Sunday, June 7, 2009

John Gray's cultural pessimism

On LSE Public Lectures and Events I have heard two appearances of the British philosopher John Gray, the first of which will be reviewed here. What both lectures have in common is that Gray forces us to critically evaluate what is taken for grand truths, implicitly or explicitly, in modern thinking.

Under the title Gray's Anatomy: Thoughts on Politics, Religion and the Meaning of life, Gray makes a couple of thought provoking and refreshing observations about the modern world and the thought patterns we tend to take for granted. Examples are belief in progress, in technology, in knowledge coupled with moral progress. Also the idea that prosperity will serve morality and poverty will harm it. During this, he never steps away from common sense.

The result is rather pessimistic and does not point to concrete alternative theories in ethics, politics and on the human nature. The great value, as I see it, is that Gray brings us to stop fooling ourselves and this is done not only by sharp thinking, but also by very practical and recognizable examples, clear language and a very pleasant and patient tone of voice. This is the kind of lecture everybody should hear, if not for conviction then for challenge.

In the next lecture with Gray he will refute the idea ongoing secularization (Religion and the Market).

More LSE Events:
Controversies in the Economics of Climate Change,
Nudge: decision architecture,
The EU and the Middle East,
The British Mandate in Palestine.