How do you measure a philosopher?
By his or her critics, perhaps?
Typically, I prefer the scholarly definition of criticism—not simply identifying what’s wrong with a work of art, literature, or (in this case) philosophy but rather a reasoned, careful and (one hopes) insightful analysis of it.
Done correctly, criticism sometimes praises.
But I had to give that some additional thought when creating this page. There are some harsh realities in this case that I must acknowledge—about the type of criticism Molyneux receives from those who are members of his FDR “community” and the dearth of criticism he receives from those who are not.
You see, if you consider any philosopher of note—let’s take Ayn Rand, for example—you’re bound to find an array of thoughtful criticism ranging from elegant thinkers whose insights deepen our very understanding of objectivism to those who can mount an equally elegant case debunking the entirety of her work. And all points in between.
Many of those critics possess a profound knowledge of philosophy and criticism; some are gifted with insights that rival those of the very subject they criticize. This is the way of things in letters, how it has been for centuries, and as it should be.
Very well then. We should be able to learn something very important about Molyneux from the type and quantity of formal criticism that has been devoted to his work, right? Major philosophers have inspired entire libraries of criticism; in fact they sometimes inspire critics who later become major philosophers in their own right.
Lesser, but still excellent philosophers may generate less formal criticism in comparison but a prodigious amount nevertheless. Even the most esoteric—a P.D. Ouspensky, for example—is likely to inspire significant dialogue if there is but a spark of genius in their work.
Well, Molyneux isn’t shy about declaring his own genius and I shall take him at his word.
Once, in listing the philosophers who had the “right” to condescend to him, Molyneux allowed Aristotle to make the list but rejected poor, befuddled Rand herself.
This is the man who boasts of running “the largest and most popular philosophical conversation in the world.” He has made a video in which he presents himself as either the “Salvation of Philosophy” or at least the guy who can show us the way—either one of those is a grandiose claim!
And above all of that is UPB itself, “the world’s first top-to-bottom system of philosophy,” a feat that has not even been attempted by philosophers in 6,000 years, the very “proof that human beings have been waiting for.” He has compared the impact of his work to that of Darwin.
By freeing humanity from the noisome clutter of holy books and religion, Molyneux believes he has discovered the very heart of morality itself.
So where are the critics?
And it is right here that I run headlong into a brick wall. Something just doesn’t match up.
In short, the amount of formal criticism I’m able to collect in no way matches the amount that Molyneux should have inspired (assuming the above claims are true).
…the painful and obvious fact is that—with a few exceptions—no one is paying any attention to Stefan Molyneux the philosopher at all.
If you are philosopher on the level that Molyneux claims to be, someone who (1) has harnessed the power of the internet, (2) is running the largest philosophy conversation in the world, (3) possesses superior marketing skills, and (4) is serving up the cure for ethical cancer, then the hearts and minds you capture should radiate like a million fireflies in a field of darkness.
But the painful and obvious fact is that—with a few exceptions—no one is paying any attention to Stefan Molyneux the philosopher at all.
Yes, he engages in significant self-promotion by conducting “interviews” and minor appearances here and there but I submit that the success he achieves in those endeavors is partly due to his ability to obscure or hide his true beliefs, many of which his interviewees would probably find difficult to accept. (And most probably don’t care about Molyneux’s ideas one way or the other. He has offered to interview them. The ideas they wish to talk about are their own.)
The more Molyneux pushes himself out into the world as Molyneux-the-interviewer, the more he pushes his “philosophy” back into the hinterland of FDR.
But now we are talking about Molyneux-the-philosopher. And given the revolutionary impact of his work—self-proclaimed though it may be—there must be, somewhere, a philosophy graduate student or two feverishly writing theses about this man who has turned philosophy on its ear. Hundreds of Web sites must be popping up all over the world to serve the tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of readers who have devoured his works.
Perhaps an elderly Ph.D is sitting quietly in a private library somewhere, reading UPB and brushing tears away from his eyes as he witnesses the grandeur of philosophy for the first time.
Or, on the other side, perhaps there are petty academicians rising up, filled with desperate and righteous anger as they rage against the heresy of Molyneux and fear that his genius may shake their ivy halls to the very foundations.
