Contemporary Thought and Politics (Selected Philosophical - download pdf or read online

By Ernest Gellner

ISBN-10: 0203009215

ISBN-13: 9780203009215

ISBN-10: 0415302978

ISBN-13: 9780415302975

Gellner's political philosophy in those volumes combines the down-to-earth realism of political sociology with a rational therapy of the normative problems with conventional political inspiration. In those essays Gellner strives to appreciate the religions of nationalism, communism and democracy, returning repeatedly to the elemental values of the liberal: social tolerance, rational feedback, human decency and justice.

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But, effective though the critique is on the imaginative plane, it is curiously ineffective on another level: it does not challenge the premises which may lead one to accept such a Utilitarianism. These premises include the denial of the idea that some experiences have value irrespective of the satisfaction they give. This denial is not challenged. Moreover, the argument is carried on within a framework which admits that the evaluation of freedom does not really arise, for there is only the illusion of it anyway.

The danger is that of fanaticism and other forms of sanctioning disregard for the ordinary sufferings of ordinary people which daily surround us. This strong conflict throws Gellner into a reflective mood filled with self-irony, a mood of compassion curiously mixed with detachment. Consequently, one is uncertain as to how close to his own views is the mordant irony of his lay sermon ‘Prepare to meet thy doom’ (ch. 1, below). In that piece he argues that on all utopian models the future is bleak.

Mock-modesty, mock-neutrality, mock-tolerance, open the way for the doctrine that truth does not matter but commitment does—an irrational and violent corollary. The conclusion Gellner draws (in chapter 13) is both moral and political, both private and public: do not tolerate empty phraseology! Of course, encounter it not with physical violence but with careful, level-headed yet powerful words. We think Gellner’s words rise to his own standards. But Gellner is known to the reading public mainly as a philosopher and a scourge of other philosophers.

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Contemporary Thought and Politics (Selected Philosophical Themes) by Ernest Gellner


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