Link Search Menu Expand Document

Birner Quote

Date: 2020-08-13

Full quote


“By its very nature, critical rationalism attracts philosophers who believe in the force of critical argument. Let us assume (realistically, I think) that the type of personality with a firm belief in the power of criticism is less prone than the average academic to devote resources to the social networking and academic politicking that are needed to create an environment in which his or her intellectual offspring can survive…

“Until recently not only philosophers but some (outstanding) practising scientists (who are more likely to cultivate the social conditions that are necessary to carry on with their work), too, supported critical rationalism. This allowed critical rationalism to become a tradition for at least a couple of generations. In the mean time, however, the number of scientific disciplines, journals and scientists has increased. The professionalization of science has gone hand in hand with a drop in interest in philosophy on the part of scientists. The academic environment has changed and selection pressures have increased greatly. In this new environment, the support of scientists is lacking while the contents of critical rationalism continue to select against the type of personal characteristics that make it possible for individuals to adopt or have access to at least elements of different traditions. The situation of carriers of the tradition of critical rationalism being incapable of adopting or having access to alternative traditions is tantamount to the non-existence of alternative traditions. If critical rationalists continue to fail to adopt alternative traditions, or at least elements of them, critical rationalism risks becoming entrenched – and extinct.”

Jack Birner, ‘From Group Selection to Ecological Niches,’ in ‘Rethinking Popper,’ ed. Zuzana Parusnikova.

Notes on spoilers from the start of AL1

ET talks about these things (that I remember) at the beginning:

  • use of words like “force” and “power”
  • “let us assume” - anti-popperian academese
  • “type of personality” - ‘belief in the power of criticism’ is not a personality trait



are individualists pitted against the mob? is it adversarial? is the mob anyone other than “us”? is this a false dichotomy?

the idea of CR surviving or not implies a fight or something. does this fight have anything to do with CR?

This is just the title so maybe this is all explained in the body. We’ll come back to this at the end to re-evaluate it.

By its very nature, critical rationalism attracts philosophers who believe in the force of critical argument.

Claiming that a quality like this is intrinsic to CR is dishonest for a few reasons:

  • CR is an idea in people’s heads; you can’t be attracted to it before you understand it (at least in part)
  • CR isn’t intrinsically attractive like this; philosophers aren’t flies and CR isn’t rotting meat. You could say “by its very nature, rotting meat attracts flies” (provided you have an atmosphere for smells to work, etc)
  • To portray CR like this is anti-criticism; if I were to disagree it would be obvious to the author that I didn’t understand CR because I’m disagreeing with something that is “by its very nature”. This is like using “obvious” and similar words; most of the time they’re used to dismiss criticisms rather than because something really is obvious.
    • Furthermore: since CR is an idea made by people (or the ideas in CR are; w/e) to imply that it’s intrinsic to CR is to imply that CR was built to be attractive in this way. I don’t think that was the case, rather CR was an idea that Popper went with because there was no other alternative. CR doesn’t need to be attractive to have people adopt it, it just needs to be their only option because nothing else is good enough. It’s philosophers’ integrity that compels them to take CR seriously, not that it’s attracting them like some siren.
  • Why specify only philosophers? Does it not attract anyone else? What about people who become philosophers because of ideas from CR; surely they were attracted for some other reason (like me, maybe)
    • CR has reach, and it’s reach is not that it’s attractive - it’s something different. It follows: If we want to call it’s thing that’s special “attraction”, then it’s attractive to people who aren’t philosophers, and it’s not attractive to many philosophers - evidently being a philosopher isn’t that important. Positioning it in the way Birner does is dishonest because it misrepresents CR and CR’s place in the world, and is condescending to anyone who disagrees or isn’t a philosopher just b/c they disagree / aren’t a philosopher. All those things are anti-CR and thus dishonest for Birner to be saying.
      • Comment: I’m all riled up now. Fuck this guy.
  • If you like CR but disagree with “force of critical argument” Birner implies you either aren’t a philosopher or don’t understand CR. Again, this is anti-CR, anti-Popper, anti-DD, anti-ET.
  • Maybe Birner explains “critical argument” somewhere, but I don’t think this is right. What he means is more like ‘efficacy of persuasive reasoning which is resistant to criticism’. The phrase “critical argument” is too broad; he should know better.
    • Using language like this would clash with “force” though, b/c persuasion isn’t forceful (well, at least not the type we’re concerned with). If he stuck with ‘critical argument’ so he could use the word “force” that’d be dishonest, too, b/c he’s prioritising something less meaningful and not relevant to CR over actual essential bits, which especially in this context is wicked.