You think I’m a bit overdramatic? A bit carried away? No—absolutely not. If Molyneux has accomplished what he claims he has accomplished then what I describe should be the reaction.
Instead, in the outside world, there is very little noise about Stefan Molyneux—beyond the noise of his own self-promotion.
And, sadly, that silence—that absence of attention—is by far the most revealing criticism of the work of Stefan Molyneux.
Inside, outside, and elsewhere
You won’t have to look very hard to find uncritical praise for Stefan Molyneux and FDR. It’s just hard to find equally thoughtful criticism.
FDR is a business and Stefan Molyneux is trying to generate as much income as possible from it. (And there’s nothing wrong with that.) As a business, it promotes itself and Molyneux very well. It is full of members who are all too happy to promote it voluntarily.
Because it is a business, it must appear attractive to new members at all times. That makes the FDR environment itself a difficult place for self-reflective critical inquiry. That’s just bad for business. If someone demonstrates a serious mistake in Molyneux’s thinking, then new members will be less inclined to join. As I’ve documented many times on this site, it’s easier for FDR to identify internal critics as “trolls” and ban them altogether.
The natural consequence of that process is the membership of FDR has become naturally skewed toward those who do not have a strong background in philosophy. Those who know enough to challenge Molyneux want the freedom to do so and their only recourse is to be somewhere else.
Okay, so that’s inside. You aren’t going to find insightful criticism within FDR, just uncritical praise.
There is no kind way to say this. Most philosophers—even anarcho-capitalist libertarians—consider Molyneux a figure so minor that they simply dismiss him altogether.
The situation gets worse outside. There is no kind way to say this. Most philosophers—even anarcho-capitalist libertarians—consider Molyneux a figure so minor that they simply dismiss him altogether. That’s what makes it so difficult to produce a page of critics and criticism of FDR. There are painfully few critics who consider Molyneux worth their time.
Those who find FDR Liberated overly critical should at least take solace that my criticism at least indicates a greater attitude of respect than outright dismissiveness!
If there is one unifying truth about those outside FDR, and it is a painful one, it’s that they uniformly tend to reject it. For example, I haven’t found anyone with no interest in becoming part of the FDR “community” who praises UPB on its own merits. I compare that to the first time I read Atlas Shrugged. I knew nothing of the author or her other works and yet the book was one of the great “mind rewirings” of my life. From what I’ve seen of the existing formal criticism of FDR, unless one is already a fan of Stefan Molyneux, the natural reaction to UPB is to dismiss it.
So, that’s inside and outside, which leaves the elusive elsewhere. The one thing I’ve noticed about FDR over the past couple of years is how few people actually hang around. There is a cadre of hard-core True Believers who have been engaged all along, but the vast majority of members—even many who become “Philosopher Kings”—tend to drift in, become engaged for a while, and then move on.
And when they do, they don’t put up Web sites to share the good news about FDR. They don’t go from libertarian forum to philosophy forum spreading the world-defining, consciousness-shattering theories of Stefan Molyneux. Neither do they publish a formal critiques about their hard-won realization of the flaws in Molyneux’s logic. Above all, they don’t become the Nathaniel Brandens of FDR, whose critical understanding could help launch Molyneux-ism into the stratosphere. So, I get no useful criticism from them.
No. They just go elsewhere. As if they have washed their hands, kicked the dust off their shoes, and moved on—never wishing to be reminded of FDR or Molyneux again.
In the end, I got what I got
So that’s it. There are a few people who have offered true formal, thoughtful criticisms of FDR. I’ve searched quite hard for them and I’m grateful for every one I have found. While some of the observations below are harsh, remember that the vast majority of material produced about FDR and available on the internet is self-promotional praise. The job I’ve taken on here is to offer you a few places to get alternate perspectives. (And check back here every once in a while. I’ll make a half-hearted attempt to add more although—for all the reasons noted above—the pickin’s are often slim!)
Liberating Minds—A forum that is now closed but still on-line and viewable. And certainly worth your time to do so. From 2007 to 2012, it was the first stop away from the “community” for many departing FDR members. Some Liberating Minds members jokingly referred to the forum as the post-graduate site for FDR. At times, the ex-FDR members who arrived at the forum were clearly angry regarding their experience with Molyneux and it showed in their posts.
