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In Praise of Doubt: How to Have Convictions Without Becoming a Fanatic Hardcover – August 4, 2009

4.0 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Sociologists Berger (The Social Construction of Reality) and Zijderveld (The Abstract Society) inveigh against the dogma of isms that replace humor with certainty and thoughtfulness with blind action. Between the extremes of fundamentalism and moral relativism sits the doubter, perched on liberal democracy, which the authors describe as a three-legged stool, balanced on the state, civil society and the market economy to promote debate and dissent. Berger and Zijderveld illustrate the obvious perils of extremism, but are less adept at navigating moderation. They apply their doubt premise to abortion, capital punishment and immigration policy, and come to inoffensively moderate political positions, but their tepid recommendations lack appeal; as the authors admit, The agnostic position is by definition a weak one. What recommends doubt as a concept is that it defies stringent characterization. Yet in both style and approach, the authors belie the vigorousness of their position—and an important position it is. (Aug.)
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“We need more books like this: books that advance an argument, and do so concisely, wittily, with great learning lightly worn.” (John Wilson, editor, Books & Culture)

“IN PRAISE OF DOUBT is a book of great practical wisdom by authors who have profound insight into the intellectual dynamics governing contemporary life..” (Dallas Willard, author of Knowing Christ Today)

“Brilliant yet clear, highly illuminating and often humorous, this is vintage Berger spiced with Zijderveld’s philosophical perspectives. In Praise of Doubt is essential reading for people of all faiths - and not least secularists.” (Os Guinness, author of The Case for Civility)

“The best parts of In Praise of Doubt explore the cultural battlegrounds where a consensus has broken down or not yet coalesced . . . Messrs. Berger and Zijderveld are optimistic: They believe that moral progress is on the march and that moderation is a virtue everyone can agree on.” (Wall Street Journal)

“In his new book In Praise of Doubt, sociologist Peter Berger discusses the dangers of absolute certainty and [quotes] Oliver Cromwell: ‘I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.’ That seems an appropriate caveat in the matter of the sanctuary as well.” (Trenton NJ Times)

“This is . . . a serious attempt to explain how to find middle ground between conviction - religious and otherwise - and doubt. . . . In fact, Berger and Zijderveld argue that doubt -- especially as expressed in the idea of a loyal opposition -- is at the heart of a democratic system.” (Los Angeles Times)

“Peter Berger along with co-author Anton Zijderveld has written… the kind of book that, well, just from the cover I would have to buy it and read it. And then to see Peter Berger’s name on it, that just clinches the deal…. he is literally without peer.” (Albert Mohler, AlbertMohler.com)

“This book addresses, both broadly and individually, how to balance dedication to strong religious and moral beliefs, while simultaneously being objective and discerning. This book grapples, in a thoughtful, entertaining way with these and other meaty philosophical questions.” (Reference & Research Book News)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne; 1 edition (August 4, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061778168
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061778162
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,222,468 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
In Praise of Doubt is not light reading; that much needs to be stated at the outset. Peter Berger and Anton Zijderveld are both sociologists; Zijderveld is also a philosopher. Both are widely read and deeply engaged in contemporary issues. Not surprisingly, therefore, their approach to the question of doubt is a far-ranging one, lending this study its tremendous breadth, taking in wide swaths of religion, politics, culture and the history of ideas. It is an impressive--though hardly perfect-- piece of work.

The book's subtitle is a pretty good summary of the book's central argument. Berger and Zijderveld have little use either for "relativism" or for "fundamentalism". In other words, they reject both the crippling doubt that leads to cynicism and/or relativism but they also reject the denial of doubt that can lead to fanatical fundamentalist stances of every stripe and description. Thus they celebrate the sort of moderate doubt that can undermine fundamentalist certainty, along with the sort of "doubt about our doubts" that can remind the would-be cynic that there may well be truths worth affirming.

Perhaps in keeping with their subject matter, there is a certain "unfinished" quality to this work; it's more of an "exploration" of the issues, than a tightly woven argument. Those who are looking for the latter may close this book with a certain sense of frustration; there are no knock-down unanswerable "proofs" to be found in this book and no quick and dirty solutions offered: only a genuine recognition of human limitations and therefore (as a close corollary) of the need for human individuals and societies to aspire to the sort of moderation to which a healthy cultivation of doubt can contribute.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I am a long time fan of Peter Berger's work. I turn to his writings for a number of reasons. First, he is an academic and empirical sociologist. This means that I can count on him to have his ear to the ground and his feet on the ground. That is, he bases his conclusions not on abstract hypotheses but on real trends and realities. Second, he has many decades of experience and occasionally draws on his lived experience to inform his analysis and conclusions. I tend to trust reflective older people who have seen much of the world (at least more than I have). Third, he writes with a minimum of jargon. I have nothing against jargon in principle, but Berger's sparing use of it means it is more like hearing a wise neighbor telling you what he thinks is important. Fourth, he is a religious believer (albeit a skeptical one), a rarity in academia. This means that his views capture a wider range of human reality than the usual academically informed views. Fifth, he espouses neither leftist (e.g. anti-globalization and anti-capitalist) nor standard liberal platitudes (e.g. individual freedom is the most important value for moderns.)

In light of this, "In Praise of Doubt" was both welcome and a little disappointing. First I would recommend it for the genuine insights it brings to the topic.
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Format: Kindle Edition
Berger wrote about the sociological process from where a belief system is taken-for-granted, on to when other ideas are introduced due to pluralism and globalization. This results is cognitive contamination and cognitive dissonance--suddenly things are no longer so clear and one loses security and their sense of certainty. There are three responses to pluralism, the first two are completely exlusivist and absolutist, they are fundamentalism and relativism.

Fundamentalism is the attempt to revert BACK to that former "taken-for-grantedness" and the way to do this is to make everyone who disagrees with them an "other"--showing how they're all either stupid or diabolically evil. Next the fundamentalist needs to surround themselves with other fundamentalist and only read their books. They must create a protective bubble for themselves less they be contaminated.

Next is relativism, it is a reaction to pluralism/globalization, it just simply concludes from the multiplicity of truth claims; that there absolutely is no absolute truth, and from the differing ethical ideals; that objective morality simply doesn't exist. Therefore, one must find his own subjective truth and moral ideals.

The third position is the Inclusivist position. The Inclusivist believes there is such thing as absolute truth, objective morality and meaning, but one is humble enough to acknowledge that others may have glimpses of reality as well and to seek to learn from them.
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