Birner implies criticism is somehow forceful, which it isn’t. This misrepresents reality, panders to anti-rational memes like speech-as-violence, and signals that he’s being moral or virtuous because he’s acknowledging ‘great power, great responsibility’ or similar ideas — all of which are dishonest and anti-Popper.

This is all particularly bad because it’s from a publication; i.e. something you’re meant to put more effort into so that it’s high quality and enduring. Birner doesn’t have an excuse of being casual, every word should be carefully chosen and considered with something like this.

ET suggested value and effective as replacement words for “force”; I think a better one is reach. Not only is it an idea that originated (or at least was developed in large part) from CR, but it’s more accurate too.

What is Birner saying by using “force”? There are two other meanings of the word which are more common than its definition similar to ‘effective’:

  1. the application of violence, power, non-consent, etc (like ET uses it with the phrase “initiation of force”)
  2. a method of transferring energy intrinsic to the universe (like a physical force)

I think Birner is dishonestly referencing both here: defn (1) is reflected in his ‘dismissal of criticism’ things I mention earlier, and defn (2) is being used to imply that the other things he’s said are intrinsic to the universe and undeniable like physical forces are undeniable. (Someone, somewhere, might try to deny physical forces exist, but I bet the won’t if you drag them to the edge of a bridge and threaten to push them off.) Both of these implications are either dishonest and anti-CR OR they reflect the fact he was careless with word choice which means he’s a bad philosopher.

Note: it might take me some time to get through this if I have this much to say on the rest. I have a printout of this quote with lots of marks and arrows and things. The only mark on this line was an oval around “force”.

Let us assume

Dishonest b/c it’s a misrepresentation of self (he believes it, it’s only put as a hypothetical to adhere to social expectations). If he wanted to deal with it as a hypothetical while also believing it is true, there are ways to write that well. Just adding the parenthetical “(I think it’s true)” does a lot to improve this, unfortunately though…

Let us assume (realistically, I think)

Birner continues to be dishonest by now saying that whatever follows is a realistic assumption, not that it’s a good conclusion or something robust.

Let us assume (realistically, I think) that the type of personality with a firm belief in the power of criticism is less prone than the average academic to devote resources to the social networking and academic politicking that are needed to create an environment in which his or her intellectual offspring can survive…

Personality type has nothing to do with “belief in the power of criticism”; that belief is an idea and can be explained with rationality - no personality stuff required (tho Birner might claim rationality is a personality trait too). To imply that belief (and being interested in philosophy schools he approves of, more generally) is a personality trait is also to condemn those ppl Birner thinks don’t have it (which is anti-DD, anti-FI, etc, again) — the dishonesty is particularly evident when considering why he would talk about personality at all?

If you could change your personality using only ideas (which you can) it means that someone could want to know more about philosophy and choose to change their personality to facilitate that. This is a problem because then someone can be interested in CR for bigger and better reasons than b/c their personality told them to be. Presumably being interested in this stuff for reasons other than being God’s chosen one would be a crisis for Birner. If it wouldn’t be a crisis he could have just said some of the actual reasons instead of deferring to personality. The fact that he didn’t say any substantial reason why people would care about good philosophy means he probably doesn’t have one. He’s misrepresenting himself as someone who understands this (and personality stuff), and other people and why they’d be interested in good philosophy, which is especially egregious.

“firm belief” is dishonestly amplifying the significance of the belief and the rest of the sentence while pandering to ideas that his intended audience hold about themselves. They are Jerrys.

“less prone” — well, evidently the belief isn’t that important then because it’s not even dominant in whether people avoid politicking or not. Why bring it up then? Birner is signalling to his Jerrys that it’s okay for them to think of themselves as superior and above all that (without properly understanding it) even though society generally frowns upon people who say that outright. It’s the ‘wink and a nod’ secret signal type thing. I doubt the audience is particularly aware of this at all, even if they do realise they think themselves above all that because of some belief.

Aside: It’s pejorative of me to refer to his audience as Jerrys, but I’m not sure that’s bad. Should I be unhappy about doing that?

“the type of personality with a firm belief in the power of criticism is less prone than the average academic to […]” — is a comparison between personality types and academics; two possibilities I can see:

  1. No point about dishonesty, just incompetence. He presumably means ‘the type of person with the personality trait of having a firm …’.
  2. From an english lit point of view he’s using a technique called synecdoche to refer to the whole via a part. In this case the whole of each of his audience via the part of them which is the referenced personality trait. Dishonesty: social signalling; false sophistication; lack of dedication to ideas; inappropriate poetic license.