Despite all that, it was the essential site for unrestricted discussion of Stefan Molyneux’s philosophy (and the second most-read site by FDR members!) Some of the most valuable insights regarding Molyneux are frozen in time there. This link goes to the main portal and this link goes to the FDR section.
The FDR Liberated Forum—If you don’t mind a plug from your humble Narrator, this forum was opened soon after the demise of Liberating Minds. I am happy to note that the forum members continue to offer fascinating criticism and insight into Molyneux and FDR community. You can visit the FDR Liberated forum here.
My differences with Freedomain Radio—On October 21, 2011, an FDR forum member began openly speaking out about his criticisms of FDR philosophy/psychology on his own blog (named Seb’s CogBlog ). He was probably unaware where his inquiries would lead!
In December, he began talking about a book he had read that not only “led to radical shifts” in his own world view but also directly contradicted nearly all of the “science” behind Molyneux’s thinking about parenting. The book was The Blank Slate by Steven Pinker. Seb’s post about the book is here.
Seb was willing and interested to discuss the clinical evidence in Pinker’s book but the backlash from Molyneux and his followers became so intense that, at one point, people who linked to Seb’s CogBlog from the Freedomain Radio forum were banned. Relevant posts about the ongoing affair can be found below:
- It takes more work than that, Stefan Molyneux
- Apparently, anybody who links to my blog on the Freedomain Radio forum will now be banned from it and have their links or posts deleted.
- FDR update: 2 users unbanned, links still deleted from Cat’s posts without acknowledgement, Bricks’ thread still deleted
- The Gloomy Prospect, and Why Considerations of Interactivity Cannot Rescue Stefan Molyneux’s Claims
- Follow-Up: That Turkheimer quote broken down
- Let’s drag Penn Jillette into this
- Please leave a comment or send me a message if you’d like to hear more about Stefan Molyneux and the effects of parenting (Note thoughtful reply from Dr. Sharon Presley here)
- Update: Stefan Molyneux still hasn’t responded to any of the recent criticisms, yet is finding lots of time to throw evidence at strawmen and self-servingly and unfalsifiably psychoanalyse them
I will try to keep this updated as the story develops.
Molyneux Revealed—Molyneux once said in a podcast “I think the parents of those who have defooed have kept it even more a guilty secret than those who have defooed—it’s a very hard thing to talk about.” No such luck, Stefan. It sounds to me like the parents are angry and they’re getting vocal. This site was created for defooed parents by defooed parents.
Iconoclast or Malcontent—If you like your criticism on the lighter side, then don’t miss this site by Karen. Karen became interested in FDR at the height of its scrutiny by the media and was fascinated by Molyneux’s behavior, particularly in his bullying tactics against Liberating Minds. For a while, she published blog articles under the category “FDR—Not Just Another Evil Statist.” After a while, her interests moved on and she deleted the category but not the articles, which can still be found by their tags: Stefan Molyneux, FreeDomain Radio, and Liberating Minds. Her writing is distinguished by perceptive insights delivered with dry wit. Go for the articles on FDR; stay for the articles on cooking and Mad Men.
Blog Posts or Articles
The Molyneux Problem—Finally, an actual, well-known critic has taken the time to review Universally Preferable Behavior: A Rational Proof for Secular Ethics . David Gordon covers new books in economics, politics, philosophy, and law for The Mises Review , the quarterly review of literature in the social sciences published by the Mises Institute. On July 4, 2012, he published a brief review of Molyneux’s masterpiece on mises.org. The appearance of this review is a double-edged sword. On one hand, Molyneux publicly appears to be delighted with the idea of such a review, as he should be, since it is the first time his philosophy has been taken seriously by someone with widespread credibility as a scholar and critic.
On the other hand, the brief review didn’t go particularly well. By the final paragraph, Gordon had declared the book such a failure, he felt it necessary to defend Molyneux against the charge of stupidity.
Despite the impression I have so far given, Molyneux is by no means stupid: quite the contrary. Therein, I suggest, lies the source of the problems of his book. Because of his facile intelligence, he thinks that he has a talent for philosophical argument and need not undertake the hard labor of learning how such arguments are constructed. Unfortunately for him and his book, he is mistaken.
As expected, the review kicked up a firestorm among Molyneux’s FDR True Believers who let their feelings be known both on the comments page of the review as well as Molyneux’s own forum.
