Convictions

Convictions

Convictions

Convictions

Synopsis

Challenges liberals and conservatives alike, as Hook pierces to the heart of momentous issues: human rights, racial equality, cultural freedom, and the separation of ethical behavior from religious belief.

Excerpt

Sidney Hook played a unique role in contemporary philosophy. He was among the chief heirs in the later part of the twentieth century to the pragmatic tradition in American thought. a student of John Dewey, Hook illustrated, perhaps better than any other contemporary philosopher, the application of pragmatic intelligence to ethical, social, and political issues. His main contribution has been his use of analytic methods in dealing with concrete problems of praxis. Hook's basic interest was normative: he constantly sought to test ideas experimentally by reference to their observed consequences in behavior.

Influenced by his early reading of Marx, he attempted to reinterpret Marxism in pragmatic terms. Indeed, Hook was one of the first in America to treat Marx in a serious scholarly vein, as his early books--Towards the Understanding of Karl Marx and From Hegel to Marx testify. He dealt at length with the practical results of Marxist theory in real life, and was a leading critic of the contradictions and failures of totalitarian forms of Marxism, e.g., Leninism, Stalinism, and latter-day varieties of the New Left. Fortunately, Hook lived to see his criticism vindicated. He is today recognized as one of the earliest and most powerful critics of totalitarianism. He helped turn the tide of intellectual opinion from an earlier defense of Marxism to an appreciation of the true nature of Stalinist repression.

Democracy plays a central role in Hook's normative position. Calling himself a democratic socialist (or social democrat), he consistently defended freedom as a basic value. Democracy is grounded, he said, upon the ethical principle of "equality of concern." This principle is not a description of fact about human nature but a prescription of how to treat others. It states that individuals should be provided with opportunities to fulfill their own unique dimensions of freedom and growth; and, where necessary and available, the means to satisfy their basic economic and cultural needs should be supplied.

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