“average academic” as the object of comparison falsely makes the claim that being “gifted” via this personality trait means you are less likely (b/c of that trait) to do politicking than half of all academics. Not only does that include way more people than just academics, it’s not based in reason. Memes aside, whether people do stuff like politicking can change much more easily than their personality. Moreover, ppl who consistently avoid politicking do so for deep reasons, not because a part of their personality tells them to. When someone deliberately avoids doing it even though they think both that they could do it well and that doing so would be advantageous* for them, they’re avoiding that behaviour because they value avoiding that behaviour. They have reasons to, e.g. put their integrity before shallow attempts at ladder-climbing. Not only is Birner dishonestly avoiding this acknowledgement (presumably because it would be hard to swallow), he’s dishonestly representing himself as an expert on morality. He isn’t b/c he’s missed all the big-ticket items like integrity and principles; not to mention whatever the equivalent of ludo-narrative harmony is for academics and their work. (I think his dishonesty might be infectious; I’m concept-dropping a youtube meme instead of just saying ‘not to mention the value for an academic (particularly a philosopher) to live the consequences of their ideas; for their life and work to be harmonious’.)

*: I don’t like using the word advantageous here b/c compromising your integrity is rarely advantageous. I’m using it loosely to mean a very shallow and short-term view of advantageous. I’m choosing to leave it with only an asterisk in the sentence because I had parentheticals before and after the word to help clarify, and they just got in the way.

“devote resources” — dishonest indirection; pandering by making the audience feel better about the times they did the bad things.

“politicking” — In general this isn’t a common word, and usually associated with particular topics (and a particular side of those topics). He’s signalling that he’s one of the intellectuals that thinks the right things, like French Aristocrats should be beheaded, or that he disapproves of the bourgeoisie, or something.

“social networking and academic politicking” — he uses two terms here, one of which is common, the other is academese. He didn’t need to use two, and presumably included the second for the extra social points. Social networking is a bit more specific than politicking, though, since it includes stuff like trying to meet new people (which is fine, and arguably a responsible thing for an academic to do from time to time). The other reason he includes the second term is that it gives context to the social networking, indicating it’s that type of social networking (not the good kind). Presumably he could have said ‘social manipulation’ instead of both those terms — seems a fairly close match for his intended meaning — but that might make his audience feel a bit alienated (not to mention cause conflicts in his own mind about his behaviour). he doesn’t want to alienate his audience though (pandering) so cushions it to them and himself with further dishonesty (the signalling pseudo-intellectual bits).

“intellectual offspring” — ideas aren’t children. There’s a reason ‘ideas die in our place’; it’s so that people don’t. Screw you Birner for misrepresenting Popper (and CR) like that. That’s actually upsetting me, now.

Popper’s way of putting it was “Let our conjectures, our theories, die in our stead!” (note: I’m not sure if that’s original to him or not).

“needed” as in “… politicking that are needed to create …” — he’s dishonestly claiming that it is a requirement of enduring ideas that they are created (or at least recorded) via the gains of social manipulation. That is: an environment (i.e. social situation) for ideas to persist must be created by manipulating people. Maybe he thinks this because his ideas are bad, so people need to be manipulated? This idea of his is definitely bad.

I don’t know why there’s an ellipsis at the end of this, either. The thought is complete (as a sentence) so it’s not to indicate an interruption. It might be used like a colon: leading into the following thought. Using an ellipsis could just be a social signal of sophistication or laziness, though. I don’t think it’s done for the mystery or the… dramatic pause! I think it’s a social signal, combined with a slightly opaque “let’s see where this assumption goes” type thing. The problem with the “let’s see where this assumption goes” is that it doesn’t go anywhere. Birner goes on (after this quote) to make some claims and try to explain some things which makes the “let’s see where this goes” dishonest b/c it’s manipulating the reader into thinking Birner is being fairer than he is.

He could also be representing false sorrow or false regret. e.g. Alas, poor Yorik, that we live in such a time whence corruption is necessitated by the villainous visage of vicissitude which plagues mine enterprise of passion. That I should be sprack again; thenceforth I could slay the beast. Alack alack. (player bows)

I’m going to leave it there. I’m quite tired and it’s been maybe 2.5-3 hrs of writing so far. The last 30-60 min has been low-output tho.

Next time:

  • the following paragraph of the quote provided for contextual before the actual source material
  • don’t forget to re-evaluate the title
  • once the quote is done, do pass 2 and 3

other stuff I remembered:

  • check the relationships of all the prepositions and things in sentence 2. there’s some weird stuff there.

update after tutorial 27: going to leave Birner’s quote there and go to next section.

You can leave a comment anonymously. No sign up or login is required. Use a junk email if not your own; email is only for notifications—though, FYI, I will be able to see it.

Comments powered by Talkyard.