Philosophical feud reignites

The Guardian has an article on a feud between philosophers Colin McGinn and Ted Honderich which has recently been reignited after McGinn wrote a review of Honderich’s new book on consciousness which the newspaper describes as “probably the most negative book review ever written”.

The review was published in the July edition of academic journal Philosophical Review, and the article has some of the highlights:

“This book runs the full gamut from the mediocre to the ludicrous to the merely bad,” begins Colin McGinn’s review of On Consciousness by Ted Honderich. “It is painful to read, poorly thought out, and uninformed. It is also radically inconsistent.”

The ending isn’t much better: “Is there anything of merit in On Consciousness? Honderich does occasionally show glimmers of understanding that the problem of consciousness is difficult and that most of our ideas about it fall short of the mark. His instincts, at least, are not always wrong. It is a pity that his own efforts here are so shoddy, inept, and disastrous (to use a term he is fond of applying to the views of others).”

And in the middle, there is nothing to cheer the book’s author. Honderich’s book is, according to McGinn, sly, woefully uninformed, preposterous, easily refuted, unsophisticated, uncomprehending, banal, pointless, excruciating.

What does the man on the receiving end think of this review? “It is a cold, calculated attempt to murder a philosopher’s reputation,” says Honderich.

Both philosophers can be adequately described as larger than life and both hold positions on consciousness that can be thought of as fairly radical when compared to the mainstream of philosophical thought.

Apparently, the feud goes back many years and includes everything from philosophical mudslinging to backhanded remarks about girlfriends.

Connoisseurs of academic mudslinging may wish to revisit a couple of classics to accompany this recent fine display.

Link to Guardian article ‘Enemies of thought’ (via 3Q).

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