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Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals Paperback – 1 Sep 2003

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Product details

  • Paperback: 246 pages
  • Publisher: Granta Books; New edition edition (1 Sep 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1862075964
  • ISBN-13: 978-1862075962
  • Product Dimensions: 1.9 x 12.7 x 19 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (91 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 13,827 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

JOHN GRAY is Emeritus Professor of European Thought at the London School of Economics. He is a regular contributor to the Guardian and the Times Literary Supplement and the author of over a dozen books, including Heresies and the bestselling Straw Dogs. False Dawn has been translated into sixteen languages.

Product Description

Amazon Review

John Gray's Straw Dogs attempts to present a world view in which humans are not central and which argues against the humanist belief in progress. The heart of the book is summed up in the idea that modern humanists have still not come to terms with Darwin, still not come to terms with the idea that humans are like other animals. Christians and modern humanists in the Platonic-Cartesian tradition typically think of humans enjoying a special relationship to God, or a special status in nature in a way that other animals do not. Even the great debunkers--philosophers such as Nietzsche, Wittgenstein and Heidegger--end up making human beings the centre of things or the end point of some world-historical process. By contrast, in a Taoist, Shinto, Hindu or animist culture Darwin's discovery would have been easily accommodated since these faiths see humans and other animals as kin.

In short, for Gray, humanism is nothing more than "a secular religion thrown together from decaying scraps of Christian myth". Gray champions James Lovelock's view of the Earth as a self-regulating system whose behaviour resembles, in some ways, that of an organism. The Gaia hypothesis is the backdrop to Gray's apparently relentless pessimism about the fate of humankind. What it teaches us is that this self-regulating system has no need of humanity, does not exist for the sake of humanity, and will regulate itself in ignorance of humanity's fate.

Straw Dogs can be usefully compared with Mary Midgely's excellent Science and Poetry since both take off from the view of man as animal while sharing similar views about the cultural role of philosophy. Both encourage us to overcome the Platonic-Cartesian-Kantian philosophical tradition while stressing the importance of Gaia in emphasising our essential continuity with the physical and natural world. For Gray, humans "think they are free, conscious beings, when in truth they are deluded animals". Straw Dogs could have been made to stretch for 500 large pages. Instead you get 200 small pages of gold; simple, concise, riveting.--Larry Brown --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


'An essential guide to the new Millennium. Straw Dogs challenges all our assumptions about what it is to be human' -- J.G. Ballard

'Nobody can hope to understand the times in which we live unless they have read Straw Dogs’ -- Sue Corrigan, Mail on Sunday

‘Gray is one of the most consistently interesting and unpredictable thinkers in Britain…an enthralling book’ -- Observer

‘Nothing will get you thinking as much as this brilliant book…opens new vistas of understanding' -- George Walden, Sunday Telegraph

‘That rarest of things, a contemporary work of philosophy, wholly accessible, and profoundly relevant to the rapidly evolving world' -- Will Self

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Customer Reviews

3.3 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By V. E. Lane on 20 Dec 2011
Format: Paperback
The religious impulse, Gray argues in a later work elaborating on the themes first set out in 'Straw Dogs' (Heresies: Against Progress and Other Illusions), is as universal as the sex drive. Like the latter, when repressed, it re-emerges in the form of perversion.

Thus the Marxist faith in our passage into socialist utopia after revolution represents a perversion of the Christian belief in our passage into heaven after death - the former, heaven-on-earth, as unrealistic than the latter. Thus, communism is, as one American conservative put it, 'the opiate of the intellectuals'.

The same is true, Gray contends, of what he regards as the predominant 'secular religion' of the contemporary West - namely 'humanism'. Its secular self-image notwithstanding, Humanism is, for Gray, a substitute religion that replaces an irrational faith in an omnipotent god with an even more irrational faith in the omnipotence of mankind himself (p38).

In doing so, humanism renounces the one insight that traditional religion actually got right - namely the that humans are "radically flawed" as captured by the doctrine of 'Original Sin'.

Progress and Other Delusions

Of course, the term 'humanism' is hopelessly broad, in its ordinary usage pretty much encompassing anyone who is neither religious nor a nazi.

For his purposes, Gray defines humanism as a "belief in progress" (p4). More specifically, he seems to have in mind a belief in the inevitability of social, economic and political progress.
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97 of 110 people found the following review helpful By Bruno VINE VOICE on 13 Oct 2005
Format: Paperback
It is over a hundred years since Darwin revealed to us our animal lineage, and yet the human primate is still having difficulty coming to terms with its animal origins. All bar creationists may indeed now accept that we are descended from apes, but most of us still cling to the belief that we have somehow become different to the rest of the animal kingdom. Our ability to use language and reason, to see ourselves as selves, selves that move forward in time and, with other selves, progress by building a culture based on moral rules and a technology that seems to give us ever increasing control over our environment. Surely this is enough to set us apart from the rest of nature? No. Thankfully, a British philosopher who lives and breathes today but who speaks with the depth and clarity of a modern day Schopenhauer is here to rid you of this delusion.
Human beings are still animals claims Gray, but the more profound insight that he delivers, and that his critics seem unable to grasp or admit, is that humans, and even whatever intelligence that might emerge in a 'posthuman' future, will always be inescapably rooted in the natural world as much as the lowliest of slime moulds.
We believe that language and reason are what differentiates us, forgetting that we acquired these abilities through the blind mechanisms of evolution. This means that they are, as Hume, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche declared long ago, mere tools in the brutish struggle for survival. These same tools enabled the human animal to create the illusions of free will, self and morality and the delusion to think that with these, man has the ability to stand apart from the animal world and choose his own fate. But the fundamental import of Darwinism is that it tells us that 'we' were 'made' for the world.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Charles Shelley on 22 Feb 2014
Format: Paperback
Like a lot of reviewers on here, I approached this book with certain expectations, and like many reviewers on here, I was fantastically disappointed. However, it is, I believe, only fair to assess this book on its own merits.

From what I can fathom, the book claims to be an attack on the notion that humans are special, that we are different from other animals somehow. This is an idea passed down to us by Christianity and carried on by the humanist tradition. Humanism, it is claimed, is chiefly the belief that humans are special amongst animals, and the (unjustified) belief in human progress. It should be noted that these aims only become apparent after the first fifty pages or so, they are not clearly laid out in an introduction or preface. We are thrown straight into the body of work.

Which brings me to the first big problem with this book; stylistically it is just amateurish. I found myself reading the most fantastical claims with little or no justification behind them. Take the initial definition of humanism, the primary target of the book: ‘Humanism can mean many things, but for us it means belief in progress’ (pp. 4). No references are offered to thinkers associated with the humanist school of thought, no argumentation is offered for this generalisation, no explanation is made as to who this ‘us’ he is referring to actually is. Examples abound of other such wild assertions made with no meat to back them up.

This is the most frustrating element to Straw Dogs. I read a bold claim, and find myself fascinated as to how he will justify it. No such justification is offered however, the dialogue moves on. It really should be called Straw Men, because the amount of ‘straw man’ arguments that are offered is astounding.
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