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Intellectual Impostures Paperback – 11 Oct 1999

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Product details

  • Paperback: 296 pages
  • Publisher: Profile Books (11 Oct. 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1861971249
  • ISBN-13: 978-1861971241
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.4 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 920,339 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

In 1996, an article entitled "Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity" was published in the cultural studies journal Social Text. Packed with recherché quotations from "postmodern" literary theorists and sociologists of science, and bristling with imposing theorems of mathematical physics, the article addressed the cultural and political implications of the theory of quantum gravity. Later, to the embarrassment of the editors, the author revealed that the essay was a hoax, interweaving absurd pronouncements from eminent intellectuals about mathematics and physics with laudatory--but fatuous--prose.

In Intellectual Imposteurs, Alan Sokal, the author of the hoax, and Jean Bricmont contend that abuse of science is rampant in postmodernist circles, both in the form of inaccurate and pretentious invocation of scientific and mathematical terminology and in the more insidious form of epistemic relativism. When Sokal and Bricmont expose Jacques Lacan's ignorant misuse of topology, or Julia Kristeva's of set theory, or Luce Irigaray's of fluid mechanics, or Jean Baudrillard's of non-Euclidean geometry, they are on safe ground; it is all too clear that these virtuosi are babbling.

Their discussion of epistemic relativism--roughly, the idea that scientific and mathematical theories are mere "narrations" or social constructions--is less convincing, however, in part because epistemic relativism is not as intrinsically silly as, say, Regis Debray's maunderings about Gödel, and in part because the authors' own grasp of the philosophy of science frequently verges on the naive. Nevertheless, Sokal and Bricmont are to be commended for their spirited resistance to postmodernity's failure to appreciate science for what it is. --Glenn Branch, --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.


'A splendid book.' Richard Dawkins, Nature 'A delicious revelation that even the perpetrators of postmodern philosophy often have no idea what they're saying.' The Observer 'The exposure of ignorance, pomposity and pseudo-science in this book are truly breathtaking.' Sunday Telegraph 'A forensic examination of sackloads of ordure from the postmodern stable.' Financial Times --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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43 of 48 people found the following review helpful By William Podmore on 5 Aug. 2001
Format: Paperback
Sokal and Bricmont, two professors of physics, show that fashionable French intellectuals in the fields of social and cultural studies - Jacques Lacan, Jean Baudrillard, Gilles Deleuze, Julia Kristeva, Jean-Francois Lyotard and Luce Irigaray - habitually misuse scientific concepts and terms. Unable to produce genuine science in their own fields, Lacan et al import concepts from the physical sciences - typically, chaos theory, fuzzy logic and the uncertainty principle - to try to impress. They regard science, evidence, reason and knowledge as oppressive. Kristeva characteristically responded to criticism by calling Sokal and Bricmont Francophobes!
The two physicists attack relativism, the idea that a statement's truth or falsity is relative to an individual or social group. (Some US colleges run courses like 'queer studies', whose very subject is defined in relation to the interests of a social group, not by its field of study.) Relativists imply that modern science is just a 'myth', a 'narration' or a 'social construction'. This allows in the notion that, for instance, creationism is just as valid as the theory of evolution.
The editors of 'Social Text' accepted Sokal's famous spoof article, 'Transgressing the boundaries: towards a transformative hermeneutics of quantum gravity', in which he wrote: "Physical 'reality', no less than social 'reality', is at bottom a social and linguistic construct." The editors of 'Science and Culture' accepted the Madsens' supposedly serious article, 'Structuring postmodern science', in which they wrote "A simple criterion for science to qualify as postmodern is that it be free from any dependence on the concept of objective truth." Says it all really!
This book tears apart these postmodernist theorists.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Peter Uys HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on 23 Oct. 2004
Format: Paperback
This book grew out of the famous hoax in which Alan Sokal published a parody article in the American postmod journal Social Text. The article was filled with non sequiturs and nonsensical quotations about maths and physics by prominent French and American intellectuals, yet it was published unaltered. Sokal then revealed that it was a deliberate parody, to the great consternation of the editors.
Intellectual Impostures broadens the investigation to demonstrate how intellectuals such as Lacan, Kristeva, Irigaray, Baudrillard, Deleuze and Guattari have repeatedly abused scientific concepts and terminology. They have either used these ideas completely out of context without justification or they have thrown scientific jargon around with no regard for its meaning or relevance, obviously to try to impress their readers.
In the preface to the first edition, Sokal and Bricmont provide the background to the controversy whilst in the preface to the second edition they discuss the four types of criticisms of their book. These are: critics who tried to refute them, critics who attributed to them ideas that the authors themselves had rejected, name-calling and ad hominem attacks, and finally those who agreed but thought that the authors did not go far enough.
Here one is tempted to partly agree with Anne Applebaum who, in her review of the book, claimed that of course post-structuralist theory is rubbish and that we don't need a book to tell us that. I disagree with the second statement, because Intellectual Impostures is mostly an amusing read that will have you rolling on the floor and because it is vitally important that intellectual frauds be exposed.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By W. R. Stewart on 15 Jan. 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The authors are even handed but there is no conclusion other than that post modernism is full of impostures, created we therefore infer by impostors. How much time has been wasted and confusion has been sown by the likes of Lacan and Kristeva? Surely this is phenomenon that will merit analysis in the future, cf. the witch craze in early modern Europe. Innocent concepts are taken out and burnt on a pyre of ego. I watch and I feel disgusted. In the future we should give mathematics the respect it deserves.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Mr. David R. Portus on 16 Dec. 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Sokal and Bricmont acheive their aim of critisizing some postmodernists for their perceived abuse of science. The professors point out some of the blatent abuse of scientific terms and concepts used by the postmodernist authors to augment their own theses. To this end they are entertaining, and to my mind valid.

The professors also enter the arena of philosophy of science in chapter 4 " intermezzo". They offer some critisism of Popper, Quine, Kuhn, Feyerabend and others in a concise form. What's more they also indicate their own philosophy which is based on the verification of facts in a scientific context, along with the possibility of allowing inductive inferences to made from these verifications.

All this is well and good, however it may be that there is another interpretation possible, if one where to act as devil's advocate for the postmodernists :

Sokal ands Bricmont's own philosophy relies on verification, which ultimately relies on tautologies. As such it gives the reader no meaning that may be applied outside a very constrained set of conditions.

The postmodernist author may have taken the scientific concepts and language onboard as a metaphor, in order to enrich his own work and allow the reader to interpret meaning through their text.

"It is a great thing indeed for the poet to be able to make a proper use of these poetical forms, as also of compounds and strange words. But the greatest thing by far is to be a master of metaphor. Metaphor consists of giving a thing a name that belongs to something else. " Aristotle cited in Polnayi Meaning 1975.

In this context the postmodernist author may be an accomplished poet, yet a poor scientist.
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