Embattled Reason

Embattled Reason : Essays on Social Knowledge

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Product details

  • Paperback | 408 pages
  • 140 x 200mm
  • Oxford University Press
  • Oxford, United Kingdom
  • New edition
  • New edition
  • 0195017870
  • 9780195017878

Review Text

A twelve-essay sampler of the work of a prominent American sociologist, best known for his studies of social stratification and managerial practice. The first section, "Conditions of Knowledge," discusses Enlightenment-tradition thinkers from Bacon through Freud. It provides historical background for the problem of ideology, and dismantles what has become the straw man of a natural-science model for social inquiry. Bendix freely uses the concept of "reductionism": sometimes it means a theory of ideas as "mere" reflections or epiphenomena, and sometimes it just designates a theorist Bendix disagrees with. The second section, "Theoretical Perspectives," bears more intellectual weight with, among others, its remarks on the dangers of organic analogies and the merits of a "paired-concept" (e.g. bureaucratic/traditional) approach. Section Three on modernization has a smaller grocery-list of relevant thinkers, while including a chapter from Bendix's well-known Work and Authority in Industry. Given the social-knowledge theme of the book, Bendix seems excessively impressionistic: he pontificates about a recent declining belief in reason without demonstrating it. Moreover, the book as a whole dismisses in effect the notion of irrevocable biases, rather than trying to defeat it. Merton and Frankel, among others, have made far more serious efforts to uphold the ideal of objectivity; Bendix merely equates ideological warp with dogmatic commitment and implies that by scorning the latter one can avoid the former. Which his discussion of "the academy" fails to do. Nonetheless, the author's status makes this desirable for ambitious collectors; forced to choose, serious social epistemologists will do better with Gouldner's The Coming Crisis in Western Sociology (1970, p. 536) and Silvert's Man's Power (1970, p. 371). (Kirkus Reviews)show more