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Plagues of the Mind: The New Epidemic of False Knowledge Paperback – April, 2004

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 279 pages
  • Publisher: Isi Books (April 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1882926897
  • ISBN-13: 978-1882926893
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.8 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #850,943 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Rather than cleaving contemporary intellectual foolishness to its historical roots, Thornton starts at those roots, advances from the crucial eighteenth century to the present, and concludes with case studies of three modern loci of falsehood--romantic environmentalism, the American Indian as ethical paragon, and goddess worship. The trouble all began with the Enlightenment assumption, founded on similar dispositions in classical Greek philosophy and scholastic Christianity, that knowledge bred virtue. Once a person knew the good, reason would compel realizing it, for humans are naturally inclined to goodness. Thereafter, romanticism demoted reason and preferred feeling but didn't dispute natural human goodness. Thus the stage was set for "if it feels good, it is good" as the highest ethical standard, and all three current follies that Thornton analyzes are rife with the sentimental indulgence, self-righteousness, and contempt for empirical evidence, especially about human behavior, that the feel-good ethic fosters. Thornton's exposition is complex, yet as he draws the thoughts and interpretations of an impressive array of social critics into his grand intellectual-historical argument, his prose never becomes obscure, though Al Gore, Vine Deloria, Carol Christ, and other targets of his criticism have reason to wish it had. Ray Olson --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


"Thornton does not mince words and he is not taking any intellectual prisoners." -- ForeWord --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

It is an extremely well written book and is very easy to read.
John Ingle
Some of the accepted empirical "facts" of Thornton's argument are not really "facts" but conjectural interpretation of the classics.
Rodney J. Szasz
Well, many of the authors Thornton criticizes go no more overboard than he does himself.
Arlie Stephens

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

66 of 71 people found the following review helpful By Todd I. Stark VINE VOICE on April 15, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is a well-written, literate manifesto that divides the world into good knowledge and bad knowledge and then tells us which is which. The most important conclusion is that human nature is and should remain a fundamental mystery, and that our pretense at explaining it scientifically leads more to abuses than to useful knowledge. While the tone and underlying values are strongly conservative, as befits a classical scholar, there is also an interesting blend of less conservative thinking when it comes to the consistent arguments against scientism applied to human beings.
The author spends a lot of time praising and applying the powers of human reason while criticizing the proliferation of "false knowledge" and most significantly, telling us where reason simply can't go. All of psychology and social sciences in particular are on the bad list.

The "false knowledge" the author attacks isn't limited to the usual suspects parodied by the skeptics; alien abductions, recovered memories, pseudoscience and popular baseless myth of various sorts. It also includes any attempts to probe human nature using science and unravel the "fundamental mystery" of the human heart.
As a scholar of classical studies, the author represents the received Christian wisdom of sacred mysterianism, or mystery regarding the human soul, and plays it off against the hubris of modern science in daring to try to understand human nature. He illustrates all sorts of foolish trends of thinking in modern culture that ignore the received wisdom a classicist is expected to respect. People instead rely on fads in poorly based scientific research and nonsense dressed in scientific garb.
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30 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Robert Morris HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 29, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Any book which explores "the new epidemic of false knowledge" reminds us that the human race has been afflicted with intellectual pestilence throughout its history. From my own perspective, there are at least three major reasons for false knowledge such as misinformation, half-truths, gratifying superstitions, and pleasant myths as well as outright lies: insufficient and/or incorrect information; man's inability and/or unwillingness to accept a reality which is redundantly verifiable; and third, it serves the self-interests of those who affirm it. In this volume, Thornton examines an "epidemic of false knowledge" which is potentially more destructive than any predecessors because of technology which makes it now possible to exchange more false knowledge faster and to a much greater extent than ever before.

In the Preface, Thornton explains that his aim "is not so much to assert a positive, true doctrine that should replace the false one, but rather to incite the reader's own critical eye to examine more carefully the many received truths and elements of public wisdom circulating in our collective mind. If this means that my own ideas are subjected to the same scrutiny, then this book has achieved its aim."

Following a brilliant Introduction, Thornton carefully organizes his material within Two Parts: Of the Causes of Error and Of Three Popular and Received Ideas.
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48 of 54 people found the following review helpful By G. Passantino on February 7, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Having addressed hundreds of Philosophy, History, and Literature classes over the last 20 years, I am often frustrated by the students' typical lack of critical thinking ability. They mostly don't want to think for themselves or test what they're told, they just want to know what they have to memorize for the test. This book not only exposes some of the most pernicious historical myths of our contemporary culture, it also teaches the reader to think critically and care more about truth than conformity. I highly recommend it!
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28 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Rodney J. Szasz on September 30, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Firstly let me say that really like what this book deals with. The spread of false knowledge and the use of reason and scientism, when grounded in false precepts yeilds a plethora of monstrous, even abominable ideas. These self serving ideas born in the sleep of "reason" are really the fruit of false precepts; the three that he deals with are the noble savage, romantic nature myths and Goddess myths.
Unfortunately agreeing with most of his conclusions does not mean that I agree with his methods:
1) His three myths are highly selective and he argues in a reductionist style: the Noble Savage Myth IS responsible for racical environmentalism and almost any other form of environmentalism from common sense saving energy to saving the Spotted Owl. He uses the myth to explain everything, and in the end undermines his own argument. Shades of Freud...? .... Marx..?
2) Moreover he could analyse all sorts of other "myths" as well: distrust of big government (a very American myth), say or, the "halcyon days myth" -- the myth that America (or any other country in the world) was once a peaceful, non-violent state of bliss that has been corrupted by modern man. These are certainly as responsible for as much false knowledge as anything Thornton cites.
3) Thornton has an annoying habit of drawing completely linear relationships of cause and effect from myths and the way people act or think today. So for example, he says that teenage pregnancy and reluctance of people to take sexual responsibility is a DIRECT result of the liberal democratic myth that knowledge will always ameliorate the condition of mankind. The sexual revolution of the 60s and the idea of knowledge liberating one from sexual mores is a common phenomomen.
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