Cover: The Trouble with Principle, from Harvard University PressCover: The Trouble with Principle in PAPERBACK

The Trouble with Principle

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$30.00 • £24.95 • €27.00

ISBN 9780674005341

Publication Date: 03/02/2001

Academic Trade

336 pages

6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches


[Stanley Fish’s] attacks are so smartly provocative that they are worth reading.—Edward Rothstein, The New York Times

[A] beautifully written and genuinely provocative book.—Raymond Tallis, The Times Literary Supplement

Fish’s main target in The Trouble with Principle is the influential school of liberal thought developed by such well-known theorists as John Rawls, Ronald Dworkin, Amy Gutmann, and Jurgen Habermas. What unites these writers—and their many followers, especially in legal circles—is a deep commitment to the principle of ‘neutrality,’ that is, to the idea that the essence of liberalism is to be open to all points of view and ways of life… As Fish convincingly shows, however, this pose of neutrality is little more than a sham, a rhetoric of tolerance that often serves as a cover for intolerance… There is much to recommend in The Trouble with Principle, not least the wit and elegance with which Stanley Fish punctures the pretensions of modern liberalism.—Adam Wolfson, Commentary

In The Trouble with Principle, his latest collection of papers, Fish deploys a master argument that goes like this: The trouble with principle is that they are either so abstract and contentless that all the work is done filling in the details, or else sufficiently concrete as to be very controversial indeed.—Richard Rorty, New Leader

Sports, film, TV and radio, politics and journalism—Fish is fluent wherever he goes… His rhetorical style is surgically precise, and in The Trouble with Principle it is his best friends who are put under the knife—liberals comfortable with beliefs whose rightness they take for granted… In the art of argument, he is formidably skilled… He will unravel your every position, reducing it to words of reversible meanings… The Trouble with Principle is a shrewd, unsparing critique of liberalism by a man most people assume to be one of them.—Michael Skube, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The Trouble with Principle continues the assault on liberal shibboleths that Fish first launched with There’s No Such Thing as Free Speech…and It’s a Good Thing Too… He is a penetrating thinker and, rarity of rarities, a clear and accessible writer… He will challenge, if not change, the way liberals think about, say, multiculturalism.—Sanford Pinsker, The Philadelphia Inquirer

I consider this book a splendid rarity: a work by a non-Christian with the (unintended?) virtue of making those Christians more devout. It’s also a good read: Fish is master of a lucid and witty prose of a kind rarely written by academics these days.—Paul J. Griffiths, The Christian Century

Fish…has made a career out of corralling sacred cows and showing that they are only bovine, not divine… In this intellectual tour de force, Fish’s big target is liberalism in its modern Rawlsian mode: the belief that it is possible and desirable to organize social life in such a way as to retain neutrality among competing visions of the good. But he works at it from the bottom up by taking on practical but key issues such as free speech, multiculturalism and church–state relations.—Allan Hutchinson, Literary Review of Canada

That his arguments so crisply challenge traditional ways of thinking about jurisprudence is what makes The Trouble with Principle so provocative and engaging. Lawyers or anyone else interested in examining and questioning the foundations of judicial thought should consider this book required reading.—Randall J. Peach, New Jersey Law Review

Both Stanley Fish and this particular collection of his essays have been described as ‘contrarian.’ It is a label that Fish himself obviously revels in… The very title of his book, The Trouble with Principle, suggests the deliberately perverse approach and methodology of his essays. The result is a sheer reading delight and an excellent contribution to an understanding of argument.—Robert D. Spector, World Literature Today

No stranger to controversy, Fish smashes an idol sacred to conservatives and liberals alike: the principle of government neutrality in cultural disputes. Taking on conservatives, Fish challenges the racial neutrality championed by opponents to affirmative action, arguing that such neutrality serves only to obscure historical inequalities crying out for redress. But he pours out his most scalding criticisms on the liberal theorists—from Locke to Rawls—who have formulated the neutralist rhetoric and its underlying logic… True liberals will rally to defend the principled neutrality Fish assails, but many readers will welcome his call for an end to doctrinal paralysis. Sure to become a touchstone in debates on political theory.—Bryce Christensen, Booklist

[Fish] wants to expose as a sham what he calls ‘neutral principle’—‘abstractions like fairness, impartiality, mutual respect.’ These, he says, are inherently empty of meaning, which they acquire only when invoked in the service of a ‘partisan agenda’… Fish is…an entertaining writer, adept at close reading and handy with a barb.Kirkus Reviews

[Fish] argues vigorously that universal principles actually impede democracy. Counterintuitive as his claim may appear, Fish makes a strong and lucid case. The trouble with principle, he explains, is this: it disregards history, tradition and contexts of every sort that shape understanding. According to Fish, we can never find a neutral position that will fully transcend our prejudices, commitments and beliefs… Fish—hard-nosed, unflinching and persuasive—maintains that differences are real and must be faced squarely without recourse to timeless, abstract principles. His cautionary reasoned arguments, not easily dismissed, will excite controversy.Publishers Weekly

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