[Work: The Denial of Death, Ernest Becker, 1973]
The Denial of Life:

A Critique of Pessimism, Pathologization, and Structuralism in Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death

 

Ernest Becker Sketch by M.R.P. - The Denial of Death - critique, criticism, analysis

Caricature Sketch by M.R.P.
[High-res prints available here]

Introduction:

One of my more unexpectedly disappointing experiences in recent memory was reading Ernest Becker’s seminal work of psychoanalytic theory and cultural anthropology, The Denial of Death. Humanity’s obsessive self-distraction and self-delusion on the topic of mortality is something in which I am deeply interested, which is why numerous people had recommended the book to me over the years. With the unmitigated praise (and prestigious accolades) the work has received, I was excited to read what I assumed would be a stirring philosophical and cultural analysis of the titular concept.

The Denial of Death does make a very good first impression, as Becker is an erudite scholar and (drawing on the work of Otto Rank) a subtle interpreter of the theories of Sigmund Freud. But concealed behind the parade of theorists and the solid analytical prose (seemingly consciously concealed) is an old-fashioned, moralizing, pessimistic set of theses: that humanity is in denial of mortality because of a ‘necessary’ denial of the human body and reality; that humanity can only exorcise the dread of death by embracing blind faith and rooting out ‘aberrant’ thoughts and behaviors; and that death can only be truly faced by those who approach the study of humanity and society through a (reductive) structuralist lens.

I think all three notions are shockingly misguided and false, to the extent that I almost see the widespread adoration of the work as either a defensive scenario (where folks who are unable to follow the thread of Becker’s argument praise it, for fear of having to admit their ignorance) or an ironic phenomenon of self-assured conservatism (wherein tradition-biased academics embrace the work because it pats them on the back and insists that only they have already conquered death). While The Denial of Death does certainly have praiseworthy merits, those merits have been stated and overstated across the decades. Thus, in this article I shall explain Becker’s project with special emphasis on its flaws, by addressing each of those three aforementioned theses in turn.

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[Work: The Denial of Death, Ernest Becker, 1973]
The Denial of Life:

A Critique of Pessimism, Pathologization, and Structuralism in Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death

was last modified: October 21st, 2019 by Daniel Podgorski

[Topics: Biology, Ethics, Logic, Fallacy]
It’s 1483 and People Still Think This Way?

What’s Wrong with the Current-year-based Shaming of Ideas and Practices, and How to Salvage It

 

Introduction:

Detail of Woodcut by P. Wohlgemuth, Adapted by André Koehne - current-year argument - Anti-vaxxers and vaccines - logic and argumentation

Detail of Woodcut by P. Wohlgemuth,
adapted by André Koehne

Imagine that someone in a disagreement with someone else opines that, “It is insane that you still think that way, in this day and age.” Now imagine that an individual on a television program exclaims, “How is this still happening?! It’s [current year]!” These two sentiments might strike you in one of a few ways. Perhaps one of them seems more plausible than the other, or you feel that one or both could be appropriate in some cases, but not others. Conversely, it may strike you that neither of these is a meaningful notion.

I intend to argue in this article, however, that both statements could be logical and that both statements could be fallacious, depending on the context. These are both forms of the ‘current-year argument.’ And, indeed, my reason for writing this article is that—while I am sympathetic to those who recognize the philosophical error being committed by most who use such arguments—I notice that folks often go too far in shooting down the concept of current-year-based-shaming of ideas and practices, when there are contexts that would make such exhortations logically sound.

First, I will give a precise account, with attention to the philosophical fundamentals of logic and argumentation, as to why these current-year statements are often (perhaps the majority of the time) meaningless and fallacious. Second, I will switch gears and describe cases wherein the statements could be legitimate, appropriate, and logically consistent.

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[Topics: Biology, Ethics, Logic, Fallacy]
It’s 1483 and People Still Think This Way?

What’s Wrong with the Current-year-based Shaming of Ideas and Practices, and How to Salvage It

was last modified: February 16th, 2018 by Daniel Podgorski

[Topics: Evolutionary Biology, Logic, Logical Fallacy]
The Microevolution Fallacy:

How a Mistake in Formal Logic Provides Otherwise Scientific Minds a Basis for Denying Evolution

 

Introduction:

Alfred Russel Wallace - microevolution macroevolution - philosophy of evolution denial - I Don't Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist - Frank Turek and Norman GeislerToday’s article is fairly straightforward, as it deals with an exercise in philosophy’s bedrock: logic and argumentation. The actual content of what follows concerns the fields of biology and religious apologetics, but you don’t need any background in either in order to understand it. All that is required is an attention to the arguments themselves.

In particular, this article refutes a rebuttal that is present in religious apologetics in response to modern experimental evidence for evolution by natural selection[1]. But I’ll be focusing on the philosophical and logical angle, and leaving most of the relevant scientific responses in the footnotes.

In light of such evidence, one prominent response from those who seek to deny evolution as an account for speciation of all extant life (including humans) is to grant that such evolution occurs without granting that it occurs on a large scale; such an individual would contend that what has been proven is not evolution per se, but merely microevolution. But taking this path means committing a simple logical error by failing to follow a line of thinking to its conclusion.

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[Topics: Evolutionary Biology, Logic, Logical Fallacy]
The Microevolution Fallacy:

How a Mistake in Formal Logic Provides Otherwise Scientific Minds a Basis for Denying Evolution

was last modified: September 5th, 2019 by Daniel Podgorski

[Topics: Epistemology, Philosophy of Language, Skepticism]
Superknowledge and Casual-knowledge:

Discussing the Fallacies Involved in One Minor Argument Against Radical Skepticism

 

Introduction:

Many of your Friday Phil articles thus far have provided overviews and general clarifications. In contrast to that style, this week I will be briefly taking up and criticizing a very specific argument, as I have enjoyed doing on just one or two previous occasions. For today’s article, the argument under study is one that is intended to support the extant refutations of radical skepticism (where radical skepticism refers to the position that knowledge—or certainly knowledge of the external world—is impossible).

The argument in question, which is only meant to lend support to more rigorous arguments against such skepticism, could be called something like ‘the argument from common practice’ or ‘the superknowledge argument.’ Its aim is to show that certainty is not required for knowledge by showing that multiple related but distinct concepts are all being called ‘knowledge.’ I intend to showcase where this argument goes wrong in two ways, first through its propensity for special pleading and then through its rhetorical strategy.

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[Topics: Epistemology, Philosophy of Language, Skepticism]
Superknowledge and Casual-knowledge:

Discussing the Fallacies Involved in One Minor Argument Against Radical Skepticism

was last modified: October 16th, 2019 by Daniel Podgorski