Pseudophilosophy

Pseudophilosophy is used as an unfavourable epithet to describe a philosophical idea or system that the speaker does not like. Specifically, it is used to refer to something that the speaker believes to be not really be philosophy but only pretending. Presumably, pseudophilosophy bears the same relationship to philosophy that pseudoscience bears to science.

It does not appear to be in use as a term widely used within academic philosophy. On the other hand, when W. V. Quine and several other academic philosophers wrote to Cambridge University protesting the award of an honorary degree to Jacques Derrida, saying 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," the word may have been useful to them.

For example, 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.
-- Arthur Schopenhauer, On the Basis of Morality, trans. E.F.J.Payne (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1965), pp.15—16 ([1])

Schopenhauer's critique of Hegel is directed at his perception that Hegel's works use deliberately impressive but ultimately vacuous jargon and neologisms, and that they contained castles of abstraction that sounded impressive but ultimately contained no verifiable content. As the Quine incident shows, similar accusations have been made more recently against postmodernists and the adherents of French critical theory like Derrida, Jean Baudrillard, Julia Kristeva, and Jean-François Lyotard.

Ayn Rand’s Objectivism is also frequently accused of being pseudophilosophy. Several strains of opinion converge in this claim. Rand was a self-taught philosopher, and her concerns were out of the mainstream of academic philosophy during the years she was active. She often tried to convey her opinions through the popular medium of melodramatic novels. She and her followers had dogmatic tendencies, and tended not to recognise degrees of dissent from Rand's conclusions; this led others to see her as a cult leader. The charge that Objectivism is a "pseudophilosophy" generally implies disapproval of one of these perceptions of Rand's thought.

Other works that have been labelled as "pseudophilosophy" include the religious poetry of Kahlil Gibran, or the similar stuff in Richard Bach's fable Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Here, the label of pseudophilosophy is used to criticise these works as being conventional, sentimental, or platitudinous; and of lacking rigor, system, or analytical content.

Another cultural phenomenon that has been labelled "pseudophilosophy" is the radical philosophical scepticism or paranoid delusion -- take your pick -- that is the central premise of the motion picture The Matrix. This is dismissed as being a classic example of a hypothesis that lacks falsifiability, and so according to this line of criticism it is not worth discussing for that reason.

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