The Only Thing Worse Than Being Talked About
Ted Honderich and Colin McGinn, two well-known academic philosophers*, are engaged in a meaningless public feud, bringing further “glory” to a profession that has become largely irrelevant, thanks in part to the kind of philosophy pursued by the likes of Ted Honderich and Colin McGinn. Stuart Jeffries reports in the Guardian that Honderich wrote a book on consciousness which apparently claims that consciousness is just the “external world.” Whatever he took that to mean, McGinn, in a review published in the venerable Philosophical Review, wrote things like: “This book runs the full gamut from the mediocre to the ludicrous to the merely bad.” And: ”It is painful to read, poorly thought out, and uninformed. It is also radically inconsistent.” And used words like: sly, woefully uninformed, preposterous, easily refuted, unsophisticated, uncomprehending, banal, pointless, excruciating.
Don’t hold back, Colin…what do you really think?
Well anyway, for some reason, Honderich cares what McGinn thinks and is ticked off about it. The two of them have gone back and forth about it in various venues. Honderich might even want to sue Philosophical Review (!) (and Socrates rolls over…).
What will happen now? Will Honderich and McGinn kiss and make up? It seems unlikely. Not only is McGinn unrepentant about his review, but Honderich is demanding compensation from the Philosophical Review. “They should not have published it,” he says. “It makes them look ridiculous.” And then he adds something that, just possibly, is mollifying: “In a way, I’m glad it’s been published. My book is now getting the attention it deserves. The mighty little McGinn has done me a service.”
So at least Honderich hits on a nugget of Wilde wisdom: The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.
*Note: “well-known academic philosophers” means that they are well-known by other academic philosophers, but not in general; “well-known” means possessed of names recognizable to other academic philosophers, but not that their work is known or studied by any broad portion of academic philosophers; “academic philosophers” means, most of the time, academics in a department of “philosophy” but not philosophers.