Dawkins does not start from a religious viewpoint his position seems quite rational.
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Jonathan.s
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Re: Richard Dawkins as 'Anti-Philosopher'

Post by Jonathan.s »

John wrote:So why not just point someone to a book on chemistry or biology when the question is asked of humans?
Sure, there is a biological perspective on the question, but that is not the only perspective, just as 'biological sciences' is not the only department in the University. Because questions of purpose are not amenable to the biological sciences, does not mean they are not real questions.
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vegetariantaxidermy
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Re: Richard Dawkins as 'Anti-Philosopher'

Post by vegetariantaxidermy »

@Johnathan.s I said 'only in', not 'entirely within'. There's a subtle difference. I do hate to be misquoted. :)
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Re: Richard Dawkins as 'Anti-Philosopher'

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Cardinal George Pell. There you have it. He has a rather dubious reputation if my memory serves me well. Refused to acknowledge or bring to justice the pedophiles who were/are rampant in the Catholic Church. The program was doomed from the beginning, he is incapable of uttering an honest opinion on anything. Q & A, is that ABC or SBS? LOL you must be an Australian.
Last edited by reasonvemotion on Thu Aug 16, 2012 12:09 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Jonathan.s
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Re: Richard Dawkins as 'Anti-Philosopher'

Post by Jonathan.s »

@vegetariantaxidermy (hope I didn't mispell that)Apologies, corrected the misquotation.


Yes, I am from Sydney. I don't like Cardinal Pell, and thought his performance was terrible. But so was Dawkins. That is one of the reasons I wrote this post.
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vegetariantaxidermy
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Re: Richard Dawkins as 'Anti-Philosopher'

Post by vegetariantaxidermy »

@Johnathan Thanks. I'm just glad you understood what I meant anyway.
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Re: Richard Dawkins as 'Anti-Philosopher'

Post by reasonvemotion »

Forgive me for asking and you may not wish to answer,so please feel free not to do so. I am curious, are you involved with the Tibetan Buddhist Society in Sydney?
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