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This review is taken from PN Review 43, Volume 11 Number 5, May - June 1985.

RADICALLY HARMLESS Fred Inglis, Radical Earnestness: English Social Theory 1880-1980 (Martin Robertson) £9.95

The 'human sciences'? In England, this still sounds like an oxymoron. 'Science' has strong connotations of quantification and verification: when these procedures are applied to individuals, as in psychology, or social behaviour, as in sociology, the results can seem scientifically unreliable and humanly unimportant. The old art of literature still offers, we may feel, surer insights. But there is, as Fred Inglis says, 'a clear revival of interest in an active, valuing and interpretative version of the human sciences'; a movement, especially in psychology, away from quantification and verification, or a relocation of these techniques in a broader context. This may make these areas of enquiry even less scientific - it depends on one's concept of science - but their human status is enhanced.

In Radical Earnestness, Inglis constructs a dissenting English tradition which has, he argues, a significant contribution to make to this version of the human sciences. He sees this tradition as striving to incorporate idealism and materialism, troubled by the deep contradiction between Romantic feeling and Enlightenment rationalism, and both influenced by, and strongly challenging, utilitarianism. It is 'committed both to the idea of a good and just society and to the actual, concrete details of the real world'. It endorses empirically-based thought and systematic scepticism, while affirming the importance of moral experience and discrimination and maintaining a belief in 'voluntarism', the capacity of the individual agent to produce effects. Literature is accorded high importance as a source of insight into how general ideas ...


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