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Tabliod Journalsim and Philosophically Insulting
on November 4, 2016
The highly reductive approach taken by Paul Johnson is philosophically insulting to anyone with an exposure to philosophical reflection or thinking. This book may work for the philosophically naïve, red meat so to speak for the uninitiated and the conspiracy-minded to gobble up, but it is not a contribution to philosophical discourse. This book is the tabloid journalism of philosophy. It may make for high book sales, but it is far too narrow in approach to be of any real or lasting value.
There is of course selection bias in terms of who is selected and found fit for what we are to believe is the opprobrium of intellectual. I do not care for the manner in which the label intellectual is used as a pejorative for those with whom Mr. Johnson finds himself at variance. Is he not also an intellectual? It is the anti-intellectualism that this attitude engenders in the public consciousness, in the Zeitgeist if I may be so audacious to put it that way, that I find to be the most pernicious quality of this book.
The book makes a classical logical error in considering each thinker from only one perspective. Lack of perspective is another failing of the book. Mr. Johnson would have us believe that each of his targets is as one-sided, narrow, shallow and superficial as his presentations of them. It is not the people profiled in this book that are narrow, vain, superficial and shallow, it is the highly reductionist sketches written about them that fills this description.
Mr. Johnson’s perspective is so shallow and superficial that deeper understanding is actually distorted. We should endeavor to gain a perspective of philosophical thinkers, and yes, dare I say it, of intellectuals, as well as of our own interlocutors beyond a hyperbolic discussion of their flaws which is only banal and derivative. In this case, it makes it difficult to conceive of the people profiled in this book as real people; perhaps that was Mr. Johnson’s intent.