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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Pseudophilosophy is a term applied to any idea or system that is asserted to be philosophy while significantly failing to meet scholarly standards of philosophy. The term is almost always used pejoratively, and most applications of it are quite contentious. Practically speaking, one can say that pseudophilosophy bears the same relationship to philosophy that pseudoscience bears to science.

Nicholas Rescher, in The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, defines pseudo-philosophy as "deliberations that masquerade as philosophical but are inept, incompetent, deficient in intellectual seriousness, and reflective of an insufficient commitment to the pursuit of truth." Rescher adds that the term is particularly appropriate when applied to "those who use the resources of reason to substantiate the claim that rationality is unachievable in matters of inquiry."

Other terms used are non-philosophy and cod philosophy (from codswallop).


Accusations of pseudophilosophy in academia


Arthur Schopenhauer wrote the following about Hegel:

"If I were to say that the so-called philosophy of this fellow Hegel is a colossal piece of mystification which will yet provide posterity with an inexhaustible theme for laughter at our times, that it is a pseudophilosophy paralyzing all mental powers, stifling all real thinking, and, by the most outrageous misuse of language, putting in its place the hollowest, most senseless, thoughtless, and, as is confirmed by its success, most stupefying verbiage, I should be quite right."

Schopenhauer's critiques of Hegel, Schelling, and Fichte are informed by his view that their works use deliberately impressive but ultimately vacuous jargon and neologisms, and that they contain castles of abstraction that sound impressive but ultimately include no verifiable content. Søren Kierkegaard attacked Hegel in a similar manner, writing that it was pretentious for Hegel to title one of his books "Reality." To Kierkegaard, this indicated an attempt to quash critics even before criticism was voiced.

Despite these attacks, Hegel is widely considered one of the most influential writers in world history: Hegel had a significant effect on the writings of subsequent philosophers, such as Kierkegaard, Marx, and Heidegger. The philosopher Walter Kaufmann contended that Schopenhauer's attacks actually tell us more about Schopenhauer than about Hegel.


More recently, accusations of pseudophilosophy have been made against postmodernists, Martin Heidegger, and certain late twentieth century French thinkers like Jacques Derrida, Jean Baudrillard, Julia Kristeva, Jacques Lacan, Jean-François Lyotard, Gilles Deleuze, and Jean Luc Nancy by numerous philosophers in the tradition of analytic philosophy and some 'hard scientists' such as Alan Sokal (see the Sokal affair) who claim that these thinkers' use of scientific concepts is lacking in rigor.

The biologist Richard Dawkins has claimed that postmodernists are generally intellectual charlatans who deliberately obscure weak or nonsensical ideas with ostentatious and difficult to understand verbiage. W.V.O. Quine, along with Barry Smith, Hugh Mellor (then Professor of Philosophy at Cambridge), and various other academic philosophers, once wrote to protest Cambridge University's award of an honorary degree to Jacques Derrida, claiming that Derrida's work "does not meet accepted standards of clarity and rigor" and that it is made of "tricks and gimmicks similar to those of the Dadaists". Some say such attacks are a sign of the breach between analytical and continental philosophy.

Likewise, numerous philosophers in the tradition of analytic philosophy have been dismissed as pseudophilosophical by their contemporaries in continental philosophy. Alain Badiou refers to analytic philosophy as "Anglo-American linguistic sophistry", and claims that analytic philosophy of science relies wholly on untenable metaphysical presuppositions.

Mysticism and spiritualism

Explanations which rely on mysticism and spiritualism are generally regarded not as philosophy by academic philosophers. A notable example of this rejection of mysticism is the nonacceptance by academics of Robert M. Pirsig's metaphysics of quality. The mystical explanation, the academic philosopher laments, invariably is to accept at the same time p as true and not-p also as true. This is for many, the demarcation between philosophy and religion. Others would more generously classify such explanations under philosophy of religion.

Popular philosophy

Alfred Korzybski's theory of General Semantics has been given this appellation (also by Quine). The works of Albert Camus, Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957, have also been so named, in particular by Jean-Paul Sartre who claimed it was "philosophy for classe de terminale" (last class in high school before the Baccalauréat).

Ayn Rand's Objectivism has been referred to as a pseudophilosophy, with varying justifications. Many of her views are presented in her romantic realist-style novels, rather than in scholarly publications.

Furthermore, the New Philosophers (Bernard-Henri Lévy, Alain Finkielkraut etc.) have been also accused of being a form of pseudophilosophy, although some of their early work was academic. Gilles Deleuze particularly criticized the movement.

Integral thought is an example of new-age ideology, written for a popular audience, that at least strives for the appearance of philosophical rigour.

Best-selling British author Alain de Botton has been criticized by academic philosophers Jonathan Lear and Mary Margaret McCabe for abandoning the Socratic pursuit of truth for its own sake which they regard as central to genuine philosophy. De Botton, McCabe claims, "popularize[s] philosophy...precisely on the basis that philosophers can provide us with useful tips...." Lear concludes, "...let's face it, this isn't philosophy."

Best-selling American author Christopher Phillips, who uses Socrates' name to describe his own methods, has been similarly criticized for neglecting the Socratic pursuit of truth: Academic philosopher Janet Sisson claims that "the background for [Phillips' popular Socrates Café project] is very different from that for the conversations of Socrates. Plato uses the figure of Socrates as a way of introducing the idea of intellectual discussion in order to promote the pursuit of truth, not as a path for personal discovery."

Since the publication of academic philosopher William Irwin's Seinfeld and Philosophy in 1999, there has been an influx of books that mix themes of pop culture with philosophical themes, most notably perhaps Open Court Publishing's "Popular Culture and Philosophy Series" and Blackwell Publishing's "Philosophy and Pop Culture Series". Many of these books have been criticized for watering down philosophical content while making tenuous connections with popular themes in order to maximize appeal to consumers. Australian journalist Steve Carroll, for example, says, "During the past 10 years there has been a spate of books intent, not so much on taking philosophy to streets, as taking it to the dinner parties. And they're a mixed bag. Many are just crass attempts to cash in on the movement - the worst kind of arranged marriage between publishing and opportunistic editors. ... The Sopranos and Philosophy: I Kill Therefore I Am, is part of a series that also includes The Simpsons and Philosophy, Seinfeld and Philosophy, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Philosophy and so on. It is basically cultural studies with bits of philosophy thrown in. But if you're not into The Sopranos, Seinfeld, Buffy or that whole other reality of cult US TV - and this series, which is aimed at the American market (and got a thumping from some US reviewers), assumes you most definitely are - then it is of distinctly limited value."

On the other hand, William Irwin himself, academic philosopher and editor of a number of the Open Court "Popular Culture and Philosophy" titles, has claimed of other popular, purportedly-philosophical books such as Benjamin Hoff's The Tao of Pooh, Jostein Gaarder's Sophie's World, Thomas Morris' If Aristotle Ran General Motors, and Christopher Phillips' Socrates Café that they "arguably" are not philosophy, though "their very existence shows some popular interest in philosophy."==See also==

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Pseudophilosophy" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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