Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Scull Affair

Limited, Inc. has written a very interesting post on Andrew Scull's recent broadside aimed at Foucault's scholarship and alleged lack of rigor in Madness and Civilization. LI argues that Scull's own facts and figures may not be nearly as accurate and well-sourced as he claims. However, the real interest lies in the reception of Scull's charges. As in past cases like those of Sokal or Menchu, the immediate impulse to capitulation in the face of claims to superior dates and numbers is striking. LI writes:

Scull’s review, then, is, to say the least, not the most reliable account of Foucault’s “mistakes” even on a topic on which Scull is supposedly an expert. The more interesting question, however, is why Scull was instantly conceded to be right, and Foucault wrong? I think this might be on account of the general beating Continentalist are perceived to have received from Sokal and Bricmont. That perception is wholly based on the idea that Sokal is a hard scientist, a physicist. What Foucault did was make us question experts – and he appeared at a time when the advice of experts, from that given about the Vietnam war to the dangers of radiation, fell into disrepute. Unfortunately, knowledge by authority is a very powerful thing – in Weber’s triad of legitimations, tradition/authority is at the center. It is especially powerful when the authority figure bases his authority on reason – but then uses the authority qua authority to squash opposition. This is just what Scull did. The scurrying for the exits done by Foucaultist is a painful reminder that, on the whole, academics can be defined as those people who have been extraordinarily influenced, in their development, by the classroom. Thus, their rebellions are most easily quenched when a teacher figure comes through the door.
Being scolded by the teacher is the one thing we can't stand. Read more at LI.

1 comment:

  1. This is one of the problems that is shared by folks like Foucault, Derrida and others of those types. Once one lets go of the discipline of reason, then all hell can break loose. Poor scholarship is always bad. Pranks, like Sokal's are funny, if not taken too seriously (remember folks, sense of humour failure is a crime). However, severe lapses of reasoning are almost always fatal, in the long term. I guess none of these folks have heard of the Appeal to Authority fallacy. They should look it up.

    The Combat Philosopher