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The Uses of Pessimism & the Danger of False Hope Paperback – Feb 2012

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Product details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Books (Feb. 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1848872011
  • ISBN-13: 978-1848872011
  • Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 185,036 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Roger Scruton is currently Research Professor for the Institute for the Psychological Sciences where he teaches philosophy at their graduate school in both Washington and Oxford. He is a writer, philosopher and public commentator. He has specialised in aesthetics with particular attention to music and architecture. He engages in contemporary political and cultural debates from the standpoint of a conservative thinker and is well known as a powerful polemicist. He has written widely in the press on political and cultural issues.

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About the Author

"Roger Scruton is a writer and philosopher who has written on aesthetics, politics, music and architecture. He is Research Professor at the Institute for the Psychological Sciences in Washington and Oxford and is Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. His most recent books include A Dictionary of Political Thought; England: An Elegy; Death-Devoted Heart: Sex and the Sacred in Wagner's Tristan and Isolde; News from Somewhere: On Settling A Political Philosophy; Gentle Regrets and On Hunting."

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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Ralph Blumenau TOP 500 REVIEWER on 23 Feb. 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
It has often been said that conservatives have a basically pessimistic view of idealistic schemes, while radicals of all kinds believe that they their ideologies can make the world a new and a better place. The conservative philosopher Roger Scruton here fleshes out idea out. He distances himself from what he calls "systematic pessimism" (the word pessimism actually makes relatively few appearances in this book) and he sometimes calls his attitude "scrupulous optimism" - trusting in piecemeal but organic improvements - as distinct from the "unscrupulous optimism" which entertains false hopes and which he attacks.

Unscrupulous optimism, he believes, is based on a number of fallacies (each a chapter heading) and is incapable of listening to arguments or logic. It is not confined to ideology. It is seen, for example, in the financial world, where people believe that they can go on borrowing, and deal with debts by borrowing more etc, and simply will not realize that such a system is bound to collapse. They are like speculators and gamblers who trust that their activities will succeed and who regard failure as strokes of fate for which they are not responsible and which will be compensated for by upping the ante.

Scruton regards Keynes as one of the villains in the piece (reminding us, for good measure, that he was a "flippant aesthete" and a homosexual), and has qualified good words to say about Islam's condemnation of interest, of insurance contracts, of corporations ("from a moral point of view mere fictions"), and of limited liability, "a device for evading responsibility".
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45 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Mr. G. Hester on 9 July 2010
Format: Hardcover
Once again, Roger Scruton is quite brilliant, writing with great depth in a way easy for the Common Reader to follow. He is attacking those responsible for the prevailing moeurs and shows up their inconsistency and lack of logic. Scruton is the scourge of the liberal and I think this is his best book on a politico-philosophical theme. Each of the main chapters exposes a common fallacy. For instance, one is THE ZERO SUM FALLACY. Here he easily refutes the fallacy that if one person is prospering it must be at the expense of someone else. The liberals say that is some children are receiving a fine education in independent or grammar schools it must be to the detriment of others. Scruton is at his best when exposing how the "Liberty and Equality" of the French Revolution and modern liberals are quite contrary ideas: if you want people to be equal you can do so only by taking away their liberty. Architecture is something about which Scruton has written before and he is at his best writing about it here.

This would be an excellent book for a clever sixth former or someone at university who likes to think and does not merely follow the crowd. The Amazon price makes this a bargain and it is, amazingly for a philosophical book, a good book to take on holiday. It is required reading for those who think. It is not in itself pessimistic as the title is ironical and paradoxical. It is cheerfully realistic.
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63 of 68 people found the following review helpful By Marcus G on 26 Jun. 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is the first Roger Scruton book I've read but I've always found his newspaper articles amusing so I thought I'd give it a shot. I'm glad I did though I found the start fairly hard going due to his style of writing. I wonder how long he took to write the book - it really builds up speed after the half way point and his writing really begins to flow when he hits his stride in his central argument.

What is he arguing? Well He describes two ways of viewing the world - pessimistic and optimistic. Pessimists distrust change and prefer tradition & what has been proven to work. Obviously another word for this view would be "conservative" but without the connotations of the UK political party. Against this view is optimism - where change can only make things better. Against optimism, Scruton identifies 7 fallacies and illustrates each through a wide span of culture and history. For example, Scruton argues there is a best case fallacy - where any plan is only evaluated as if everything goes right (and ignoring what could go wrong). Scruton argues our current banking problems are due to this fallacy.

In the last third of the book, Scruton argues for a defence of truth (and how "optimists" twist & hide the truth) and causes of optimism for pessimists everywhere. Scruton is certainly not dogmatic - optimism has its place but it should not be the default position nor should change be made for changes sake.

I'm giving it four stars out of five as a book well worth the time and effort. Be warned though - it's bound to really annoy the politically correct.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By J. P. Maciag on 3 Aug. 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Scruton has yet again showed enormous courage and clear sightedness in opening up some of our most cherished and destructive `truths' to the cleansing effects of detached reason. He marches through the list...The Best Case Fallacy, The Utopian Fallacy and so on with a clarity and elegance that are both enjoyable and very easy to follow.

This is philosophy, as it should be, for the better understanding of life.
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