John N. Gray

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John N. Gray (born April 17, 1948, in South Shields, Tyne & Wear) is a prominent British political philosopher and author, formerly School Professor of European Thought at the London School of Economics. .

Gray contributes regularly to The Guardian, New Statesman, and The Times Literary Supplement, and has written several influential books on political theory, including Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals (2003), an attack on humanism, a worldview which he sees as originating in religious ideologies. Gray sees volition, and hence morality, as an illusion, and portrays humanity as a ravenous species engaged in wiping out other forms of life while destroying its natural environment.


[edit] Academic career

Gray studied at Exeter College, Oxford, where he read Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) and completed his B.A., M.Phil., and D.Phil.

He formerly held posts as lecturer in political theory at the University of Essex, fellow and tutor in politics at Jesus College, Oxford, and lecturer and then professor of politics at the University of Oxford. He has served as a visiting professor at Harvard University (1985-86), Stranahan Fellow at the Social Philosophy and Policy Center, Bowling Green State University (1990-1994), and has also held visiting professorships at Tulane University’s Murphy Institute (1991), and Yale University (1994). He was Professor of European Thought at the London School of Economics and Political Science until his retirement from academic life in early 2008.

[edit] Academic work

An advocate for the New Right in the 1980s, and then of New Labour in the 1990s, Gray now sees the conventional (left-wing/right-wing) political spectrum of conservatism and social democracy as no longer viable.

Gray has perhaps become best known for his work, since the 1990s, on the uneasy relationship between the value-pluralism and liberalism of Isaiah Berlin,[1] which has ignited considerable controversy, and for his strong criticism of neoliberalism and of the global free market. More recently, he has criticised some of the central currents in Western thinking, such as humanism, and has tended towards Green thought. He has drawn from the "Gaia theory" of James Lovelock, among others, but he is very pessimistic about human behaviour changing to prevent environmental decay, and he predicts that the 21st century will be full of wars as natural resources become increasingly scarce.

[edit] Quotations

To affirm that humans thrive in many different ways is not to deny that there are universal human values. Nor is it to reject the claim that there should be universal human rights. It is to deny that universal values can only be fully realized in a universal regime. Human rights can be respected in a variety of regimes, liberal and otherwise. Universal human rights are not an ideal constitution for a single regime throughout the world, but a set of minimum standards for peaceful coexistence among regimes that will always remain different.
— John Gray, Two Faces of Liberalism
The core of the belief in progress is that human values and goals converge in parallel with our increasing knowledge. The twentieth century shows the contrary. Human beings use the power of scientific knowledge to assert and defend the values and goals they already have. New technologies can be used to alleviate suffering and enhance freedom. They can, and will, also be used to wage war and strengthen tyranny. Science made possible the technologies that powered the industrial revolution. In the twentieth century, these technologies were used to implement state terror and genocide on an unprecedented scale. Ethics and politics do not advance in line with the growth of knowledge — not even in the long run.
— John Gray, essay "Joseph Conrad, Our Contemporary" in Heresies
"I should liken Kant to a man at a ball, who all evening has been carrying on a love affair with a masked beauty in the vain hope of making a conquest, when at last she throws off her mask and reveals herself to be his wife." In Schopenhauer's fable the wife masquerading as an unknown beauty was Christianity. Today it is humanism.

What Schopenhauer wrote of Kant is no less true today. As commonly practised, philosophy is the attempt to find good reasons for conventional beliefs. In Kant's time the creed of conventional people was Christian, now it is humanist. Nor are these two faiths so different from one another.

Over the past 200 years, philosophy has shaken off Christian faith. It has not given up Christianity's cardinal error – the belief that humans are radically different from all other animals.

Philosophy has been a masked ball in which a religious image of humankind is renewed in the guise of humanist ideas of progress and enlightenment. Even philosophy's greatest unmaskers have ended up as figures in the masquerade. Removing the masks from our animal faces is a task that has hardly begun.

Other animals are born, seek mates, forage for food and die. That is all. But we humans – we think – are different. We are persons, whose actions are the results of their choices. Other animals pass their lives unawares, but we are conscious. Our image of ourselves is formed from our ingrained belief that consciousness, selfhood and free will are what define us as human beings, and raise us above all other creatures.

In our more detached moments, we admit that this view of ourselves is flawed. Our lives are more like fragmentary dreams than the enactments of conscious selves. We control very little of what we most care about; many of our most fateful decisions are made unbeknownst to ourselves. Yet we insist that mankind can achieve what we cannot: conscious mastery of its existence. This is the creed of those who have given up an irrational belief in God for an irrational faith in mankind.

But what if we give up the empty hopes of Christianity and humanism? Once we switch off the soundtrack – the babble of God and immortality, progress and humanity – what sense can we make of our lives?

— John Gray, Straw Dogs
The most pitiless warriors against drugs have always been militant progressives. In China, the most savage attack on drug use occurred when the country was convulsed by a modern western doctrine of universal emancipation- Maoism. It is no accident that the crusade against drugs is led today by a country wedded to the pursuit of happiness- the United States. For the corollary of that improbable quest is a puritan war on pleasure.
— John Gray, Straw Dogs
What could be more natural for a species that has exterminated its animal kin than to look into a mirror and find that it is not alone?
— John Gray, Straw Dogs

[edit] Bibliography

[edit] Books about Gray

  • Horton, John and Glen Newey, eds. The Political Theory of John Gray. London: Routledge, 2007. ISBN 041536647X.

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ Cherniss, Joshua; Hardy, Henry, "Isaiah Berlin", in Zalta, Edward N., The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2007 Edition), pp. section 4,, retrieved on 2007-07-04 

[edit] External links

[edit] Articles

[edit] The Guardian

[edit] The Independent

[edit] The Observer

[edit] Profiles

[edit] Interviews

[edit] Reviews Of His Work

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