Both are smart guys, and I haven’t read the book or the review, but I am fascinated by the social dynamic, which follows a common pattern: What could be an engaged and productive argument devolves quickly into insults, exasperation, uncharitable interpretations about who said what, claims of immoralities, and suggestions of lawsuits.
Also fascinating is that in this case the heat is generated—not by the usual antagonizing topics of politics, religion, or failed romance—but by epistemology.
- Are many or most academics snobbish about who can do quality intellectual work?
- Are non-academics able to do quality intellectual work?
- Do some or many non-academic intellectuals have chip-on-their-shoulder resentments of those in the academic world?
- What is the book trying to accomplish?
- What is the overall quality of the book’s arguments?
- Is the book original?
- Does it reference the existing literature?
- Is the review fair-minded or a hatchet job?
- Who proposed the paid review—the author or the reviewer?
- Was the agreed-upon payment made in a timely fashion?
- Who has the formal publication rights to the review?
- Was there an informal agreement not to post the review until after attempts to publish it in journals?
Some of those strike me as interesting content questions, but my thoughts are about how the discussion has gone, for its negative pattern occurs repeatedly in every field that I’ve read in extensively. Off the top of my head: philosophy (Rousseauians, neo-Kantians, and Objectivists, especially), music (Beethoven and Tchaikovsky critics), education (Dewey’s and Montessori’s followers), psychology (Freudians and Jungians), politics and economics (Marxists and Austrians), architecture (Wright’s schools).
So my question is, independent of this particular book and its review, is this: Why does this pattern of dysfunctional discussion repeat so often and so easily, even among intelligent people who care about the same things?
[Related: The Russell/Ryle dispute over a book review for Mind.]