Editorial in The Point:
In August of last year the psychologist Steven Pinker took to the pages of the New Republic to defend the relevance of science to “humanistic scholarship.” Science, he wrote, is “of a piece with philosophy, reason, and Enlightenment humanism,” and should accordingly be recognized as contributing to investigations concerning “the deepest questions about who we are, where we came from, and how we define the meaning and purpose of our lives.” A month later, the New Republic’s literary editor, Leon Wieseltier, fought back. The humanities are “the study of the many expressions of human inwardness,” he argued, and therefore categorically inappropriate for the brand of empirical research advocated by Pinker. But Pinker, like the rest of the “scientizers,” would not be satisfied with “consilience” between science and the humanities anyway; what he really wants, according to Wieseltier, is for “the humanities to submit to the sciences, and be subsumed by them.”
The debate might as well have taken place in the 1960s, or in outer space. Pinker, the author of a recent doorstop on the virtues of a world created by scientific progress, behaves as if we were still living in the Dark Ages, alleging a “demonization campaign” against science led by powerful humanists such as the historian Jackson Lears and the ethicist Leon Kass (all Pinker has on his side are the administrations of nearly every research university in the country, not to mention the president of the United States). Wieseltier, on the other hand, trots out Tolstoy and Proust as if these nineteenth-century luminaries have anything to do with what is going on in contemporary English departments and philosophy workshops.