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Against the Idols of the Age Paperback – July 11, 2001

14 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0765809100 ISBN-10: 0765809109 Edition: New edition

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Editorial Reviews


"Stove was undoubtedly the most stylish and witty writer of all philosphers of the last one hundred years, if not of all time. When it comes to attacking the absurdities of twentieth century intellectual movements no one else came close, and certainly no one else was as funny. The greatest iconoclast of the twentieth century, we can now see in retrospect, was not any of the European avant-garde, most of whom in fact, epitomized the spirit of the century perfectly, but this no nonsense Australian. His greatest contributions were in the philosophy of science, in particular in his defense of inductive reasoning, and in his attack on the sort of irrationalism manifested by his four horsemen, Popper, Kuhn, Lalatos, and Feyerabend."

The Review of Metaphysics

"A self-proclaimed neo-positivist-and a brilliant, truculent, cantankerous essayist-Stove attacks everything from contemporary philosophy of science and evolutionary theory to religious belief and intellectual equality of women."

—The Weekly Standard

"The greatest philosopher of the twentieth century may not have been Wittgenstein, or Russell, or Quine (and he certainly wasn’t Heidegger), but he may have been a somewhat obscure and conservative Australian named David Stove (1927-94). If he wasn’t the greatest philosopher of the century, Stove was certainly the funniest and most dazzling defender of common sense to be numbered among the ranks of last century’s thinkers, better even—by far—than G. E. Moore and J. L. Austin. . . . What separates Stove from your average angry-eyed reactionary is the startling brilliant way that he argues, combining plain horse sense with the most nimble and skillful philosophical reasoning this side of Hume, along with a breathtaking wit."

Partisan Review

"An early, fearless, sometimes reckless combatant in the science and culture wars, Stove fought wittily and two-fistedly on the side of empirical realism."


"The incisiveness of [Stove's] logic presses toward the something new and adventuresome that has been obscured by the intellectual idols of the age."

The New Criterion 

"David Stove is thoughtful, trenchant, sharp and wonderfully disrespectful of the established pieties of our time." 

—Harvey C. Mansfield, Harvard University

"Stove is an independent and honest philosopher who, like Voltaire and Nietsche, has the wit to make us laugh as we learn." 

—John Silber, Boston University

From the Back Cover

David Stove is thoughtful, trenchant, sharp, and wonderfully disrespectful of the established pieties of our time. He's also a treat to read. --Harvey C. Mansfield, professor of government, Harvard University

A philosopher whose wit and satirical genius was directed against the follies and absurdities to be found in philosophers--and others. --David Armstrong, emeritus professor of philosophy, University of Sydney

In a culture of iconoclastic posturing, David Stove is the true iconoclast. He is outrageously wrong about some things, but putting up with that is a price worth paying for his formidable, and frequently funny, contributions to--in the words of the great Dr. Johnson--clearing the mind of cant. --Richard John Neuhaus, editor in chief, First Things

David Stove took no intellectual prisoners. A deadly serious (and hilariously funny) enemy of intellectual cant and the higher pretensions, he wrote to kill. In the process he demonstrated what had come to seem questionable: that professional philosophers can still make a vital contribution to public debate. Many thanks to Roger Kimball for making these brilliant essays available in America. --Owen Harries, editor, The National Interest

David Stove was a man before his time, providing answers to a number of mounting problems in politics and academic life whose eventual, disastrous dimensions were foreseen by very few others when he wrote. He long had a small circle of admirers who appreciated not only his intellectual brilliance and the polish of his unadorned prose, but how funny he invariably was. Since his death in 1994, the circle of insiders has widened to include many people who had not read him when he was alive but who, on discovering him, have asked almost incredulously: why didn't I know of his work before? This book shows just how much, until now, they have all missed. --Keith Windschuttle, author of The Killing of History

As Francis Bacon alerted us to the misleading habits of mind--idols of Tribe, Cave, Marketplace and Theater--that deprive us of knowledge, David Stove exposes the irrationalities of fashionable ideologies that deliver us over to relativism, skepticism and cynicism. Roger Kimball offers us, with an introductory overview, an astute collection of essays by Stove, brilliantly exposing current ideologies under the Baconian title Against the Idols of the Age. Stove's carefully reasoned arguments expose the intellectual fraudulence and cant that have blinded us to the attainability of knowledge. He makes the case not only that it is intellectually respectable to seek the truth, but that it is contemptible to be bullied by bad arguments and paradigms of the politically and intellectually "correct" into abandoning the search. Stove is an independent and honest philosopher who, like Voltaire and Nietzsche, has the wit to make us laugh as we learn. --John Silber, chancellor Boston University --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 347 pages
  • Publisher: Transaction Publishers; New edition edition (July 11, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0765809109
  • ISBN-13: 978-0765809100
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,349,229 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