Trivia note: The title of Gordon’s review is a small jest on Molyneux’s perceived stature as a philosopher. Stefan is not the most important philosopher in the world (as many of his followers believe)—in fact, he is not even the most important philosopher in the Molyneux family . That honor belongs to William Molyneux, creator of what has become known as “The Molyneux Problem,” hence, the title of Gordon’s review. (I also once commented on The Molyneux Problem here.)
A Quick Read on Stefan Molyneux—Interestingly, the David Gordon review was so devastating that it began to reverberate in other places. After all, Gordon hadn’t merely criticized Molyneux’s book, he criticized Molyneux’s basic understanding of philosophy . Soon after, another prominent blogger, Robert Wenzel of Economic Policy Journal , similarly challenged Molyneux’s grasp on economics in this equally damning post. Comments following the post note that Molyneux has “been quietly kicked out of both the Lew Rockwell circle and (somewhat more recently) the Doug Casey – ‘Casey Research‘ crew as well.”
The Molyneux Project—The most definitive analysis ever delivered on Molyneux’s philosophy was by Danny Shahar, who is at this time a graduate student in philosophy. I covered the story of this project in The Promise and Failure of UPB. This link takes you to Shahar’s actual, in-depth critique. He’s several gazillion times smarter than me, so I have to make an effort to understand it. However, I learn more with each read-through.
Limits of Peaceful Parenting: Two Criticisms of Stefan Molyneux’s Position—In a manner similar to Seb’s CogBlog, Michael McConkey also offers an insightful rebuttal to the “science” behind Molyneux’s views on parenting. He was surprised at the backlash from FDR True Believers—so much so that in a subsequent article (What is Stefan Molyneux So Afraid of?) he mused that he may have to “rethink” the cult charges commonly leveled at the FDR community.
The latter article is noteworthy in that it is a “little journey into darkness” that details examples of what appear to be apparently underhanded/ethically challenged tactics used by Molyneux to minimize valid criticisms or debate, as well as cultish behavior from his followers.
Stefan Molyneux and Freedomain Radio—Alex Strekal, who often writes under the name BrainPolice, is wont to give some very thoughtful observations about FDR, and several of his posts can be found on the blog Polycentric Disorder, which also features articles by other equally thoughtful writers. This is one of BrainPolice’s posts, in which he also lays out a few criticisms of Liberating Minds. Ah, egality. While you’re at Polycentric Disorder, throw “Stefan Molyneux,” “FreeDomain Radio,” or “stefbot” into the search box and more interesting articles will pour out.
Retrospective Thoughts On The Convo With Molyneux—One of those aforementioned BrainPolice essays is this one. This article is illuminating in two significant ways. The first is the topic at hand—libertarianism and philosophy. The second is about how Molyneux’s conversation style is often more about fogging, dodging, and trying to win a debate than collaboratively seeking the truth. (To his credit, Molyneux offered BrainPolice’s essay as part of his own podcast series.)
Rationalist Libertarian Ethics—An interesting observation of attempts to support ethical-political views through formal logic. UPB is mentioned and, of course, immediately disposed of.
Democracy, the Moral “Truth” Behind a Flawed Theory—Can a statist mount an effective criticism of Molyneux’s UPB? This writer at the Web site World Free News takes a pretty good shot at it.
(Note 2/20/2012—I have reluctantly accepted that the YouTube videos by Alex Strekal (BrainPolice) are forever vanished and it is probably unlikely he will produce new video critiques of Molyneux’s ideas. I have removed the now-dead links from the listing below. I say that I’m reluctant to do so because (for reasons I mentioned above) it is difficult to find thoughtful and articulate criticism of Molyneux at all and I do wish to provide a useful sampling. C’est la vie.
Although the deletions were not of Strekal’s doing or desire (it was apparently the work of a rival critic), it is significant that Strekal, too, has moved on to that elusive elsewhere I mentioned above. Aside from a tight-knit, small band of followers who have been with Molyneux from the beginning, both his followers (no matter how deeply involved they become with the “community”) and his critics all seem to lose interest eventually and evaporate into other lives, never mentioning him again. I often wonder when I will follow them.)
There is a world of people quick of tongue, with mellifluous voices, who communicate better through video and audio better than writing.
