Peter Naur, who in these days publishes the book 'Antifilosofisk Leksikon', is a rather good example
that also Denmark gives room for the original thinker.
Naur has all one may wish of academic qualifications: He is mag. scient. in astronomy, he has a doctor's degree, and he has both invented the word 'datalogi' and has contributed to the development of the programming language ALGOL. From 1969 to 1998 he was, moreover, professor of datalogi at Copenhagen University. Yes indeed, it is all very promising...
And yet his new, skew book is published from his own press. The text is composed with MacWrite II, in Times - and altogether the book smells from far off of being a deeply private affair. The involvement cannot be missed, when one leafs through the 112 pages.
'Antifilosofisk Leksikon' is an easy book to review: It is simply a question of a ban on the whole of the Western philosophical tradition since Aristotle (350 B.C.). No less, in fact.
In one dictionary article after the other Naur in his wholly original way dismisses both the Greek philosophers, Descartes, Heidegger, Wittgenstein, Russell, Einstein, and who else occurs to him. Upon finishing the reading the point is quite clear: Largely speaking all those who has said anything what so ever about philosophy in the last 2.000 years have just been babbling. With the exception of just two. The American pragmatist William James - he is the one with the stream of consciousness - and then Naur himself.
The attacks in the book are both aggressive and ad infinitum: Descartes's famous sentence 'I think,
hence I am' for example is silly, because the word am cannot be used for anything in this context. Naur
simple reads the sentence autistically: I am... what? The sentence is not finished! Naur thus dismisses any
attempt at abstraction. The criticism is most often ad hoc and rests on a definite view of language, to wit
that of pragmatics.
In the same way with logic, which according to Naur - taken as a whole, as such and altogether - is solid nonsense: All Greeks are not mortal, since those who are born tomorrow we don't know anything about - and perhaps they are immortal? Hardly, but Naur sticks to his point.
Heidegger is talking nonsense, says Naur, when he talks for pages and pages about his eternal being, since this concept (and concepts are not there to be found, according to Naur) is merely the same as is, only inflected. The whole idea of knowledge also rests on common misunderstanding and a wrong use of a silly metaphor. Conclusion? To know cannot exist as a noun. Even if - to Naur's boundless irritation - it is there anyway.
A last example might be Einstein, who gets hit on his hat by presenting a fusion of 'significant insight' and 'superficial nonsense'.
The only one who really gets anywhere according to Naur is, as mentioned, the philosopher and
psychologist William James, who according to Naur really has seen what the whole thing is about. This
side of the aggressive tract is so prominent that the book in a way also may be read as one long fan letter
to the American, whose master piece 'The Principles of Psychology' is quoted at length - with some
quotations of several pages - just as he in about half of the articles is hailed as the saviour of philosophy.
The peevish and sulking articles in the book derive basically from the problem Aristotle. This vapid Greek once said that philosophy is the highest insight, which only appears when a society is fully developed, and thus philosophy - all this according to Naur - by definition is merely presumption.
And this is where the feeling of rejectedness of the original thinker comes in. The original thinker always comes in from the side line, so to speak, and he almost always sees himself as an outsider. Sometimes this is expressed by the fallacious conclusion: I am out of step - wow, how wise and original my thoughts must be! The above mentioned Robert M. Pirsig thus spends a large part of his first work on celebrating both the shaman and the young bounder, who will later become chief.
This emotional tension one sees clearly in Naur's little pearl of a surprising book. Everything - and we are really talking about all of philosophy - has to be torn down. It is simply a question of power, which is seen clearly in the vocabulary used about philosophy. At random may be mentioned: inanity, fallacy, nonsense, foolish, misleading ways of talking, poor observation, poor understanding, empty squabble, and seduction of the reader. This is the bad state of philosophy - because it has not discovered William James. And Peter Naur.
The interesting thing about Naur's philosophical counter picture - which is really what it is - is that it is actually excellent reading. The book is so inveterately stubborn and constantly semi-morose - and at the same time so breathlessly rash - that one is inevitably provoked and is forced to think oneself. This, by the way, is the same experience one gets when reading Pirsig: It is not necessarily correct what is written - but it is priceless entertainment, and one gets more than ample occasion for practising fierce argumentation for and against various understandings of the truth of the constitution of the world.
And lo and behold - that is the core of philosophy!
En på hatten til filosofien
Magisterbladet (monthly communication of Magisterforeningen, the Danish association of professionals with Masters or Bachelors degrees), 5-99
Philosophy Hit on the Hat
'Judging from what is called philosophy, nonsense must be among the sturdiest plants there are.' This is the first sentence of the Preface to Antifilosofisk Leksikon by the scientist Peter Naur. He is not crazy about them - to put it mildly - these 'incarnately presumptuous philosophers... who have talked for several thousand years, without being able to display a single specimen of what they say they seek: a truth.' So it is said, so as to admit no misunderstanding. Peter Naur does not hide that the following notes, arranged alphabetically, therefore the word leksikon, are 'the results of irritation over the philosophical inanity accumulated over many years.' Philosophy is 'elaborate talk about indeÞnite, misty subjects.' At close look philosophy is 'centered around a small handful of eternally repeated locutions that in philosophical contexts are taken to be meaningful outside of any context, typically essence, existence, reality.'
