Ideas of John Gray, by Theme

[British, fl. 2002, Professor of European Thought at the London School of Economics.]

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1. Philosophy / D. Nature of Philosophy / 7. Despair over Philosophy
Human knowledge may not produce well-being; the examined life may not be worth living
     Full Idea: Human knowledge is one thing, human well-being another. There is no predetermined harmony between the two. The examined life may not be worth living.
     From: John Gray (Straw Dogs [2002], 1.9)
     A reaction: John Gray has set himself up as the Eeyore of modern times, but this point may obviously be correct. Presumably Socrates meant that the examined life was better even if the result was less 'well-being'. Even Gray doesn't want a lobotomy.
13. Knowledge Criteria / C. External Justification / 9. Naturalised Epistemology
Knowledge does not need minds or nervous systems; it is found in all living things
     Full Idea: Knowledge does not need minds, or even nervous systems. It is found in all living things.
     From: John Gray (Straw Dogs [2002], 2.10)
     A reaction: I consider it a misnomer to call such things 'knowledge', for which I have much higher standards. Gray is talking about 'information'. Knowledge needs reasons, and possibility of error, not just anticipatory behaviour.
16. Persons / F. Free Will / 5. Against Free Will
The will hardly ever does anything; most of our life just happens to us
     Full Idea: We think our actions express our decisions, but in nearly all of our life, willing decides nothing. We cannot wake up or fall asleep, remember or forget our dreams, summon or banish our thoughts, by deciding to do so.
     From: John Gray (Straw Dogs [2002], 2.12)
     A reaction: Gray's point does not rule out occasional total control over mental life, but his point is important. The traditional picture is of a life controlled, so the will is seen as at the centre of a person, but it just isn't the case.
25. Society / C. Social Justice / 2. Social Freedom / e. Freedom of lifestyle
Nowadays we identify the free life with the good life
     Full Idea: We do not value freedom more than people did in earlier times, but we have identified the good life with the chosen life.
     From: John Gray (Straw Dogs [2002], 3.13)
     A reaction: Interesting. This is Enlightenment liberalism gradually filtering down into common consciousness, especially via the hegemony of American culture. I sympathise the Gray; don't get me wrong, but I think freedom is overrated.
27. Natural Reality / F. Biology / 4. Ecology
Over forty percent of the Earth's living tissue is human
     Full Idea: Humans co-opt over forty per cent of the Earth's living tissue.
     From: John Gray (Straw Dogs [2002], 4.15)
     A reaction: If you add our domestic animals, I understand that the figure goes up to 95 per cent! I take this to be virtually the only significant ecological fact - population, population, population. Why are there so many cars? So many carbon footprints?
29. Religion / B. Monotheistic Religion / 4. Christianity / a. Christianity
Without Christianity we lose the idea that human history has a meaning
     Full Idea: For Christians, it is because they occur in history that the lives of humans have a meaning that the lives of other animals do not. ..If we truly leave Christianity behind, we must give up the idea that human history has a meaning.
     From: John Gray (Straw Dogs [2002], 2.3)
     A reaction: Interesting. Compare the dispute between 'whig' and 'tory' historians, the former of whom believe that history is going somewhere.
What was our original sin, and how could Christ's suffering redeem it?
     Full Idea: No one can say what was humankind's original sin, and no one understands how the suffering of Christ can redeem it.
     From: John Gray (Straw Dogs [2002], 4.1)
     A reaction: This nicely articulates a problem that has half bothered me, but I have never put into words. I always assumed Eve committed the sin, and Adam cops the blame for not controlling his woman. Dying for our sins has always puzzled me.