Review: Think Again by Stanley Fish

by Oct 3, 2022Books

Think Again: Contrarian Reflections on Life, Culture, Politics, Religion, Law, and EducationThink Again: Contrarian Reflections on Life, Culture, Politics, Religion, Law, and Education by Stanley Fish
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have read multiple Stanley Fish books; I read quite a number of these columns when they were originally published in the New York Times. I go to Fish for precisely the value he describes in his farewell essay:

In the columns that provoked frustration, I stopped short of offering the “I believe X” part, leaving readers to wonder where I stood. I tried to stand on the side of cogency and against slipshod reasoning, which meant that I stood on neither side of a substantive question like “Is there a God?” or “Does religion do more harm than good?” I might of course have answers to those questions, but it wasn’t the point of the columns I wrote to reveal them. Let me hasten to say that I wasn’t trying to be objective (a label pinned on me by both my detractors and defenders) or to be above the fray; I was in another fray, making points about making points, and reserving the deeper, moral issue for another day, which usually never arrived.

“Making points about making points”—that’s Fish. As someone who feels it his calling to make a goodly number of public points, I find I value Fish’s help. And I find it droll—and accurate—of Fish to note that the day for him to make points of substance on moral issues usually never arrived.

I am part of a worldview minority in my culture. And I myself have a narrow specialty (theology and the biblical languages) that means I can’t directly combat the sociological, biological, cosmological, astrophysical, and other claims made by my worldview opponents, those who do not believe in Christ. I go to Fish not just because he helps me make public points that “fly,” as he would say; I go to him to help me analyze arguments from worldview opponents that don’t fly. Even if, for example, I can’t offer an alternative biological theory to the macro-evolutionary schema now reigning among educated Westerners, I can with Fish’s help spot the faith-based assumptions (uniformitarianism, for example) that underlie the practice of modern science. It was not without reason that one of Fish’s beloved Times commenters, years ago, commented that he felt like he had just read an introduction to presuppositionalism by Cornelius Van Til.

Only a lot more readable. I love Fish as a prose stylist, too. He is one of my great intellectual companions through life, and I’m grateful for him.

Another little point: I recently had a book recommended to me by a good and respected friend, but I reacted negatively to it and put it down. It, too, was titled Think Again. But its burden seemed to be—and I only got through the first chapter or so, so I could be wrong—that in business people need to rigorously incorporate the scientific method into their thinking so as to doubt themselves at appropriate times. I found this to contain some truth (surely we ought to let reality teach us when we’re wrong) but also epistemologically naive, even scientistically jingoistic. Fish doesn’t fall into such simplistic traps, and I love him for it.

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