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.
Stove is at his best demolishing aspects of Darwinian theory and the genetic gormlessness of Dawkins and the sociobiologists. Stove argues that while Darwin's theory of natural selection applies to other species it does not apply to human beings. Human existence is not a competitive battle, nor is it the robotic reactions to the preserving demands of selfish molecules known as genes. In reality the genetic puppet theories of Dawkins "are no more convincing than those propounded by Freudians, Marxists or astrologers". In Stove's case he would have included religions as he was not a creationist or a believer.
Of course Stove's views are not popular with the liberal elite. As Kimball notes while encountering problems in finding a publisher, "Almost every academic press these days has room for twenty-seven varieties of Queer Theory, eighteen contributions to "Cultural Studies", "Post Colonial Studies" and other reader-proof versions of neo-Marxism, as well as fifty-two examples of "Feminist Readings of....(fill in the blanks as desired)". Stove never liked philosophers who opted for opacity nor did he opt for popularity with his essays arguing that " evidence for the inferior intellectual capacity of women is so obvious and overwhelming, that anyone who can lightly set it aside must be defective in their attitude to the evidence." Similarly he argued that "racism" was a word resting on political power rather than factual evidence. Political correctness was not Stove's stock in trade.
The quality of Stove's work lies in his argument - he liked argument, lambasting Robert Nozick's desire for explanations in philosophy. No one with an open mind can afford to ignore what Stove wrote. Whether one agrees with him is not the point. He does what all good philosophers should do which is to question conventional wisdom. That he did so from what appeared to be a conservative (some might even say reactionary) viewpoint is irrelevant. He challenged people to think and this anthology is certainly a challenge to the sloppy thinking that often passes for both science and philosophy. Buy it, read it. Make up your own mind but I've no hesitation in awarding it five stars.
on 5 May 2002
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.
on 26 December 2011
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.