I ain’t one of them.
Molyneux, however, does to a significant amount of recruiting via podcast and YouTube, where he posts videos under the name “Stefbot.” So there are those who critique that work using the same media. Here are a few of those, in no particular order:
Stefan Molyneux, by lengthyounarther
Articulate and common-sense musings on how Molyneux’s need to earn income as a celebrity philosopher may cause him to present “borrowed” ideas as his original inventions.
Stefan Molyneux Is Not The Salvation Of Philosophy, by Noscman
A patient and thoughtful critique of Molyneux’s Salvation of Philosophy video, demonstrating how Molyneux often bases his passionate arguments on straw men.
A Challenge to Stefan Molyneux’s Critique of Ron Paul, by Mr. Gennady Stolyarov II
An articulate response to the dust-up between Molyneux and Walter Block of the Mises Institute that began when Block published this wrong-headed essay on Lew Rockwell suggesting that Molyneux does not really “hate the state.” Molyneux’s response to the article was (of course) a video debate between he and Block that you can view here.
Stolyarov offers his analysis of that debate, followed by a detailed, point-by-point response to the critique by Molyneux of the Ron Paul campaign for US President and of political action in general. Molyneux may have tempered his view on Paul but not his views on political (in)action.
The Damnation of Philosophy, by SisyphusRedeemed
Another YouTube member, professional philosopher SisyphusRedeemed also took exception to Molyneux’s suggestion that he will save philosophy. This blistering retort is well-delivered and very informative. (If I were an undergrad, I’d sign up for this guy’s class!)
Property Rights, Stefan Molyneux, and Honesty , by XOmniverse
A refutation of Stefan Molyneux’s arguments in favor of property rights, as well as some commentary on his character.
Putting the Defoo in its Proper Context, by Fringe Elements (Ryan Faulk)
Ryan Faulk offers a logical, common-sense approach to defooing.
Determinism and Morality, by Fringe Elements (Ryan Faulk)
Ryan Faulk introduces his point of view on determinism. At 7:00, he begins to explain why Molyneux cannot permit the concept of determinism in his philosophy.
Submitting your mind: Freedomain Radio, and the Collective, by aaron0883
Observations on the collective mind-set of the Freedomain Radio “community.”
Ideas on Molyneux and Debating, by aaron0883. A critique of Molyneux’s debating techniques.
In the sidebar for this video, aaron0883 adds: “The podcast that I couldn’t quote on the spot is 1163. Anyone who thinks that Molyneux is honest MUST listen to 1163 … he goes through the details about why he is dishonest, and how he does it. I just listened to it again … it is truely revealing, and it is only 18 minutes. 1046 is pretty bullshit too.”
Relections on UPB: A Critique of Molyneux, by LaughingMan0X.
This is Part 1….
…and this is Part 2.
(LaughingMan0x includes links to additional notes and references in his sidebar, so I also recommend you visit the YouTube page directly for this video).
RE- The Story of Your Enslavement, by Professoranton.
This guy, Corey Anton, who is a Professor of Communication Studies at Grand Valley State University, has recently had a few run-ins with Molyneux. He “debated” Molyneux but since he was unprepared for Molyneux’s tactics, he probably has no idea to this day how he was psychologicized and manipulated. In addition, I’m not sure his thinking and reasoning on topics of freedom, etc., are all that particularly clear.
So why am I including this particular video? Because Anton is an expert on communications and he does have Molyneux cold on this one area—Molyneux’s tactically deceptive use of media to persuade people, despite his faulty logic. On that point, Anton is spot on.
Dialogue with AproposOfWetSnow , by Professoranton.
The dust-up between Anton and Molyneux actually began here, in a conversation between Anton and AproposOfWetSnow. (Caveat—I haven’t listened to this hour-long video entirely). About six minutes in, Anton first lays out his thesis that Molyneux’s arguments often consist of creating easily defeated straw-man opponents.
When this video was posted on the FreeDomain Radio Web site, True Believers went ballistic, of course, but Molyneux played it cool, offering to debate Anton. Smart move. Molyneux was easily able to manipulate and dismiss him (as I mentioned above). None of this obviates Anton’s entirely accurate assessment of Molyneux’s deceptive attempts at persuasion.