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The author, a professor of biology at Cook College, Rutgers, displays considerable knowledge and a facile pen in this exploration of humanism--if only it were clear what humanism meant! Throughout the text, the term is used to describe a naive Western faith that all problems are soluble, that earth and all thereon are created to suit human needs, that everything can be ordered and organized, that man is ever opposed to nature, reason opposed to emotion, and so on. In short, humanism is all that has led to our present unpretty path of overpopulation, pollution, limited resources, and violence. At the same time, Ehrenfeld occasionally gives the nod to the ""good"" side of humanism: belief in the value of human life, in the brotherhood of man, in the fruits of human creativity. It is questionable whether those who are pleased to call themselves humanists would recognize themselves in Ehrenfeld's images. Even more questionable are his ideas of countervailing forces. One idea seems to be to exalt emotion or at least to let emotion infiltrate reason, and thereby he gives credence to another false dichotomy. Few neuroscientists today consider emotional and cognitive functions as independent and separable. What Ehrenfeld finally says is that we ought to recognize our limitations, admit that defeat is possible, and remember that Jeremiah and George Orwell were right. In some manner this will lead us to stay our erring ways. In wistful tones, he reminds us of the capacity to love, to take pleasure in simple things, to face death, and to stand alone, as though these were lost arts. It seems hard to believe that Ehrenfeld has not met others who share his concern, yet who do not believe in simple fixes. Maybe they will write books to answer his.

Pub Date: Nov. 9th, 1978
ISBN: 0195028902
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press