Sunday, June 20, 2010

Terry Eagleton's On Evil: A Review, Part II

One of Eagleton's ideas that I always found to be the most annoying was his opposition to the concept of progress. As I said before:
As a group, privileged middle-aged white men have been steadily losing in power and prestige. When Eagleton says that progress is a myth, he talks as a representative of a particular collective identity, one that has suffered a significant decline. If things continue developing in the same direction, being male, white, and rich will entail no advantages whatsoever. As much as I respect Eagleton (and believe me, I really do), observing him in real life made it clear to me that he has been making full use of these advantages and will not give them up easily. Hence the "progress-is-a-myth" agenda. Eagleton and Co must believe that if they repeat this mantra often enough, there is a chance that the pesky consequences of said unexisting progress will disappear.
 After reading On Evil, I am happy to report that Eagleton has somewhat modified his position on whether progress is a valid concept. I believe that only a philosopher who is capable of rethinking his position and recognizing the faults of his previous arguments is worthy of the name. Hence, I was really glad to see that in On Evil Eagleton has been brave enough to step away from his former anti-progress rant. In his attempt to reformulate his attitude towards the concept of progress, Eagleton even agrees with Dawkins, the man he usually loves to ridicule:
So Dawkins . . . is quite right to insist on the preciousness of this development, in the teeth of those for whom the very idea of progress is no more than an imperialist myth. It is true that some things get better in some respects. Those who doubt the reality of progress might try having their teeth pulled without anesthetics. They might also try affording greater respect to the Pankhurst sisters or Martin Luther King. But some things also get worse.
 In this respect, On Evil has been a very refreshing and welcome read. The only problem I found with this book is that it seemed like Eagleton was in some kind of unjustified hurry to finish it and send it to his editor. The minute his arguments started to acquire a real "bite", he decided not to take his reasoning any further.
In spite of this, the book is really good, both thought-conducive and entertaining.

The first part of the review can be found here.

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