Intellectual Impostures Paperback – 11 Oct 1999
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When it was published in France, this book shocked the philosophes of the Left Bank with its plain-speaking attack on some of France''s greatest minds'
About the Author
Jean-Francois Abgrall was a senior detective in the French police. He developed an extraordinary reputation for his psychological insights into criminal behaviour. He is now a private detective.
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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.
In his parody Alan Sokal used all possible means available to imitate a piece of postmodernist text. In fact his imitation was so good it was indistinguishable from the 'real' thing.
So was the parody real chocolate or fake merde, or fake chocolate or real merde ? As always the reader must decide.
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. Sokal and Bricmont uphold the scientific approach, that knowledge is based on respect for the clarity and logical coherence of theories and on the confrontation of theories with empirical evidence. Knowledge in both natural and social science is cumulative; our understanding of the world grows as we constantly check our ideas against the reality.
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