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Against the Idols of the Age [Paperback]

David Stove , Roger Kimball
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 July 2001
Little known outside his native Australia, David Stove was one of the most illuminating and brilliant philosophical essayists of the postwar era. A fearless attacker of intellectual and cultural orthodoxies, Stove left powerful critiques of scientific irrationalism, Darwinian theories of human behavior, and philosophical idealism. Stove's writing is both rigorous and immensely readable. It is, in the words of Roger Kimball, "an invigorating blend of analytic lucidity, mordant humor, and an amount of common sense too great to be called 'common.'" Whether the subject is race, feminism, the Enlightenment, or the demand for "non-coercive philosophy," Stove is on the mark with a battery of impressive arguments expressed in sharp, uncompromising prose. Against the Idols of the Age concludes with a generous sampling of his blistering attacks on Darwinism.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Transaction Publishers; New edition edition (1 July 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0765809109
  • ISBN-13: 978-0765809100
  • Product Dimensions: 23.1 x 15.9 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,191,966 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"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." --Choice

About the Author

David Stove (1927-1994) taught philosophy at the University of New South Wales and, until his retirement in 1988, at the University of Sydney. He was the author of numerous essays, articles, and several books including Anything Goes: Origins of the Cult of Scientific Irrationalism, The Plato Cult and Other Intellectual Follies, and two posthumously published volumes, Darwinian Fairytales and Cricket versus Republicanism. Roger Kimball is managing editor of the New Criterion and an art critic for the London Spectator. He is author of Tenured Radicals (newly revised and expanded) and co-editor with Hilton Kramer of Against the Grain: The New Criterion on Art and Intellect at the End of the Twentieth Century and The Future of the European Past: Essays from The New Criterion.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thinking the Unthinkable 6 Jun 2009
By Neutral VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
According to Roger Kemball's introductory comment, "There is something to offend nearly everyone in Stove's essays" Stove, who once suggested in an essay that "the sum of Marxism, semiotics and feminism is 0+0+0=0" was threatened with disciplinary action by the politically correct Australian academic establishment for doing so.

Stove was not just a contrarian. He's the boy who asked why the King had no clothes. The king in this instance is the liberal establishment with its commitment to fads and fancies and unable to define or defend any principle because it holds none. Stove asks, "How did an argument so easily answered ever impose itself upon intelligent people?" and replies that it is by ensuring "a one-sided diet of examples". Progress is always good but never refer to Lenin, Pol Pot or the evil that men (or women) do. Intellectual clichés rule - OK!?

Stove argued that Karl Popper had undermined the scientific certainty of Baconian induction by applying both deductivism and empiricism in science. This was "prescription for irrationalism and cognitive impotence" or as Kemball puts it, "an empiricist who is also a deductivist is forced to conclude that there can be no reason at all to believe any contingent proposition about the unobserved". Although the aim of science is to find true laws, the principle of falsifiability makes it impossible.

Stove suggested that Popper's irrationality paved the way for other philosophers of science such as Imre Lakatos, Thomas Kuhn and Paul Feyerabend to create their own "influential versions" of irrationalism which have since permeated the liberal academic establishment. This irrationalism is hidden beneath a welter of "success" words and an unholy inter-mixing of the sociology of science with the logic of science.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Buy this book! 5 May 2002
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
If you are at all aware of the irrationalism present in scientific thought today, or the permeation of evil philosophies like Marxism into every aspect of Western society, or even some of the silly ideas Darwinists have created, then David Stove is going to be your philosophical idol. Even if you haven't a notion on the above issues, or are the staunchest supporter of them, David Stove's essays will provide you with many points well worth considering.
"Against the Idols of the Age" is a well-rounded collection of some of Stove's best (and some controversial) essays, all filled with his razor-sharp wit and dazzaling insight. Anyone interested in philosophy should definitely read some Stove, and this book provides an excellent place to start.
I thoroughly recommend it.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pure Joy 26 Dec 2011
By opus
Format:Paperback
This book is a representative anthology of the writings of David Stove, nicely edited and with no typos except for a few in the last part.

Stove writes so engagingly and wittily that one has to carefully reread to ensure that one has not been seduced into accepting his point of view by reason of felicity and charm alone.

I had read Popper - the main target of the first part of this book, and had felt - though I could not say why exactly - that there was something unconvincing about Falsifiability. Stove, happily, explains exactly what is wrong with it. The third part of the book takes various parts of Evolutionary Theory to pieces, and is fairly scathing towards Dawkins' Selfish Gene. One can only conjecture, given Stove's views as to Dawkins "Demonological cast of mind", what Stove might have done to Dawkins more recent books.

The second part is perhaps somewhat less technical and contains his famous essay on the intellectual inferiority of the fair sex. One does not have to go far on the Internet these days to find flesh put on that particular bone or indeed even on Amazon to see the unanswerability of his attack.
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Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  14 reviews
57 of 67 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Iconoclastic essays by masterful polemicist 23 Jan 2001
By Greg Nyquist - Published on Amazon.com
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.
28 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essays by the 20th Century Montaigne 24 Nov 1999
By Michael Stephens - Published on Amazon.com
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.
27 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Aggressive intellectual humour at its best 31 Oct 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
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.
12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Stove Cult and other Philosophical Frivolities 12 Nov 2007
By Steven M. Duncan - Published on Amazon.com
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.
Stove is funny (though in a mean-spirited and often heavy-handed way) and entertaining to read; I throughly enjoyed reading his essays. That is not to my credit. Each of us secretly desires to see those smarter and better than ourselves exposed as stupid and wicked; Stove appeals to this form of intellectual schadenfreude - we read him and we feel good. However, when this guilty pleasure wears off and we begin to actually think about his arguments soberly, they are far from convincing. I am neither a Popperian nor an Absolute Idealist, but I know enough about these philosophies to know that what Stove says about them amounts to a silly caricature, one so distorted as to be completely irrelevant to the proper philosophical evaluation of those views. I am much more sympathetic to his attacks on sociobiology and cosmic evolutionism - which has been much more effectively critiqued by others without his particular axe to grind - but I doubt that anything Stove says will impress Dennett or Dawkins, and not simply because they are as intransigent and dogmatic in their own way as Stove is in his quite different one.
To conclude, "irrationalism" is not a matter of what views one holds, but rather of the manner in which those views are held. Humor, wit and style are not antithetical to good philosophical prose, but hyperbole, misrepresentation and dismissivenss are and no substitute for argument. Stove's passionate commitment to a set of atavistic ideas that have long since fallen out of fashion (at least in some cases for good and solid reasons) leads him to see "irrationalism" and imminent anarchy lurking everywhere in the contemporary world. He is the philosophical equivalent of the prophet of doom standing on the streetcorner with sign saying "THE END IS NEAR" hanging around his neck: good for a laugh, nothing more.
Still, a good laugh is worth something - so read this book.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sawn off, pump action, logic gun 21 Feb 2013
By Eric Holloway - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
David Stove's concise, witty and precise prose cuts to the heart of the many fallacies masquerading as philosophy today, especially Darwinism. If you enjoy his writings, check out the many free resources also available on his website:

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Even if you do not agree with his arguments, your mind will be the sharper for having dealt with his criticism.
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