Toward the end of Alex Rosenberg's "Why I am a Naturalist" piece in the NYT, we find this line.
If semiotics, existentialism, hermeneutics, formalism, structuralism, post-structuralism, deconstruction and post-modernism transparently flout science’s standards of objectivity, or if they seek arbitrarily to limit the reach of scientific methods, then naturalism can’t take them seriously as knowledge.
Now I'm a minimal naturalist of the ontological monism / no supernatural entities type, which is a very low bar to clear, to be sure. But even if were a naturalist of the "only science gives us knowledge" school I don't think I'd be happy with Rosenberg's column, as my title indicates. Now usually I take a "Forget it, Jake, it's the blogosphere" line on these things -- is it really worth reading seriously or even semi-seriously a blog post? But what the hell, let's go through this sentence.
First: what is the principle of unity of this list of bogeys? Elsewhere the post mentions "literary theory" or "literary criticism," but those two fields are by no means identical, nor do they provide a principle of unity for this list.
Second: is this list anything more than an intonation of shibboleths? Let's examine them one-by-one. I'm not going to claim inside knowledge, but I think any philosopher should know what I'm about to say about these names.
a. Semiotics, aka the study of signs. How could Peirce or Saussure "flout" that to which they aspired?
b. Existentialism. Really? Let's be naturalists about this. What experimental / observational method would enable us to find flesh-and-blood existentialists walking the halls of American universities in 2011?
d. Formalism. Russian Formalists in the Roman Jakobson mold, AFAICT, aimed at a science of literature based on a scientific semiotics. So, again, as with semioticians, I'm not sure how they are flouting that to which they aspired.
e. Structuralism. In what ways was Lévi-Strauss flouting science's standard of objectivity in The Elementary Structures of Kinship?
f. Post-Structuralism. Here's something interesting. Sokal and Bricmont criticize many people whom we could put in this camp. But they criticize them -- successfully or not -- for incompetent use of scientific concepts, not for "flouting science's standard of objectivity."
g. Deconstruction. Interestingly enough, Sokal and Bricmont give Derrida a pass, because he doesn't really engage with science. Can you flout something you ignore?
h. Postmodernism. I suppose there are readings of Lyotard's "incredulity toward meta-narratives" position that a naturalist of Rosenberg's stripe wouldn't like.
I guess what I'd like to know is why did Rosenberg think this farrago of scary names would pass muster? It's as if he was holding a flashlight under his chin as he told this campfire story of the bad people whom we must all disdain if we are to be serious philosophers. But it's not really like this anymore is it? We've moved past this sort of 1996 Science Wars stuff haven't we?