Book published 1999 March 4:
Antiphilosophical Dictionary

Danish version published on 1999 March 4:

Antifilosofisk Leksikon Tænkning - Sproglighed - Videnskabelighed publishing, ISBN 87-987221-0-7, 110 pages. Price 140 Dkr.

Available from Danish bookstores and:

Universitetsbogladen, Universitetsparken 13, DK-2100 København Ø, Denmark
tlf. (+45) 3537 1133 / (+45) 3532 0035,


Judging from what is called philosophy, nonsense must be among the sturdiest plants there are. The seed was sown by Aristotle 350 years B.C., and since then the philosophical nonsense has thrived. A seedling of the plant, Aristotle's talk of motion, died around 1650, but the main stem flowers unscathed today.

In this sturdiness of nonsense there is nothing inexplicable, psychologically. As noted by William James a hundred years ago (see the dictionary article reality), we all tend to believe what we are told or read, as long as it does not flatly contradict something in which we are currently engaged. In a debate which does not deal with matters of our special concern we all tend to agree with the latest honourable speaker. This habitual trust in speech and print again is in line with our trust in the way we perceive our ordinary surroundings, our closest fellow beings and the things, the light, and the sounds we encounter. Long periods may elapse between our experience of being astonished or frightened at something we are exposed to. Most of the time we may perceive our impressions in our habitual way, without running into surprises.

Thus it is quite understandable that when we encounter statements concerning issues at the limit of our normal field of interest, that is questions we have had hardly any occasion to give any thought, then we will tend strongly to accept them in the manner children have to accept anything they meet, uncritically. In this field we find, among other things, philosophy.

Another relevant circumstance is the general urge to know better. This urge differs from one person to another, like any other characteristic, but it is evidently lively in many people. Such people will be attracted to Aristotle's philosophical program of the highest knowledge. Philosophy, in other words, is presumption incarnate.

To this is added in recent years the commercialization of science in the form of what is called research projects. Such projects are financed 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 . Disclosure of nonsense in this context thus becomes a subversive activity, in which only those can allow themselves to engage who have given up their chance of getting access to research money. Thus in research contexts nonsense thrives practically unabated.

Scientists are mostly uninterested in what philosophers say. Thus the scientists for hundreds of years, unconcerned with the philosophers' presumption, have been formulating ever more adequate and coherent descriptions of the ways of the world. Most of those who have even glanced at what philosophers say have been puzzled to notice how the philosophers have talked for several thousand years, without being able to display a single specimen of what they say they seek: a truth.

A few scientists have joined the philosophers' club of presumption. However, if one looks close into what they say one finds that they just confirm the basic impossibility of philosophy.

The following notes are the results of irritation over the philosophical inanity accumulated over many years. The first incentive to them came from my study of what is said in philosophical texts about science, induced by my work in astronomy around 1955. Thus I came across Bertrand Russell's essay On the Notion of Cause (for more about this, see cause). His starting point is a detailed, critical analysis of what is said about causes in Baldwin's Dictionary of Psychology and Philosophy. In his analysis Russell shows that what is said in the handbook is unclear and self-contradictory. Russell then contrasts this philosophical confusion with the way the things are talked about in scientific astronomy, the field of my insight at first hand.

In later years my work in computing has given me the occasion to evaluate what is said in philosophical and psychological writings about people's mental activity and their perception of their surroundings and of linguistic expressions. Here I have time and again found new examples of philosophical confusion of the kind Russell indicated. However, I have never found other analyses like Russell's, and Russell himself appears in his later writings to have forgotten his antiphilosophical contribution.

The following antiphilosophical notes are primarily arranged alphabetically by subject keyword, but there are connections in all directions between the subjects, as indicated by references. No completeness has been attempted, in view of the amount of philosophical nonsense that has appeared in print. The principal views are presented in some longer articles, of which may be specially mentioned (alphabetically) association, concept, description, feeling, knowing, language, language-rule-fallacy, perception, reality, scientific-scholarly activity, stream of thought, word-as-code-of-meaning-fallacy.

So as to make the points of attack specific, the notes include detailed analyses of passages from selected philosophical writings. Predominantly the authors chosen are among those who have enjoyed wide international recognition, although with due regard to the local Danish scene. Lexical information, such as dates of the works or persons who are referred to, is only given exceptionally, since such information is readily available in many handbooks. The sources of the quotations and of the Dictionary of Philosophy I have consulted is given in a Literature Appendix. Here is also given references to such places in my other writings where I have discussed some of the views presented in the dictionary in more detail.

In choosing linguistic expressions I have aimed solely at achieving clarity: clarity in what is being talked about and clarity in what is being said about it. Thus I have made use of all the possibilities of the written form of expression, its letters and signs, its typographical variants, the way the text may be arranged in lines and paragraphs and organized with the aid of key words, in the way I find most clear in the context. In my striving for clarity I have found it necessary to ignore the concern for those styles that some people like to call correct language (about this see the article on language-rule-fallacy). I also ignore the aura of respect that usually is seen to enshroud philosophical statements.

At closer look most (all?) philosophy may be seen to be centered around a small handful of eternally repeated phrases that in philosophical context are taken to be meaningful outside of any context, typically essence, existence, reality. While collecting the notes I noticed a common line in all the philosophical twaddle: it goes straight back to Aristotle. While Aristotle's talk of motion was put to rest by Galileo more than 300 years ago, Aristotle still thrives in philosophy. Other general features of the philosophical talk: nonsense, more particularly elaborate talk about indefinite, misty subjects; further, poor understanding of the human mental activity, including adherence to fallacies about the linguistic activity (see language-fallacy). The poor understanding of the mental activity goes in parallel with the sick state of psychology, particularly in the twentieth century, the decay of psychology under the tyranny of behaviorism.

At first sight it might seem to be of no consequence that a small group of philosophers are talking nonsense. But philosophy has harmful effects far beyond the circle of philosophers. In one direction it is destructive to the general understanding of how defensible expression is constituted, that the philosophical nonsense is hailed as the highest wisdom. In another direction philosophers have taken upon themselves the highest insight into science and scholarship, and have with their talk of truth, logic, and methods, corrupted the understanding of science. This harmful influence is felt particularly in psychology. Here the philosophical fallacies about science have led to behaviorism, whereby the psychologists have cut themselves off from talking about what ought to be the center of the subject, the thoughts and feelings we all experience.

For excellent help with criticism of drafts of the book I am very grateful to Erik Frøkjær.

Back cover text:

The Revolt of Science/Scholarship Against Philosophy

For two thousand years, since Aristotle, the philosophers have presumed to possess the highest insight into the constitution of the world. They have encroached upon us with their talk of truth, logic, reality, essence, and being. Thereby they have perverted the understanding of human thinking and speech. They have forced upon us a barren, logic-bound conception of science and scholarship.

Antiphilosophical Dictionary displays the inanity of the traditional ways of talking of philosophers, as they are found in the writings of, among others, Descartes, Bertrand Russell, Gilbert Ryle, Martin Heidegger, and Ludwig Wittgenstein.

As contrast a coherent understanding of thinking, speech, and science/scholarship is presented, building upon William James's classical description of the stream of thought and upon linguistic and scientific/scholarly practice as described by, among others, Otto Jespersen and James Watson.

The reviews of the Danish edition "Antifilosofisk Leksikon", 1999.

English edition published 2001: Antiphilosophical Dictionary

Antiphilosophical Dictionary
Thinking - Speech - Science/Scholarship