Oxford: Basil Blackwell Ltd., 1991.
209 pp. $54 (hardcover).
In 1985, Australian philosopher David Stove held a contest to identify “the worst argument in the world”—the one that was the most terrible, widely accepted, and sheltered from criticism. He declared himself the winner for the following:
We can know things only:
- as they are related to us
- under our forms of perception and understanding
- insofar as they fall under our conceptual schemes, etc.
So, we cannot know things as they are in themselves.1
Prussian philosopher Immanuel Kant used this argument when denying that humans are capable of genuine knowledge, and variants have been (and are being) deployed by relativists of all stripes. “The cultural-relativist, for example,” writes Stove, “inveighs bitterly against our science-based, Europe-centered, white-male cultural perspective. . . . for no reason in the world except this one: that it is ours” (167). Likewise, “The Marxist insists that all our knowledge . . . is inescapably limited and distorted by our own economic-class situation” because our knowledge is possible only under our specific economic conditions (167–68).
In The Plato Cult and Other Philosophical Follies, Stove offers penetrating analyses of these and similarly bad arguments, and his barbed wit turns reading about philosophy into sidesplitting fun. The book (which takes its name from a Byzantine religion that deified Plato) consists of seven essays that target, among other things, religious belief, the scientific irrationalism inaugurated by Karl Popper, Robert Nozick’s view of “philosophical explanation,” George Berkeley’s idealism, and the arguments and cultural circumstances that have enabled such foolishness to flourish. . . .
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1. James Franklin, “Stove’s Discovery of the Worst Argument in the World,” Philosophy, no. 77 (2002), https://web.maths.unsw.edu.au/~jim/worst.pdf.
2. For Stove’s views on differences between the sexes, see David Stove, “The Intellectual Capacity Of Women,” Cricket Versus Republicanism (Sydney: Quakers Hill Press, 1995), https://wmbriggs.com/post/17124/; for a fair though non-exhaustive response, see Jenny Teichman, “The Intellectual Capacity of David Stove,” Philosophy, no. 76 (2001), https://philarchive.org/archive/TEITIC; for Stove’s views on the differences between races, see David Stove, “Racial and Other Antagonisms,” Cricket Versus Republicanism, https://archive.org/details/RacialAndOtherAntagonisms.
3. For more on this topic, see David Harriman, The Logical Leap: Induction in Physics (New York: New American Library, 2010).
4. David Stove, “A Farewell to Arts: Marxism, Semiotics, and Feminism,” Quadrant (May 1986), reprinted in Cricket versus Republicanism (Sydney: Quakers Hill Press, 1995), https://web.maths.unsw.edu.au/~jim/arts.html.
5. Ayn Rand, The Ayn Rand Lexicon: Objectivism from A to Z (New York: Penguin, 1988), 207.
6. John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, edited by Kenneth Winker (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1996), 3.