Looking up for example the word 'virkelighed (reality)' in the leksikon one finds five pages. Here is castigated a poor man by name of A. S. Eddington, who has been so incautious to write a book titled 'The Nature of the Physical World'. This he should never have done - at least not if Peter Naur had had a word to say. 'It is pure inanity. The philosophical nonsense is bursting from the seams...' No, instead of spending so much time on 'his amateurish twaddle' Eddington should have addressed the scientific literature, more particularly the classical masterpiece by William James: Principles of Psychology. Here one finds solid insight.
And so the reader may be amused, get excited, become wiser or throw the book into the fire, article after article - according to viewpoint and temperament. One may search for words, concepts and names. We take just one more reference, truth. About this concept Peter Naur writes, among other things: 'Truth is of course well known from everyday life, where lying is so popular.' We just leave it on for a moment.
We cannot refrain, in these times of research policy, to quote Peter Naur for the following:
'To this is added in recent years the commercialization of science in the form of what is called research projects. Such projects are Þnanced on the basis of, not results, but plans. Those who grant the money and those who receive it have a common interest in defending the projects, whether or not they build upon nonsense, and the more costly the project the greater the defence interest. Thus in research contexts nonsense thrives practically unabated.'
Information (Danish daily newspaper, primarily read by intellectuals), 1999 marts 26
My self-esteem rose as sharply as the effective income of the middle class
By John Henriksen
Do you sometimes feel an urge to overthrow the universal scenography and penetrate all appearance with the same sharpness as that of the butchers knife in a Danish slaughter-house, in the hunt for das Ding an Sich? And have you under such attacks of love for knowledge been unable to find other fields to turn to than philosophy? And have you felt overwhelmed merely by the thought of the enormity of the text corpus that constitutes the writings of philosophers? Or perhaps you have even yourself made excursions into the wilderness?
I have. Since February 1992 I have been a loser. At that time I scrapped my study of philosophy after spending six years financed by the tax payers at Odense Universitet without final Papiere. In the years since then I have carried a latent fear of suffering from a kind of internal cerebral poultice, which in lapping within the skull prevents leaps of the thought of any kind.
When I then encountered the scientist Peter Naur's recent book Antifilosofisk Leksikon, which reveals the whole complex of philosophical problems as a bunch of delusions and occupational projects for incarnate creatures of habit, my self-esteem rose as sharply as the effective income of the middle class during the same period.
Personally I have always justified my lack of diplomas by maintaining that it is meaningless to retain in memory the date when Kant was born or what little green monads Leibniz imagined when he had his sober visions. Even so I shall not blame men being better equipped in exams (and also women, although they are few in philosophy) for assuming that it is all due to a processor fault in me. That my dismissal of Wittgenstein's passionless language game theories most likely says more about me than about the Austrian charmer. That my stubborn pointing out that Heidegger merely is Kierkegaard in German minus the reference to the transcendental principle of God, that keeps Søren's balls in the air and gives his prose the drive, that is wholly missing in the German, that it is plain nonsense, derives from my unhappy ability to maintain a black eye during horizontal reading of Heidegger's Sein und Zeit by losing both the concentration and the book.
'Judging from what is called philosophy, nonsense must be among the sturdiest plants there are.'
Thus reads Naur's first sentence and if one turns over the book and looks at the back cover text this is what one finds: 'Through original and sharply revealing analyses of such major figures of philosophy as Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Ryle, Russell, Descartes, and Aristotle, Naur draws a picture of how the philosophers have encroached upon us with their presumptuous talk of truth, logic, reality, essence, and being. Thereby they have perverted the understanding of human thinking and speech. They have imputed to us a barren, logic-bound conception of science and scholarship.'
This made me so glad that I made popcorn even though I do not have a microwave oven. For what are we to do with a field, that keeps on posing the same questions as two thousand years ago - and gives the same non-answers?
Only philosophers can pose a question about the world around us which does not refer to problems about tax collection, the atomic reactor at Barsebäck or the old age pension - but which is a question of proving that the world around us exists at all. Only philosophers will hit on speculating about the conditions of our perceptions and name the discipline epistemology. Only philosophers will seriously inquire about the being of being and call it ontology. In Naur it is said that philosophy may be seen to be centered around 'a small handful of eternally repeated locutions that in philosophical contexts are taken to be meaningful outside of any context, typically essence, existence, reality.'
