A thoughtful consideration of torrid intellectual disputes.

WHY SANE PEOPLE BELIEVE CRAZY THINGS

HOW BELIEF CAN HELP OR HURT SOCIAL PEACE

A philosophical analysis examines the nature of belief and the sources of contentious disagreement. 

Everyone seems to agree that contemporary society is plagued by a hostile divisiveness, political and cultural. Debut author Palmer argues that these intellectual cleavages are the result of deep misunderstandings about what it means to believe. Rather than private mental events, the author interprets belief largely from the perspective of public action, prioritizing behavior over purely intellectual commitment. In addition, he understands belief as a complex skein of motivating purposes—one believes something not only as an assertion of fact, but also as a display of solidarity or loyalty, as a means of psychological reassurance, or as a way to make sense of a morally ambiguous world. Highly intelligent people can become powerfully committed to positions that are both unclear and inadequately supported by evidence because in some sense that outlook is useful, performing a practical function that transcends the mere description of the world. Palmer expertly surveys the historical development of belief, furnishing a philosophical tour that pays close attention to religion. The author’s anatomy of religious commitment is one of the highlights of his impressively nuanced analysis—while in some sense, theological statements are so unempirical they seem meaningless, he contends such metaphysical leaps are a natural response to the human experience of the ineffable, and the longing for transcendence. Palmer also ably describes the neuroscience that undergirds belief formation, and the backdrop of humans’ evolutionary maturation. The author’s prose is surprisingly accessible given the abstractions he aims to clarify, and he navigates turbid academic waters with informality and light-handed grace. In addition, there isn’t a whiff of partisan ax-grinding to be found—this is an epistemological examination of intellectual conflict, not an expression of political loyalty. But while Palmer’s ultimate defense of tolerance as a virtue is rigorous, some of the solutions he offers seem incongruously simplistic. For example, can “alternate visual cues” like badges or uniforms distract people from more divisive ones like race? The author’s argument simply doesn’t make such a peculiar suggestion even intriguing, let alone plausible. 

A thoughtful consideration of torrid intellectual disputes.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: 978-0-692-15155-6

Page Count: 189

Publisher: Consilience Publishing, LLC

Review Posted Online: Sept. 14, 2018

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IN MY PLACE

From the national correspondent for PBS's MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour: a moving memoir of her youth in the Deep South and her role in desegregating the Univ. of Georgia. The eldest daughter of an army chaplain, Hunter-Gault was born in what she calls the ``first of many places that I would call `my place' ''—the small village of Due West, tucked away in a remote little corner of South Carolina. While her father served in Korea, Hunter-Gault and her mother moved first to Covington, Georgia, and then to Atlanta. In ``L.A.'' (lovely Atlanta), surrounded by her loving family and a close-knit black community, the author enjoyed a happy childhood participating in activities at church and at school, where her intellectual and leadership abilities soon were noticed by both faculty and peers. In high school, Hunter-Gault found herself studying the ``comic-strip character Brenda Starr as I might have studied a journalism textbook, had there been one.'' Determined to be a journalist, she applied to several colleges—all outside of Georgia, for ``to discourage the possibility that a black student would even think of applying to one of those white schools, the state provided money for black students'' to study out of state. Accepted at Michigan's Wayne State, the author was encouraged by local civil-rights leaders to apply, along with another classmate, to the Univ. of Georgia as well. Her application became a test of changing racial attitudes, as well as of the growing strength of the civil-rights movement in the South, and Gault became a national figure as she braved an onslaught of hostilities and harassment to become the first black woman to attend the university. A remarkably generous, fair-minded account of overcoming some of the biggest, and most intractable, obstacles ever deployed by southern racists. (Photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-374-17563-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1992

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

A LITTLE HISTORY OF POETRY

A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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