58 of 68 people found the following review helpful By Greg Nyquist VINE VOICE on January 23, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This is not a book for moralizers, ideologues, fanatics, dogmatists, right thinkers, or anyone who cannot tolerate having some pet idea or another ripped to rhetorical shreds. David Stove must have been one of the most splenetic philosophical critics ever to put pen to paper. There are very few ideas, thinkers, ideologues that Stove approves of. He is, to use a phrase of the great critic William Hazlitt, a "great hater." Whether its Karl Popper, Plato, feminism, Darwinism, religion, idealism, Thomas Kuhn, Victorianism, Schopenhauer, academic, racial egalitarianism---they are all so much grist to the Stovean critical mill. Stove relishes attacking popular positions. Are women as intelligent men? No, declares Stove; nobody believes that, he insists, despite all the liberal fustian to the contrary. Is racism a valid concept? No, Stove argues, it is a mere neologism that nobody accepts in everyday life. Stove's iconoclasm might lead some to dismiss him as a mere crank. Certainly there is nothing easier than to disagree with him (his positions do tend towards unpalatable extremes). But because of Stove's incendiary wit, his clear, forceful, ingenious (though sometimes, admittedly, sophistical) argumentation, and his pungent, graceful, perspicuous style, he cannot be so casually dismissed. Stove is a master at finding compelling reasons to adopt outrageous opinions. Against "The Idols of the Age" is a contrarian classic. It belongs on the shelf of every person who is opposed, on principle, to all the appalling bilge that passes for common wisdom among today's "intellectuals." And even, as is more than probable, Stove attacks some idea or individual that you admire, what of it? We all of us need to be shaken out of our dogmatic slumbers now and again. I can think of no more invigorating way to be awaken than by reading Stove's brilliantly inflammatory essays. Highly recommended.
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28 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Michael Stephens on November 24, 1999
Format: Hardcover
David Stove is the only essayist I have read whom I enjoy as much as I do Montaigne. You may think some of his views crazy, but they are always beautifully expressed, often funny, and overall they are couched in terms of such reasonableness as to make you wish, when you get to the end of this volume, that he had written 100 times as many.
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27 of 34 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 31, 1999
Format: Hardcover
"Women are intellectually inferior to men"; "Discrimination on the basis of race is often justified"; "Darwinian evolutionary theory is not well-supported by evidence." Anyone can think up such theories, but only Stove can suport them with serious argument, different from what you would have thought of yourself.
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12 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Steven M. Duncan on November 12, 2007
Format: Paperback
In the first place, David Stove was a crank, a witty crank but a crank nonetheless. After reading these reviews, it appears that most of the people who like his books are cranks as well. It is a reliable rule of thumb that any philosopher who accuses his targets of being dogmatic, irrational and guilty of elementary errors that even a child could detect is almost certain to be at least as guilty of these vices as those he attacks. Indeed, it is only because he or she is committed to a set of definite and usually simplistic views that he or she is capable of seeing those opponents in this palpably distorted way.
Stove is often accused of being a latter-day positivist, but he was in fact a Baconian inductivist who believed that casual, everyday observation was a sufficient epistemic ground for sweeping philosophical claims. (This, in fact, was the view that he defended - against Hume - in his technical philosophical work on induction.) His constant appeals to "what everybody knows" and the prejudices of two generations ago that pass themselves off as "common sense" illustrates that well enough. For example, we all know that women are less intelligent than men; history proves it, after all, inasmuch as women have failed to acheive anything even remotely close to what men have acheived in historical time. And, if women do as well on math tests as men, that just proves that math tests are not a good way of comparing males and females with regard to intelligence. Casual induction, the source of stereotypes and prejudices of all sorts, apparently trumps the social sciences as well, which are to be dismissed simply as the running dogs of political correctness.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Gary Wolf on June 26, 2008
Format: Hardcover
As it turned out, reading Against the Idols of the Age, an anthology of Stove's work, was a good decision. I received inspiration not because the book reassured me, as in "don't worry, everything will work out just fine." On the contrary, it paints a grim picture of the state of Western intellectual life. Rather, I was inspired because Stove lays bare many of the absurdities--the "idols" of the book's title--that today pass for sacred, unassailable maxims. He shows that one can unravel the knot of politically correct dogma in which we are entwined, and do it in a clear, commonsense way. Think of it as a housecleaning for the brain, sweeping away cobwebs in various unlikely places.

Stove nimbly traces the genealogy of a ubiquitous modern idol, the accusation of "racism." He reminds us that it grew out of the less menacing but equally vacuous notion of "racial prejudice." He adds:

"Nowadays, you cannot open a daily paper or a popular periodical without meeting [the word racism]. You wonder how journalists could possibly have managed without this word until recently. A politician must now neglect no opportunity to pronounce a curse on 'racism.' He can probably still remember the very first time he heard the word, yet he must now pretend that he had always had 'racism' on his curse-list."

Stove maintains that it is perfectly reasonable to make generalizations about groups of people in categories such as race; in fact, everyone does it. For example, it is clear that Ethiopians are more skilled at long-distance running than Eskimos. Such judgments have no necessary connection to violence, and the linkage between them is a canard:

"I am not a fanatical enthusiast for long-distance running.
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