The Trouble with Principle by Stanley Fish

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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 bracing 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. The Trouble with Principle offers a provocative challenge to the debates of our day that no intellectually honest citizen can afford to ignore.


About Stanley Fish

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Stanley Eugene Fish, who writes on law and literary criticism and history, was born on April 19, 1938, in Providence, Rhode Island. He was educated at the University of Pennsylvania and Yale University. Fish holds a Ph.D. from Yale. During his career, he has held major academic posts, serving as Kenan Professor of English at Johns Hopkins University from 1974 to 1985 and as Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professor of English and Law at Duke University since 1985. He is known for his expertise in English literature and literary theory, particularly the subjectivity of textual interpretation. Fish's works include Is There a Text in This Class?: The Authority of Interpretative Communities, 1980 and Doing What Comes Naturally: Change, Rhetoric, and the Practice of Theory in Literary and Legal Studies, 1989. He received a Guggenheim fellowship in 1969.
Published December 17, 1999 by Harvard University Press. 336 pages
Genres: Political & Social Sciences, Law & Philosophy. Non-fiction

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Publishers Weekly

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It describes, says Fish, ""whatever qualifications are deemed desirable for the performance of a particular task, and there is nothing fixed about those qualifications."" Fish supports affirmative action because he believes we must take into account the history of oppression suffered by the group...

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London Review of Books

Estabrook Urbana, Illinois From Gabriel Finkelstein If Terry Eagleton wants to slag off Stanley Fish, that’s perfectly fine with me, because Fish, like Trump, makes a lot more money than I do.

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Project MUSE

Therefore, Fish's criticisms of liberal principles and his alternative to them leave his readers exactly where they were (according to Fish) all along: in the web of their own commitments.

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Mises Institute

The point that we do not hold our beliefs voluntarily does not support Fish's claim "that beliefs emerge historically and in relation to the other beliefs that are already in the content of our consciousness" (p.

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