On Equilibrium

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9780140293142: On Equilibrium

Is it moral to sacrifice one's life for a higher goal? Why do many in the U.S. think it admirable to join the army but despicable for Palestinians to sign up with Hamas? How can we actually determine "evil" and "good" in the daily world? These practical questions cut to the heart of what it means to be human. John Ralston Saul, in his matter-of-fact discussion of six basic human qualities — ethics, common sense, intuition, imagination, memory, and reason — confronts basic concepts in a manner not done since Thomas Paine more than two centuries ago. In an easy-to-understand style, Saul explains why essential qualities of being human cannot exist in isolation but instead depend on and enrich each other. On Equilibrium persuasively explores morality and how it can be used to foster equilibrium for the self and achieve an ethical society.

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About the Author:

John Ralston Saul is Canada’s leading public intellectual. Declared a “prophet” by Time magazine, Saul has received many awards and prizes, including Chile’s Pablo Neruda Medal. He is president of PEN International, an organization dedicated to freedom of expression. He has published fourteen works, which have been translated into twenty-five languages in thirty-six countries, the most recent of which is The Comeback, an examination of the remarkable return to power of Aboriginal people in Canada. Saul lives in Toronto.

From Publishers Weekly:

This intriguing but often murky treatise on political philosophy extols balance and moderation in an incongruously vehement tone. Saul, an economist and philosopher and author of Voltaire's Bastards, sees humanism as a "dynamic equilibrium" between the six "qualities" of common sense, ethics, imagination, intuition, memory and reason; trouble starts when balance is disrupted and one quality overshadows the others. In particular, reason-which modernity elevates into a false god, he says-must be tempered by other qualities. Otherwise, we develop a simplistic, "linear" mindset fixated on illusory "certainties," and eventually succumb to "ideology"-especially to the rationalist (but ultimately irrational) orthodoxies of free-market economics and technological determinism. Saul's "six qualities" schema links considerations of individual character to a larger social polemic on the need to subordinate markets and technology to the demands of conscience, tradition and democracy. His ambitious and far-ranging argument is studded with thought-provoking riffs-on the similarities between fascist and modern-day democratic politics, for example, or libertarian conceits about the withering away of the state. But Saul is also prone to psychologizing and his insights can get lost amidst abstract pronouncements ("Ideology, being in the possession of truth, has no need for compassion..."). His ideas are not systematically developed (perhaps because systematic development smacks of rationalist ideology), and the book can feel, at times, like bits of a manifesto for the author's left-liberal views on, say, factory fishing. Saul's is a serious, politicized, if laborious restatement of classic humanist values-broadmindedness, empathy, civic responsibility, distrust of technocracy, attunement to complexity and compromise, opposition to fanatics and absolutists-but it doesn't quite live up to its intellectual pretensions.
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Book Description Penguin Books, Melbourne, 2002. Reprint ed.. Paperback trade, very good condition, top edge lightly toned, minor edgewear. 370 pp. The author explains how our different qualities give us the intelligence, self-confidence and practical ability to think and act as responsible adults. This book is an intelligent, persuasive and controversial exploration of the essential qualities of humanity and how they can be used to achieve equilibrium for the self and to foster an ethical society. Bookseller Inventory # 23612

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