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The Uses of Pessimism: And the Danger of False Hope 1st Edition

4.4 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0199747535
ISBN-10: 0199747539
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Editorial Reviews

Review


"Scruton has approached his project with incisiveness, breath of knowledge, and clarity of expression. The Uses of Pessimism is worth arguing over." --Politics & Ideas


"While some of Scruton's conclusions may be controversial... he does present an intriguing case for using pessimism as a way to examine issues that affect current society. His clear and accessible writing will appeal to those familiar with the author's past works and also those with an interest in philosophy." --Library Journal


"Scruton has approached his project with incisiveness, breadth of knowledge, and clarity of expression. The Uses of Pessimism is worth arguing over."
-- Peter Lopatin, Commentary


"Score one for pessimism." --Peter Monaghan, The Chronicle of Higher Education


About the Author


Roger Scruton is Resident Fellow, American Enterprise Institute; Senior Research Fellow, Oxford University. He is the author of over thirty books including Beauty and Death-Devoted Heart.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (October 7, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199747539
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199747535
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 0.8 x 5.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,415,990 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Paul Adams on October 18, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Roger Scruton's concern in this wonderful essay is with the dangers of false hope (his subtitle) and the particular fallacies that make such "unscrupulous optimism"--the term he takes from Schopenhauer to distinguish it from a scrupulous and constrained optimism--so powerful and impervious to reason. The fallacies he considers include among others the Best Case Fallacy (i.e., the failure to consider scrupulously worst case scenarios), the Planning Fallacy, the Utopian Fallacy, and the Zero-Sum Fallacy (I fail because you succeed).

In the abstract, these are useful cautions that no-one sensibly could dismiss out of hand. But Scruton has a more important and more polemical purpose. He aims to show how these fallacies pervade a larger social and political vision that has been ascendant since the Enlightenment and especially the deadly triumph of "Reason" in the French Revolution. That vision of Reason rests on an unscrupulous optimism that sweeps away the collective problem-solving of generations codified through customs, traditions, and laws built from the bottom up, like English and American common law or Swiss political arrangements. It replaces that common, inherited wisdom with the will of the radical and enlightened few. The utopian or planning elite sweep aside all previous traditions and practices, along with the wishes of ordinary people, who have to be led to a higher level of wisdom by the progressive, forward-looking vanguard.

The force of Scruton's argument lies in the detail and concreteness with which he specifies these dangers in every aspect of life, not only in totalitarian regimes like Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union, but also as destructive forces in the democratic West.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
According to Scruton, the world is harmed not by pessimists (though he does not tolerate unbridled pessimism) but rather by unbridled optimists, people who believe in their fallacious ideas so fervently that nothing can dissuade them. True believers. Scruton, realizing that those folks would not hear his argument even if they read it, makes the case so that those of us who are prudent pessimists can recognize the optimists' tactics and understand better the importance of our pessimism.

At just over 230 pages, this is a quick read and the language is not lofty, so potential readers shouldn't be too nervous about picking up the book. I think the book is so important that I may well buy several copies for friends and family.
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Format: Hardcover
Scruton turns the traditional pessimists are old farts v optimists are shiny believers in a better future debate on its head in this elegantly written polemic. It is wise pessimists who emerge the true optimists as they believe human life is not so bad as it is. It is the deep rooted ties and modes of social organisation that make for harmonious human living. The rationalist optimists who uproot these traditions, sacrificing them on the altar of a better future are the most negative and destructive people as they don't trust small scale human organisation as it is.

This fallacy has been repeated throughout history, most notably in the French and Russian revolutions, both rationalist crusades. And its menace can be seen in the arts, with 'shock' and 'originality' - witness the notorious Tracy Emin's unmade bed replacing respect for forms and techniques of old. In architecture the egocentric 'I' schemes of Norman Foster and his colleagues have replaced the understated yet commonly held belief that buildings should be modest in scale and respectful of their surroundings. The EU holds no respect for individual communities, riding roughshod over local needs with its gargantuan bureaucracy. And in education, at least two generations of schoolchildren have been ruined by a child centred version of teaching which dismisses the traditional stricutres of a knowledge based curriculum on the grounds that children should be free to express themselves before they have actually acquired anything worth knowing.

Scruton's polemic is a wry and elegant treatise on the conservative beliefs he has developed throughout his life. It is a welcome addition to the literature on conservative philosophy.
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Format: Hardcover
This book was completed in May 2009. The problems of EU were much less than present, but Scruton could predict they will get worse and worse. EU is a product of unscrupulous optimism. I voted for it in Finland, but would not vote to-day. Having participated in various kinds of planning for 40 years, I am now a sceptic. Most of these plans are now in the basement archives, but some "succeeded". With good and bad results. One never knows what the result finally is. Thus I agree with the description of the planning fallacy.

The aggregation fallacy is so true. All kinds of good aims and values are described, but nobody cares that many of them can not be obtained at the same time. I noticed this 1970's when the principles of therapeutic community were popular in Finland and in many other countries. Actually the principles were not possible to join together. If one emphasizes freedom, that makes it difficult to obtain common aims.

I find myself constantly critisizing United States and especially its rebublican party presidents. I am for welfare state and high enough taxation. Thus I am a liberal in these matters, but it is true that this critique is often too harsh. I think we expect more from U.S. than it is able to deliver. We have been giving up with undemocratic countries, though we should give them much more rouhgher time than to U.S.

There are, of course, ideas in this book which are a bit hard to take, but Scruton always makes one think and evaluate one's opinions. I doubt that the old English school was that good though PISA shows that the new school is not very good either. The idea of public schools for aristocrats has always been questionnable in my eyes. I want to see my kids every day and could not send them to this kind of schools.
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