The Trouble with Principle

Author(s): Stanley Eugene Fish

Philosophy | Karl

Stanley Fish is an equal opportunity antagonist. A theorist who has taken on theorists, an academician who has riled the academy, a legal scholar and political pundit who has ruffled feathers, left and right, Fish here turns with customary gusto to the trouble with principle. Specifically, Fish has a quarrel with neutral principles. The trouble? they operate by sacrificing everything people care about to their own purity and they are deployed with equal highmindedness and equally absurd results by liberals and conservatives alike. In this book, Fish argues that there is no realm of higher order impartiality - no neutral or fair territory on which to stake a claim - and that those who invoke one are always making a rhetorical and political gesture. In the end, it is history and context, the very substance against which a purportedly abstract principle defines itself, that determines a principle's content and power. In the course of making this argument, Fish takes up questions about academic freedom and hate speech, affirmative action and multiculturalism, the boundaries between church and state, and much more. Sparing no one, he shows how our notions of intellectual and religious liberty -cherished by those at both ends of the political spectrum - are artifacts of the very partisan politics they supposedly transcend. This work offers a distinctive challenge to the debates of our day that no intellectually honest citizen can afford to ignore.


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"[Fish] offers the edifying and cheering spectacle of a brilliant scholar strolling into the midst of academic disciplines other than the one he was trained in, joining in the highly professionalized games being played, and winning...In The Trouble with Principle, his latest collection of papers, Fish deploys a master argument that goes like this: The trouble with principles 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." - Michael Skube, Atlanta Journal Constitution"

Stanley Fish is Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the author of There's No Such Thing as Free Speech, and It's a Good Thing Too, Surprised by Sin, and How Milton Works.

General Fields

  • : 9780674005341
  • : Harvard University Press
  • : Harvard University Press
  • : May 2001
  • : books

Special Fields

  • : Stanley Eugene Fish
  • : Paperback
  • : 336