And Naur then takes the above mentioned philosophical concepts and even more of them and assigns each of them an article, which looks more like a dressing-down. In summary it is said: 'It is just misty talk, all of it. The philosophical nonsense is bursting from the seams...'.
The publisher of the book is naur.com publishing - and if this looks rather like an address on the net you are right. If you search the Net at this address you find a heading that might also appear over the philosophical endeavors of all times: This site is under construction. But unlike the endeavors of philosophers, that by definition must be infinite, since logic assures us that if they were finite they would have to terminate in a dogmatism, that is a religious prescription and thus an attribute of the negation of philosophy, theology, it may be assumed that the endeavors to produce a Naur home page will be, even if not entirely successful, at least brought to a conclusion.
Until then I will rejoice that I had sufficient insight not to graduate in something that is pure nonsense and perversion of thought, created by these 'presumptuous philosophers... who have talked for several thousand years, without being able to display a single specimen of what they say they seek: a truth.' And I will recall that sentence by Georg Fridrich Wilhelm Hegel that my outstanding teacher Jørgen Hass occasionally would quote for diversion: Die Philosophie ist das Sonntag des Mennschen, which I understand to this effect, that philosophy is an ineffective and unmarketable non-science, that all kinds of producers of ethical accounts should beware of posting as income, for the sake of their own gain.
Lektørudtalelse (99/16) 2 240 152 1 - Indbindingscentralen (Reviews for Danish librarians)
The author has a broad scientific background in astronomy and computing and was professor of the latter field at Copenhagen University until he was pensioned in 1998. With this background he attacks the philosophers from Aristotle up to our time in this book. All this philosophizing according to Naur is at best unclear and at worst pure nonsense (a word h e uses in many places of the book). He points out that scientists rarely or never have used the writings of philosophers. Further, that the whole discussion of the nature of our thoughts and consciousness has been misguided since the behaviourists entered the stage around 1910. More than 100 years ago William James wrote the book The Principles of Psychology, 1890, 1950, which described the nature of thoughts and mind far better, all according to Naur. The book is made from articles alphabetically ordered by key words, from which references are made to other key words (printed in italics) in the book for further explanations. In addition quotations of other works, for illumination of Naur's points of view, are put in italics. The book directs refreshing, well-aimed kicks at all the philosophical misty talk, divorced from any experienced reality. It can (and should) be read by anyone interested in philosophy and psychology, both professionals and non-profs. List of literature (eng. da.).
Weekendavisen (Danish weekly newspaper), 1999 July 2. - 8.
The Stream of Thought
Interview. Claiming that the European philosophy is profoundly inane and directly harmful to science requires courage. Peter Naur, former professor of computing, has it.
By BO BJØRNVIG
Peter Naur, professor of computing until his retirement six months ago, has embarked upon a daring venture: In his recently published book 'Antifilosofisk Leksikon' he has spanked the European philosophy from Aristotle to the present day. Roughly speaking he claims that most of it is misty talk.
The book quotes such luminaries as Aristotle, Descartes, Bertrand Russell, and Heidegger, and not for their merit. How is it possible, for example, to ask, as Heidegger does, 'What is "be"', and retain one's sense? In other words, to use 'is', which comes from the verb 'be', and at the same time ask what 'be' is?
But let us take the Heidegger quotation in its entirety:
'As [expression of] search the questioning [about the meaning of being] requires a previous guidance from what is being searched. The meaning of being must thus in a way be already available to us. As suggestion: we are always moving in an understanding of being. Out of this grows the explicit questioning about the meaning of being and the tendency towards this concept. We do not know what 'being' says. But already when we ask "What is 'being'?" we remain in an understanding of "is", without being able to affirm conceptually what the "is" means. We even do not know the horizon within which we might conceive and affirm the meaning. This average and vague understanding of being is a fact.'
But the decisive weakness of philosophy, beyond the numerous absurdities like the one quoted above, is the use of a series of basic concepts that are defined in such a misty way that it can only result in empty talk and endless pseudo debates, thinks Peter Naur. The group of words that are 'used by philosophers outside a context that might make them meaningful' includes: 'determinism, essence, existence, fact, is, knowledge, matter, necessity, objectivity, reality, soul, substance, (physical) thing, truth, will, (physical, objective) world' etc.
Using these words philosophers may keep on juggling without having recourse to new information: 'Philosophical theories are not tested by observation. They are neutral with respect to particular matters of fact. This is not to say that philosophers are not concerned with facts, but they are in the strange position that all the evidence which bears upon their problems is already available to them.' (From A.J. Ayer: 'The Problem of Knowledge' 1956). This is what Peter Naur calls philosophical presumption and worse.
[The article continues in three newspaper columns to present an interview with Peter Naur. It gave rise to several letters to the editor in the following issues of Weekendavisen].