Field of Science

Philosopher nonsense

Usually I shy away from blogging about news items that I can only find in Danish, but today I'll make an exception, because a Danish philosopher, Vincent Hendricks, has said something so stupid that I simply must comment.

Hendricks says that the reason the COP15 negotiations failed so spectacularly is that we are too clever. How so?
»Vi kan se, at når andre højerestående dyr bliver truet på livet, løber de enten skrigende bort, forvirrer fjenden eller går til modangreb. Men menneskets høje intelligens gør det muligt for os at abstrahere. Det er der mange fordele ved, men det betyder også, at vi overser det nødvendige, fundamentale overlevelsestræk. Vi intellektualiserer os ud af det og ender med komplicerede forklaringer og bortforklaringer i stedet for at handle her og nu«.
That translates into:
»We can see that when other higher animals are threatened on their lives, either they flee, confuse the enemy, or attack. But the high human intelligence makes it possible for us to think theoretically. That has many advatanges, but it also means that we overlook the necessary, fundamental way to survive. We intellectualize the situation and end giving complicated explanations instead of acting on the spot.«
No it doesn't. We are not overlooking anything essential to survive, which is eating, staying healthy, and fighting off the enemy. Dealing with global climate change is something that's only possible with this high human intelligence.
»Det forekommer os i hvert fald ikke længere naturligt, at arten skal overleve. Det ligger af en eller anden grund ikke lige for. Hvis det gjorde, ville vi have gjort hvad som helst i Bella Center for at komme ud af de problemer, vi står over for«.

»It doesn't seem natural to us any more, that the species must survive. It is, for some reason, not aparent. If it was, we would have done anything at Bella Center [i.e. COP15] to get rid of the problems we face«.
It has never before occurred to any living organisms that any species should survive. It is not how natural selection works, and it is only recently that any living organisms have cared for other species, including their own. Animals care for other individuals, but does not have a concept of species at all to care for. This philosopher has a profound lack of understanding of evolution given that he is a professor talking about it.
Ville en flok aber have kunnet lave en mere ambitiøs klimaaftale?

»Det ville i hvert fald have været nemmere, hvis mennesket havde haft abernes flokintelligens, hvor alle er intelligente på samme måde. Alle andre arter plejer at gøre noget, når de er på vej ud over en afgrund, men menneskets intelligens styrer os direkte mod den«.

Would a flock of apes have been able to make a more ambitious climate agreement?

»At least it would have been easier if humans had the flock-intelligence of apes, who are all intelligent in the same way. All other species usually do something when they are headed over the cliff, but human intelligence are steering us directly towards it«.
Come on! What utter nonsense. I simply cannot believe anyone educated would say anything as daft as this. If we thought more like apes we would have seen the global climate trends and been able to do something about it? Jeesh, this is dumb. No, other species would never know they were headed towards a cliff, and would still only care about the very next move. Humans, on the other hand, have the capacity to foresee these events and do something about it. It is our very urge to care only for ourselves in the present that makes it hard to do something collectively, not our ability to think theoretically - to think ahead.
Normalt betragter vi det som upassende at rette os efter vores dyriske instinkter. Slår du her til lyd for det modsatte?

»Nej, men det kan ikke nytte noget at have et højintellekt, hvis man er på vej ud over kanten med det. Min pointe er, at vi må kombinere urinstinktet med vores høje begavelse og begynde at bekymre os om vores egen overlevelse«.

Usually we consider it unsuitable to do as our animalistic instincts suggest. Are you here suggesting the opposite?

»No, but it is no use to have a high-intellect, if you are headed over the cliff with it. My point is that we much combine our instincts with our higher intelligence, and begin to concern ourselves with our own survival«.
Eh? Presently we aren't worried about our own survival? But many people and statesmen are worried right now, and this worry is the reason why we had COP15 in the first place.

Here is a philosopher with appointments at Copenhagen University and Columbia University, and he gets away with displaying such systematic ignorance. I find that embarrassing in the extreme. A disgrace rarely equalled among learned people.


  1. After all he is just a bad philosopher...

    and see I registered, just for you :)

    cheers Arend

  2. Bad philosophers hang on trees, but my irritation is with those in positions to be interviewed by journalists, such as professors. Again, really superficial comprehension like this can give no more than a D-.

  3. It's that old twist on the Noble Savage, the Noble Animal. We look at how humans act and realize that it's pretty shitty and unethical and cruel -- and some of us feel the need to believe there is some other example that is better. So it's God for some, for others it's primitive societies, and for some it's other species.

    Ideally we'd focus on making humanity better, rather than pining for some non-existent lost utopian past.

  4. I simply cannot be amazed anymore in the face of superficial--or in this case, blatantly naive--thinking. Even among professors. You know, this tenure thing: there really ought to be reasons for revoking it that go beyond felonies.


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