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David Stove: Annotated List of Books

If you have not yet done so, I want you to read David Stove, one of the best philosophers of the twentieth century, a man who wrote with such clarity and vigor that his writing has often been compared to Fred Astaire’s dancing.

His literary executor Jim Franklin maintains a Stove site, which contains a few reprints of Stove’s works. Unfortunately, as happens with all websites, several of Franklin’s links are now dead. But you can still buy most of Stove’s books.

An annotated list:

  • Popper and After: Four Modern Irrationalists, preprinted twice as Scientific Irrationalism: Origins of a Postmodern Cult, and Anything Goes. Popper and After is, somehow, on line freely.

    It is from this book that we learn how scare quotes—like those used around the word “truth”—can be used to devastating effect. Stove also teaches us how philosophers like Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn “sabotage logical expressions”, a technique used to imply truth while simultaneously denying it.

    The first part of Popper and After may be read by everyone. The second part is harder going and contains some hard-core philosophy.

  • Evolutionary psychology, memes and Richard Dawkins’s theories in general, and other loose thinking in evolution are taken apart in Darwinian Fairytales: Selfish Genes, Errors of Heredity and Other Fables of Evolution.

    This is not—I repeat: not—a criticism of evolution, a theory which Stove says is “overwhelmingly probable” (Stove is a strict logician; no empirical theory can be 100% certain, but it can be 1 – ε certain). It is instead an evisceration of the faulty arguments used by many evolutionary psychologists who purport to have conclusively explained every aspect of human behavior. Stove’s remarks are thus on par with Stephen Gould’s, who frequently claimed that some evolutionary psychologists are more adept at creating “Just So” stories than they were at creating testable theories.

    Stove also echoes philosopher Mark Midgley’s devastating critique of memes (see this; I cannot locate her works on line). Midgley is also not an anti-evolutionist. Memes are one of those toy ideas people, especially young people, like to play with that appear solid, but which dissolve like cotton candy in water when examined closely.

  • If you are a statistician, logician, or mathematician of any kind, you must read The Rationality of Induction, Stove’s masterwork, a follow up to his Probability and Hume’s Inductive Scepticism. My copy is so marked up, I’m considering buying a new one so that I can start over undistracted.

    Not only does Stove amply demonstrate induction’s rationality, he is the first author to have successfully defined what the skeptical thesis of induction is, which is this:

    For all e and all h such that the inference from e to h is inductive, and for all tautological t, P(h|t.e) = P(h|t).

    I won’t explain that here; but to statisticians it should appear absurd that anybody would believe it. Yet some do. I had a paper once rejected in Bayesian Analysis by a referee who claimed that induction was a “problem”; that is, that the skeptical thesis was true. From a statistician! (Well, a philosopher who does statistics.)

  • The Plato Cult and Other Philosophical Follies. An extended critique of idealism, which is the theory that nothing exists except our thoughts. Plato was an idealist, Berkeley perhaps its greatest proponent.

    But there are many modern idealists; postmodernism is the most current incarnation. Idealism is also the basis of Stove’s contest—with cash prize!—to find the worst argument in the world. In short form, it is this: “We can know things only as they are related to us; therefore, we cannot know things as they are in themselves.” See this announcement.

    From the book, Franklin posts the chapter, “What is wrong with our thoughts.

  • On Enlightenment. This work, though historical examples, illustrates Stove’s conservatism, which is solidly in the Burkean tradition, a tradition which, as readers know, is not always found in America. From the blurb:

    Despite their best intentions, social reformers who attempt to improve the world as a whole inevitably make things worse….[T]oday’s social structures are so large and complex that any widespread social reform will have innumerable unforeseen consequences. For example, the welfare state may diminish individual initiative, the use of pesticides may increase the food supply while polluting the water supply, the popularizing of university education may lead to a decline in academic standards….[Government] powers must be limited in order to prevent large-scale damage.

  • Cricket Versus Republicanism and Other Essays. Less philosophical, but entertaining works. His more polarizing essays are here: on race, on feminism.
  • Roger Kimball brought Stove to the States with his edited volume of essays Against the Idols of the Age. If you’re only going to buy one book, or have only a cursory interest, make it this one. Each essay here appears elsewhere.

9 thoughts on “David Stove: Annotated List of Books Leave a comment

  1. Let’s not forget that all philosophers mentioned must/did somehow make a living and not a single one is willing to bet it all on one position. The easiest way to do this is equivocate. E.g. from Doug Adams and the two pholosophers in Hitchhiker: “God may — or may not — exist.” And: “what’s the point of arguing all this if this thing just gives you His phone number in the morning?”

    Was Popper wrong? No, of course not. Neither was he comletely right. Science protocol deppends on negation and finding positive evidence is never a guarantee of not finding it in the future.OTOH, there are times when it’s best to proceed on most probable evidence, gor example, in a medical diagnosis.

    Was Kuhn wrong? No, of course not. Neither was he completely right. It IS true that no matter what the “paradigm” (oooh – those scary quotes), it’s still the same old world. It IS also true that one’s world model colors one’s perception of the world.

    I haven’t read all of Stove but I’m sure that he, too, equivocates.

  2. I think you mean mary midgely.
    I assume you don’t know about her
    History with dawkins (gene jumping)
    And making a fool of herself.

  3. Andy,

    Same woman. I can’t say anything about her “gene jumping” arguments, because I haven’t read them. I have read her criticisms of memes, and these I find convincing.

  4. Thanks for the list Briggs! I’m definitely grabbing the one on Popper and Kuhn, as it sounds like it will challenge my current thinking the most.

    I’d once again like to disagree with your characterization of Idealism as ” the theory that nothing exists except our thoughts.” At least in Berkeley’s case, the physical world does indeed exist. If you don’t have Berkeley’s works, Plato.stanford.edu has a lot more on this…

  5. James,

    Aren’t you a sweetheart to say so. Thanks.

    All,

    Franklin is the author of (at least) two books of interest to the group. The Science of Conjecture: Evidence and Probability Before Pascal, which is fantastic. And What Science Knows: And How It Knows It, which I haven’t read yet, but which has garnered positive reviews.

    He has also written some papers along the same lines of Stove’s The Rationality of Induction. My favorite is “Resurrecting logical probability“, but also not-to-be-missed is “Randomness and induction“. He also has a well argued paper, “On the reality of the continuum“, disagreeing with mathematical constructivism, or finitetism. Note that these are highly technical works.

    His site is here.

    Alan,

    Well, I’m not convinced Berkeley argued the world existed independently of human thought. We have Dr Johnson’s sore toe to consider, for instance. But you will certainly enjoy the popper book.

  6. It is a small world after all. I live in Canberra, Australia. Matt lives in New York, I gather. Years ago I did some Web work for an on-line magazine established by Rob Stove (if you enjoy fine writing, as though it were a fine wine, I would encourage readers here to read anything written by Rob). Rob, who lives in Melbourne, Australia, is David Stove’s son.

    When I read this post I thought it would be of interest to Rob, so I emailed him. He replied saying that he’d also draw it to the attention of James Franklin, who I don’t know. So James’ comment above may be here because, circuitously, of me.

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