‘John Gray’s “Silence of Animals” is an attack on humanism. He condemns this widely accepted secular faith as a form of delusional self-flattery.’
‘The question Gray poses is of fundamental importance, so one wishes the book were better. It is not a systematic argument, but a varied collection of testimonies interspersed with Gray’s comments.’
Clearly humanism could use more serious critics and pushback.
Nagel finishes with:
‘Gray thinks the belief in progress is fueled by humanists’ worship of “a divinized version of themselves.” To replace it he offers contemplation: “Contemplation can be understood as an activity that aims not to change the world or to understand it, but simply to let it be.” Though he distinguishes this from the ideal of mystical transcendence toward a higher order of being, it, too, seems more like a form of escape than a form of realism. Hope is a virtue, and we should not give it up so easily.’
Gray discusses the book here:
While science may proceed and real progress is taking place, in the realms of ethics and politics, Gray suggests things are learned but they don’t stay learned.
“Not for the first time, grand theories of social evolution proved to be useless as guides to events. That has in no way dented the popularity of such theories, and it is now evolutionary psychology that is being presented as a guide for the politically perplexed. These theories show the continuing appeal of scientism—the modern belief that scientific inquiry can enable us to resolve conflicts and dilemmas in contexts where traditional sources of wisdom and practical knowledge seem to have failed. The literature of scientism has three defining features, which help explain its enduring popularity as well as its recurrent failures: large and highly speculative hypotheses are advanced to explain developments that are extremely complex and highly contingent in nature; fact and value are systematically confused; and the attractively simple theories that result are invested with the power of overcoming moral and political difficulties that have so far proved intractable.
Jonathan Haidt’s book is an example of this genre, one of the most sophisticated to date.”