Comment on Plough, Sword, and Book: The Structure of Human History

Essay Excerpt

My further remarks, however, are not intended to pay homage to Gellner's considerable accomplishment. Rather I will argue that the framework of Plough, Sword, and Book makes it exceedingly difficult to see that modern cognition, as an aspect of social thought and action, always comes in the company of normative beliefs, if not ideological convictions. Instead, Gellner's "structure of history" perpetuates a myth of the gradual differentiation of the rational cognizing of experience from belief and conviction. The problem first appears on page 1 where Gellner describes his objectives. His study, he writes, is to be an experiment in philosophic history:

We inevitably assume a pattern of human history. There is simply no choice concerning whether we use such a pattern. We are, all of us, philosophical historians, . . . whether we wish it or not. The only choice we do have is whether we make our vision as explicit, coherent and compatible with available facts as we can, or whether we employ it more or less unconsciously and incoherently.[p. 11] 

(Meeker, 406)

About the Author

Michael E. Meeker is a Professor Emeritus. Cultural anthropology, oral traditions, politics and literature; Turkey, Middle East.(Professor Meeker has left the area and is no longer available to participate in new graduate student research, although he remains a member of some continuing graduate student committees.)

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