John Gray argues that this humanist belief in human difference is an illusion and explores how the world and human life look once humanism has been finally abandoned.
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Publisher: Granta Books
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UK Kirkus Review »
John Gray, Professor of European Thought at the London School of Economics, has produced a fascinating and contentious book that questions religious, humanist and philosophical assumptions about the nature of man. The author's initially shocking interpretation is that humans can never be other than 'straw dogs'. We are simply animals wearing masks that prevent us from seeing our true natures. Thinking that we can be masters of our fate is an illusion, a matter of faith rather than science. Gray opens up the debate on morality, technology and economics, on our mistaken belief in progress and a host of contemporary issues including the world-changing events of September 11 2001. Most of the ills with which we are beset relate to our basic natures. The destruction of the natural world has been brought about by an exceptionally rapacious primate - ourselves. We are rapidly reaching the overpopulation mark and remain helpless to prevent new technologies of mass destruction from becoming easily available to unstable individuals or states. Gray argues that advances in scientific knowledge will never be used primarily to pursue truth or to improve human life since 'the uses of knowledge will always be as shifting and crooked as humans themselves'. We may believe in selfhood and free will but actively control little of what happens to us. Perversely, with masks firmly in place, we continue to believe that ' mankind can achieve conscious mastery of its existence'. We view ourselves as unitary subjects, consider our lives to be the culmination of our activities and ground ourselves in the meaningfulness of history. But recent cognitive science and ancient Buddhist teachings have converged to reveal our true selves to be at once illusive and elusive. Buddhism sees the self as empty of self-nature; cognitive scientists observe that we are bundles of perceptions, fragmentary rather than unitary. Gray points out that although the idea of becoming like a wild animal is offensive to western religious and humanist prejudice, it is now in line with the most advanced scientific knowledge. The views of Hume, Kant, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Heidegger and many of the world's major thinkers, writers and artists are expertly distilled and compared throughout. While the book is awesome in scope, the readings are short, succinct and easily digestible. Professor Gray questions not only mankind's 'superior' nature but also turns his unblinking gaze on the utility and goals of contemporary philosophy itself. (Kirkus UK)
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Author Biography - John Gray
John Gray is Professor of European Thought at the London School of Economics.