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A Conflict Of Visions Paperback – January 3, 2002

ISBN-13: 978-0465081424 ISBN-10: 0465081428

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (January 3, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465081428
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465081424
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.3 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #420,824 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Sowell, an economist and author (The Economics and Politics of Race, etc.), presents a provocative analysis of the conflicting visions of human nature that have shaped the moral, legal and economic life of recent times. For the past 200 years, he writes, two visions ofor "gut feelings" abouthow the world works, have dominated: the constrained vision, which views man as unchanged, limited and dependent on evolved social processes (market economies, constitutional law, etc.); and the unconstrained vision, which argues for man's potential and perfectability, and the possibility of rational planning for social solutions. Examining the views of thinkers who reflect these constrained (Adam Smith) and unconstrained (William Godwin) visions, Sowell shows how these powerful and subjective visions give rise to carefully constructed social theories. His discussion of how these conflicting attitudes ultimately produce clashes over equality, social justice and other issues is instructive.
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

This latest work by Sowell examines two competing visions which shape our debates about the nature of reason, justice, equality, and power. These visions are the "constrained" vision, which sees human nature as unchanging and selfish, and the "unconstrained" vision, in which human nature is malleable and perfectible. The book builds a convincing case that ethical and policy disputes are ultimately based on the differences in these visions. It covers a wide variety of political, philosophical, and economic thought. Although occasionally abstract, this volume is an important contribution to our understanding of current social issues. Recommended for large public and all college and university libraries. Richard C. Schiming, Economics Dept., Mankato State Univ., Minn.
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Thomas Sowell has taught economics at Cornell, UCLA, Amherst and other academic institutions, and his Basic Economics has been translated into six languages. He is currently a scholar in residence at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He has published in both academic journals in such popular media as the Wall Street Journal, Forbes magazine and Fortune, and writes a syndicated column that appears in newspapers across the country.

Customer Reviews

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I highly recommend this book to the beginner and the expert alike.
Not A Real Name
Additionally, there are constraints of human nature and therefore, a strong national defense is the best way to prevent war.
David E. Levine
Thomas Sowell's "A Conflict of Visions" is a remarkable book.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

324 of 339 people found the following review helpful By Marc Cenedella on July 29, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Why do liberals berate conservatives as hard-hearted, morally repugnant, selfish caricatures of cartoon fatcats; while conservative will grant the liberals' their good intentions but remind them that road to hell is paved thusly by their wooly-headed, ivory tower schemes? And why are liberals castigated as slick, short-sighted, and interest group-driven, while conservatives are lampooned as dumb, corrupt and morally evil?

These are just two of the questions tangentially answered by Thomas Sowell in this important book on the taxonomy and structure of our political debate. This work is sure to stand for the remainder of the century as *the* reference point from which dueling political frameworks are engaged.

Sowell's main thesis is that contrasting visions of human capability, knowledge, perfection, and self-interest underlie two very different visions of humanity, and it is on these visions that political ideology, debate, and worldview rest. Sowell's two visions are named, rather unhelpfully, the constrained and the unconstrained vision. No gold star here for Sowell on Marketing. So instead, I'll use Pinker's terminology, as I was introduced to this book via Steven Pinker's Blank Slate.

The Tragic (constrained) vision of human nature views man as possessing foibles, incentives, and the desire to act in his own self-interest. The Tragic "sees the evils of the world as deriving from the limited and unhappy choices available, given the inherent moral and intellectual limitations of human beings." Thus, the perfection of governance in the Tragic Vision is the American Revolution with its checks and balances. Further, history should guide us, as the unknowable tradeoffs between different policies and procedures have been ironed out through unstated practice.
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161 of 168 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Currie-Knight TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 19, 2005
Format: Paperback
Dr. Thomas Sowell's book, "A Conflict of Visions" is an attempt to explore the primary, if unarticulated, philosophy of historical conservatism and liberalism. His thesis is that conservatism has a tradition of operating by a vision of humans that sees them as 'constrained.' Some characteristics of this view are:

(1) Humans have generally selfish natures.

