I’ve followed the Art of Manliness as long as any blog. It was one of the first places I found deep thought on the internet, and one of the first that got me to question some of the presumptions inculcated by public school, college, and even several ministries. For example, it was the Art of Manliness that really pointed out how important masculine virtue is, and how men are really called to something unique. In an age when masculinity is derided, when men don’t have a coming of age ceremony, and when many men don’t have fathers to teach them how to become men (I am thankful I do), I am pleased to see the Art of Manliness doing so well. Really, check them out.

I mention all of that because I have a critique – though not so much of AoM or Brett (who runs it). It’s mostly directed at a fairly large number of the guests that are interviewed on his podcast. I’ll say now that despite this critique, I very much recommend the podcast.

I’m no scholar of the history of philosophy or the philosophy of science, but from my limited understanding, the philosophical school of verificationism began to be very popular during the early 20th century. This school, at heart, teaches that you can’t really know something is true without verification through your five senses (e.g. scientific experimentation). It goes so far as to call meaningless any statement about metaphysics, God, or ethics. The school was deeply incoherent, though; how can you scientifically verify verificationism? Which of your five senses confirms it? For that reason, in philosophy, the movement faded out in the 50’s. But, as William Lane Craig puts it, much of what passes as postmodernism today is really, secretly, this old verificationism nonsense clinging for dear life in a variety of disciplines outside of philosophy.

The object of my critique can be heard most recently on an AoM podcast called How to Develop Greater Self-Awareness. Listen to it if you get the chance. Tasha Eurich, an “organization psychologist”, is the guest on the episode.

Throughout the episode – and throughout other episodes with psychologists, in particular – there is frequently a deference to “what the science tells us”. For example, in this episode, in order to figure out that self-awareness leads to success, “scientific studies” were performed. They were “surprising” (as they often are), and now, we are told, we can know something that people didn’t know before it was verified by science.

There are several problems here.

First, much of what is studied in the soft sciences of psychology and sociology is ambiguous. What does “success” mean? How do I know if I have greater or lesser success? Ought I to want to be successful in something? How would I know? These are philosophical and religious questions which very well may have answers, but which might not. Either way, their answers are all presumed prior to whatever survey or analysis is performed. The researchers answer all of the difficult questions, perform an experiment (often a survey), and then tell you what “the science says”. This ambiguity means you don’t really know what is being said.

Second, this ambiguity leads to over-certainty. The “science says” is taken as the ultimate form of verification. I’ve seen people scoff when a philosophical challenge is levied against the ramblings of a psychologist or sociologist, even when they are clearly engaged in the philosophical. Pretending something is science just for immunity against criticism betrays the purpose of science and does a poor job of philosophy.

Third, the proper way of reasoning through the sorts of issues often tackled by psychologists is philosophy! Philosophy helps us define our terms, determine what our aims really are, and reason to form conclusions. We can certainly bring forth evidence; this is simply the correspondence theory of truth. The important thing is that we don’t dress poor philosophy in a lab coat and call it “the science”. The reason we have an effective scientific method at all is because it was built on, and is supported by, good philosophical principles.

I can’t listen to TED talks for this reason (among many others). And it makes podcasts like this difficult to listen to. We never even arrive at definitions, yet immediately jump to verifying deeply philosophical ideas. Verificationism rightly died in philosophy. I hope we can kill it everywhere else soon.