All entries by this author

Teachers Win a Decision *

Feb 28th, 2003 | Filed by

The law lords in the UK decided teachers may refuse to teach students who have been expelled for violence then reinstated.… Read the rest

What Spinoza Knew *

Feb 28th, 2003 | Filed by

Scientific American reviews Antonio Damasio’s Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain.… Read the rest

Made not Born

Feb 27th, 2003 8:03 pm | By

I’ve been pondering this business of confusing or blurring the boundaries (see this week’s Bad Moves) between a religion and a group of people, between Judaism and Jews, Islam and Muslims, that I touched on in yesterday’s Note and Comment.

It all has to do with Identity Politics, I suppose, which is a large subject, and one we will be exploring in the future. It’s partly a generational matter. All those children of assimilated Jews who turned on their parents with cries of indignation at having been denied their heritage, their background, their identity, and turned into bland inoffensive no ones in particular when they could have been real Jews. It’s an understandable reaction, and yet it has some … Read the rest

The Times on Christopher Hill *

Feb 27th, 2003 | Filed by

‘No other historian had equalled Hill’s ability to blend a deeply sympathetic understanding of the poor and unlearned with a seemingly limitless knowledge of intellectual and religious doctrine and strife.’… Read the rest

Christopher Hill Obituary *

Feb 27th, 2003 | Filed by

The Marxist historian of the world turned upside-down.… Read the rest

Eating Your Cake and Having It

Feb 26th, 2003 11:26 pm | By

There are some strange assumptions in this review of Adam Sutcliffe’s Judaism and the Enlightenment. For one thing there’s a confusion throughout between Jews and Judaism. For another and related thing, there is a confusion between Judaism as a religion and Jewishness as nationality or ‘ethnic’ ‘identity’. As a result, there is a confusion between criticising a religion and hating people or a people.

There is also a lot of familiar and none the less annoying sneering at the Enlightenment.

The British-born historian is not the first writer to knock Enlightenment thinkers off their pedestals. The period’s “dark side” has been a recurring theme for more than a century now. Critics (among them Friedrich Nietzsche, the Romantic poets, and

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Fabricated Memories Can Be Scary Too *

Feb 26th, 2003 | Filed by

Two Harvard psychologists test the reactions of people who say they have been abducted by aliens.… Read the rest

The Old ‘Science is Superstition’ Ploy *

Feb 26th, 2003 | Filed by

Jonathan Reé reviews Dawkins’ new book: ‘Dawkins campaigns against superstition with the blind fervour of a religious fanatic.’ Good; too bad there aren’t more like him.… Read the rest

Merton Obituary in New York Times *

Feb 25th, 2003 | Filed by

Role models and self-fulfilling prophecies and ‘an extraordinary range of interests that included the workings of the mass media, the anatomy of racism, the social perspectives of “insiders” vs. “outsiders,” history, literature and etymology.’… Read the rest

Robert Merton *

Feb 25th, 2003 | Filed by

Obituary of innovative sociologist of science.… Read the rest

News Flash: Enlightenment Hostile to Religion *

Feb 25th, 2003 | Filed by

A new book on the Enlightenment’s near-obsession with Judaism is a cautionary tale against ‘the seductions of rationalist absolutism.’ What of the seductions of irrationalism?… Read the rest

Are We Like Sheep

Feb 24th, 2003 11:55 pm | By

By way of addendum to my Note & Comment of yesterday, here is the essay ‘Dolly and the Cloth-heads’ that Richard Dawkins and others discussed on ‘Start the Week’. The subject is one that has interested and annoyed me for a long time. For instance when I read Stephen Jay Gould’s strange little book Rocks of Ages in which he, very oddly it seemed to me, simply took it for granted that the way to carve up the world between science and religion is that science should tell us the facts about the world and religion should tell us about morals. What a very peculiar assumption. Also a very common one, to be sure, but not well-founded; I don’t expect … Read the rest

On Channel 1 Tonight: Junior Threatens Teacher *

Feb 24th, 2003 | Filed by

Parents don’t believe their children behave badly in school, so one plan is to use CCTV and then show them the evidence.… Read the rest

Watered-down Math Books *

Feb 24th, 2003 | Filed by

Teach history by all means, but don’t de-emphasize deductive reasoning and mathematical proofs.… Read the rest

Genes, Yanks, Ethics

Feb 23rd, 2003 5:09 pm | By

When I have an odd moment, or forty five of them, I listen to archived editions of BBC Radio 4’s Start the Week. Yesterday I listened to this one from February 10, with Richard Dawkins and Janet Radcliffe Richards, as well as Robert Harvey and, finally extricated from a traffic jam, Andrew Roberts. This is a highly interesting show which touches on a number of issues we are interested in at B and W. Just for one thing, we get to hear Andrew Marr tell Richard Dawkins ‘You’re not a genetic determinist, are you,’ and Dawkins reply that he’s long been plugging that line: that the way we have evolved does not determine the way we have to be. … Read the rest

Susan Sontag is not a Postmodernist *

Feb 23rd, 2003 | Filed by

‘Even as her early criticism anticipates every academic trend from Cultural Studies to Queer Theory, she has been resolute in her resistance to everything postmodern, insisting on standards, morals and distinctions and the authority of art, experience and truth.’… Read the rest

Women Are Mediocre *

Feb 23rd, 2003 | Filed by

Oh dear, how depressing. We have fewer stars and fewer total failures; we bunch up in the middle.… Read the rest

Richard Dawkins Answers Questions *

Feb 23rd, 2003 | Filed by

On poltergeists, the tooth fairy, God-shaped holes, surprise arrivals at Pearly Gates, and 42.… Read the rest

How Many Kinds of Truth Are There? *

Feb 23rd, 2003 | Filed by

Does the CIA know it when it sees it? Do UN inspectors? Truth commissions? Journalists, spies?… Read the rest

Down With Indifference

Feb 22nd, 2003 9:09 pm | By

There’s been an interesting convergence lately of worry about passion and its absence, detachment and its dangers, or on the other hand about the intrusiveness and intolerance of passion and engagement. The two stances – passion and dispassion – have been exemplified in two thinkers: Richard Dawkins and Louis Menand.

David Bromwich took Louis Menand to task in the New Republic in January for his lack of a ruling passion or driving enthusiasm, excitement or anger, for being too easily unimpressed, too cool, too responsible and distant.

The idea of a radical break in thought is alien to Menand. The leveling of distinctions also serves as an intellectual labor-saving device. Nothing is very new; nothing, maybe, ever was; nothing matters

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