The Indefensible Stanley Fish

Arts, entertainment, and more.
Dec. 27 1999 12:28 PM

The Indefensible Stanley Fish

(Continued from Page 1)

[B]ecause the equality of right and ability breeds "equality of hope in the attaining of our Ends," and because each man's ends are naturally to be preferred to his rival's, the two will inevitably "become enemies," and in the absence of a neutral arbiter "they will endeavor to destroy or subdue one another."

Advertisement

And there Fish more or less stops. (Well, actually, he goes on to argue in a similar fashion against the logical plausibility of free speech, academic freedom, and blind justice.) Maddeningly, he leads us to the center of the Hobbesian maze, then refuses to extricate us. If life is a war of all against all, what guarantee do we have that adhoccery will work, no matter how inspired? None, of course--at which point Fish generally cackles and says that since he's a pragmatist, he believes that his ideas about the world are just that, ideas without consequences. There is, he says, "no straight line from these propositions to the solution of any real-life problem; they are of no help and do no work except the non-directing work of telling you that you are on your own."

In other words, Fish isn't the unprincipled relativist he's accused of being. He's something worse. He's a fatalist. But then, so were the pre-Socratics, several Roman philosophers, and Machiavelli. Culturebox certainly can't tell you whether Fish is right or wrong. On the other hand, Fish never claimed to be right. In fact, he once quipped that, now that objectivity is dead, it is no longer necessary to be right. You just have to be interesting. Which he is.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Meet the New Bosses

How the Republicans would run the Senate.

Even by Russian Standards, Moscow’s Anti-War March Was Surprisingly Grim

I Wrote a Novel Envisioning a Nigerian Space Program. Then I Learned Nigeria Actually Has One.

The Best Thing About the People’s Climate March in NYC

Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom

The Eye

This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059

Medical Examiner

Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?  

A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.

The Government Is Giving Millions of Dollars in Electric-Car Subsidies to the Wrong Drivers

A Futurama Writer on How the Vietnam War Shaped the Series

Trending News Channel
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
The World
Sept. 22 2014 12:30 PM Turkey Just Got Forty-Six Hostages Back From ISIS. How Did That Happen?
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 22 2014 12:07 PM Divestment Isn’t the Answer To destroy demand for fossil fuels, universities can do a lot better than just selling some stocks.
  Life
The Shortcut
Sept. 22 2014 12:31 PM Down With Loose Laces A simple trick to tighten your running shoes for good.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 22 2014 12:29 PM Escaping the Extreme Christian Fundamentalism of "Quiverfull"
  Slate Plus
Science
Sept. 22 2014 8:08 AM Slate Voice: “Why Is So Much Honey Clover Honey?” Mike Vuolo shares the story of your honey.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 22 2014 12:22 PM The Age of the Streaming TV Auteur
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 12:14 PM Family Court Rules That You Can Serve Someone With Legal Papers Over Facebook
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 22 2014 12:15 PM The Changing Face of Climate Change Will the leaders of the People’s Climate March now lead the movement?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.