Today we associate prejudice with ignorance and bigotry and consider it a source of injustice. So how can prejudice have a legitimate place in moral and political judgment? In this ambitious work, Adam Sandel shows that prejudice, properly understood, is not an unfortunate obstacle to clear thinking but an essential aspect of it. The aspiration to reason without preconceptions, he argues, is misguided.
Ranging across philosophy from Aristotle to Heidegger and Gadamer, Sandel demonstrates that we inherit our "prejudice against prejudice" from the Enlightenment. By detaching reason from habit and common opinion, thinkers such as Bacon, Descartes, and Kant invented prejudice--as we understand it today--as an obstacle to freedom and a failure to think for oneself.
The Place of Prejudice presents a powerful challenge to this picture. The attempt to purge understanding of culture and history leads not to truth, Sandel warns, but to shallowness and confusion. A purely detached notion of reason deprives judgment of all perspective, disparages political rhetoric as mere pandering, and denies us the background knowledge we need to interpret literature, law, and the past. In a clear, eloquent voice, Sandel presents instead a compelling case for reasoning within the world.
A remarkable, deeply humanizing book… [Sandel] points out that those who claim to have rid themselves of prejudice are, without exception, kidding themselves, even setting themselves up to be more susceptible to prejudice by creating a fictitious realm in which they are immune to it… Today researchers are assembling an ever-longer list of what they consider cognitive biases, which are apparently the product of a jumble of cognitive mechanisms that evolution has snatched up and crammed uncomfortably together. A new philosophical effort is needed to account for the findings of this science, and to challenge its shortcomings. Efforts like the one undertaken in The Place of Prejudice will be vital to this task.
Even those familiar with the points it makes will enjoy the sweep of its review across the history of philosophy and take pleasure in…its eloquence.
Adam Sandel’s book presents ‘the prejudice against prejudice’ and then the case against it in a clear and eloquent manner. The case still needs to be made to English-speaking audiences in a way that can be widely understood, and this text can do it. It would serve a great need in today’s Anglophone philosophical world.
A sweeping, ambitious, original, and provocative work. It takes on not a thinker or a theory, but a way of thinking that represents the achievement of modernity and the mark of intellectual and moral integrity: the capacity to liberate ourselves from prejudice and to see things objectively. Prejudice in fact is inescapable, on this account, and is a necessary starting point for practical reason. This is an ambitious book that makes good on its ambition.
The book is bold and invigorating. Sandel takes aim at one of the bedrock creeds of Western modernity: that genuine rationality requires the dismissal of all cultural, religious, and other contextual presuppositions—that is, the exodus from ‘prejudice’ (pejoratively construed). As is well known, Hans-Georg Gadamer in his Truth and Method had famously denounced the modern ‘prejudice against prejudice.’ Although circulating among some philosophers, Gadamer’s challenge was rarely taken to heart by social and political theorists—until Sandel’s book…There is a plethora of important insights and valuable situated judgments which readers will be able to savor in the
course of a careful reading of the text… No doubt, the main achievement of the text is the retrieval of prejudgment or pre-understanding as a precondition of knowledge and action.
Political theorists interested in deliberation, reasoning, and social differences will find much to learn from this argument; and the book as a whole is most certainly an important contribution to ongoing discussions about justice and fairness in pluralistic societies.
- 288 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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