(2) Human reason, while valuable, is quite limited.

(3) Because of this, society grows by evolution, not central deliberate planning.

(4) Social decisions generally involve not 'solutions' but 'trade-offs' (how much good for how much downside?)

(5) Procedural fairness, rather than results-based fairness, is the key to a just society.

Conversely, Sowell writes that the liberal tradition operates on a vision of humankind that is 'unconstrained.' Features include:

(1)Human selfishness is a quality that can be overcome by reason and education.

(2) Human reason, when used properly, can trump human impulses, emotions, and feelings.

(3)The planned society is best. Non-planned societies = chaos.

(4) While policy trade-offs might be a good short term solution, reason can discover true solutions that are equitable to all.

(5)Procedural fairness is not fair so long as disperate outcomes result.

Sowell backs up his thesis with impressive research, citations, and quotes. This is refreshing becuase it makes sure he is not simply creating strawmen. From the conservative side, his quites tend to come from Edmunde Burke, Adam Smith, Freidrich Hayek, and Oliver Wendell Holmes. From the liberal side, his quotes tend to come from William Godwin, Marquis de Condorcet, Jean Jacques Rousseau, and Ronald Dworkin.
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129 of 137 people found the following review helpful By Stephen M. Kerwick on July 14, 2000
Format: Paperback
Any thoughtful observer of political and social discourse is forced to note the ironies and disjuncts in specific beliefs from time to time. Conservatives often support restrictions on behavior in order to effect security, while liberals preach freedom but are happy to truncate it in order to marshall the resources to support their favored victim classes. Either side, if honestly introspective, ought to be troubled about why this is. Thomas Sowell, one of America's most thoughtful and intellectually honest commentators explains just why this is and traces the origin of the question to the Enlightenment and post-enlightenment thinkers before and shortly after the French Revolution. He describes the key dichotomy as between the "constrained" and "unconstrained" views of human nature, which view mankind as flawed or perfectable, respectively. Another author describing comparable distinctions in international relations, Robert Kaplan, uses the terms Realist and Idealist to discuss the same cleavage. In setting this out, Sowell manages to produce a genuinely Aristotelian approach to modern thought that is extremely worth reading. What's more, he does all of this in a very readable, approachable prose that it more enjoyable to read than any text on such deep subjects ought to be. It's one of the very few books that improves the reader while giving pleasure in doing so.
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49 of 49 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 2, 2003
Format: Paperback
"A Conflict of Visions" is an historical/philosophical analysis and exposition of the two major views of human nature - called the Unconstrained Vision and the Constrained Vision --that have dominated mainstream Western European and American political debate for the last 350 years or so. Sowell explores the different views, and the consequences of holding those views, on a number of important issues: liberty, equality, freedom, justice, etc., of a number of well-known Western European and American political writers, both historical and current (e.g., Locke, Hobbes, Burke, Condorcet, Godwin, Rousseau, among the historical figures and G.B. Shaw, O.W. Holmes, Ronald Dworkin and Milton Friedman among the more recent). "A Conflict of Visions" stands on its own and may be read to great benefit without any prior acquaintance with Sowell's work, but it can be most fully understood as one third of a trilogy, the other two parts of which are: "Knowledge and Decisions" and "The Vision of the Anointed".
The Constrained Vision more or less asserts that (1) human beings (whether individually or in groups (e.g., legislatures)) are incapable of broad knowledge (i.e., at the societal level) about the effects of their actions, that therefore societies are better off relying on structures (e.g., markets, cultural traditions) that in some sense collect (or in the case of traditions, have collected over time) the limited knowledge of many independent actors, (2) that the Law of Unintended Consequences is alive and well, (3) that human nature is basically self-oriented (if not downright selfish) and (4) that, because of these profound limitations, only suboptimal "trade-offs", not "solutions", are possible on most important social and political issues.
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