Bad Language

I suppose you saw that shockingly bad review by Leon Wieseltier of Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the Spell in the NY Times last Sunday? It’s so awful I keep blinking with surprise when I read it. It’s not just that it’s incompetent, as Brian Leiter points out, it’s that the tone is so unpleasantly abusive, spittle-flecked, bad-mannered. It is, to use a pompous term that nevertheless seems to fit, inappropriate.

For a sorry instance of present-day scientism, it would be hard to improve on Daniel C. Dennett’s book…In his own opinion, Dennett is a hero. He is in the business of emancipation, and he reveres himself for it…Giordano Bruno, with tenure at Tufts!…Dennett is the sort of rationalist who gives reason a bad name…Dennett flatters himself that he is Hume’s heir…In this profound sense, Dennett does not believe in reason. He will be outraged to hear this, since he regards himself as a giant of rationalism…What this shallow and self-congratulatory book establishes most conclusively is that there are many spells that need to be broken.

It’s downright childish. It’s embarrassing. And that’s even apart from the substance; just the stupid schoolyardy ‘he thinks he’s such a big deal’ taunting makes Wiesltier look – completely ridiculous, and loutish besides. What can he have been thinking? Did he have a fever? And what was the Times thinking?

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