Sokal and charlatans

July 24, 1998

THANK you for airing the Sokal debate (THES, October 10 and July 10), but it is dispiriting to read the rebuffs. The charge of scientific nonsense in the writings of Lacan, Latour, Kristeva and others is shrugged off without shame, denial or surprise.

An academic and publishing growth industry in philosophy and cultural studies has been based on the spread of a reading list shown to be rife with charlatanism. Sokal and Bricmont are careful not to extrapolate beyond their area of competence - science - but the huge interest they attract stems from a widespread perception that bull-****ting is the name of the game through and through.

Piaget can be said to have predicted it years ago when he passionately attacked French philosophy with the observation that it is a field of unverifiable propositions. Arbitrary and empty verbiage can be expected, conservative in content and exclusive in style. The real scandal here does not hang over the heads of individual writers but over the academic legitimacy of the institutions in which this activity has passed for learning.

What do we think we are doing when we appoint professors and certificate students in these skills of talking cleverly about a fashionable literature of impenetrable, unexaminable ideas and irksome vocabulary?

Nor is charade in academic philosophy that French. I offer an equally critical study of Anglo-Saxon philosophy in The Baumgarten Corruption - from Sense to Nonsense in Art and Philosophy.

Robert Dixon. 125 Cricklade Avenue. London SW2

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