Comment on Review

A Review


I don’t as a rule reply to reviews of my books, but every rule has exceptions. Kerry McKenzie’s review of my Basic Structures of Reality in Mind calls for brief comment. There is much I could say about this review but I will confine myself to one very telling point. She pours scorn on my contention that physics is epistemologically limited in important ways—that physicists (and everyone else) are deeply ignorant of the intrinsic nature of the material world. She contrives to make it sound as if this view is an eccentricity dreamt up by me alone. The reader would never guess from her review that the view in question is derived from the work of Poincare, Russell, Eddington, Chomsky, Galen Strawson, Michael Lockwood, and many others. It is by no means original with me but entirely derivative and commonplace (I cite and quote these authors often). So I am placed by our intrepid reviewer in the same class as these ignorant nincompoops who don’t understand the first thing about physics. McKenzie never mentions any of these figures in her review in connection with the view in question. I wonder why not.

About other aspects of the review I will only remark that it is absolutely hysterical, ad hominem, and completely devoid of any sense of critical decency. Nor did I detect any real philosophy in it.

4 replies
  1. Colin McGinn
    Colin McGinn says:

    As it happens, I have a review of Thomas Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos in a recent issue of Mind. Although I am very critical of the book, I make a point of noting the good parts of it. This is what Kerry McKenzie so signally fails to do with my book, which makes one suspicious of her agenda and critical scruples. In fact, she simply ignores most of the book, notably the more philosophical parts.

  2. Filippo Contesi
    Filippo Contesi says:

    I’ll admit I haven’t read the book in question here, but I have read other stuff of yours, and in particular your book on disgust. I have to say that this latter book was ingenerously reviewed in a (widely celebrated) review that appeared online last year. The problems in that review and (as far as I can tell, not having first-hand knowledge of the reviewed book) those in Kerry M.’s review as well, are precisely those that you point out: they fail to engage in meticuolously argued criticisms (even by the concise standards of a review) and ignore any mention of any philosophically valuable parts of the books reviewed. In this sense, I cannot but notice the wide gulf that there is between the quality of style and philosophical merits of your own (infamous) review of Honderich’s On Consciousness and those possessed by this couple of recent reviews of your work. I cannot say with any certainty whether your Basic Structures does contain anything of genuine philosophical interest (although I’d be very surprised if it didn’t), but I can say that your disgust book certainly does. Although putting forward a view of disgust that is implausible by scientific, evolutionary standards, the book is also ingeniuosly written and it makes pioneering steps in a philosophical metaphysics of disgust. Moreover, a reader of your book should always bear in mind your warning, in the Premise, that—I cite from my memory—the book be taken as an investigation between psychoanalysis and existentialism. (Admittedly, however, this is sometimes very difficult, as your own presentation of your views is in parts confusing as to whether your investigation is analytico-philosophical, scientific, or in between psychoanalysis and existentialism.) Although present, the parts of genuine philosophical interest were ignored in the online review mentioned earlier, which, if I’m not mistaken, _is_ the real precursor of the more recent review of Basic Structures at hand here—not your own review of Honderich.

  3. Colin McGinn
    Colin McGinn says:

    I’m told that some people have taken exception to my use of “hysterical” as somehow sexist. According to the OED, it simply means “wildly uncontrolled”, which is entirely gender-neutral, and I would certainly use it to describe a review by a man of comparable content. I know all manner of hysterical men.

  4. Rick Padua
    Rick Padua says:

    There are male hysterics. My first take was that you meant “hysterical” in the (somewhat dated) sense of “hilarious” or, in this case, perhaps “hilariously bizarre” since you may not have literally laughed at the text. It still seems like a plausible interpretation.

    On the same page (93) where you mention that particles aren’t assigned distinctive shapes — which would be problematic because all classical analogues of quantum phenomena are ad hoc and misleading — you bring up a topic not noted at all by MacKenzie: that the intrinsic nature of matter is mental, or put another way, experience. If you were to add “information” (in both the objective and subjective senses of the word) you’d be in the company of quite a few philosophers of physics and metaphysically-inclined scientists. A racquet hitting a ball is informational as much as it is physical … indeed, where do you draw a line. Just saying.


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