The Trouble with Principle

Front Cover
Harvard University Press, 1999 - Law - 328 pages
2 Reviews
STANLEY FISH is an equal opportunity antagonist. A theorist who has taken on theorists, an academician who has riled the academy, a legal scholar and political pundit who has ruffled feathers left and right, Fish here turns with customary gusto to the trouble with principle. Specifically, Fish has a quarrel with neutral principles. The trouble? They operate by sacrificing everything people care about to their own purity. And they are deployed with equal high-mindedness and equally absurd results by liberals and conservatives alike.

In this bracing book, Fish argues that there is no realm of higher order impartiality -- no neutral or fair territory on which to stake a claim -- and that those who invoke one are always making a rhetorical and political gesture. In the end, it is history and context, the very substance against which a purportedly abstract principle defines itself, that determines a principle's content and power. In the course of making this argument, Fish takes up questions about academic freedom and hate speech, affirmative action and multiculturalism, the boundaries between church and state, and much more. Sparing no one, he shows how our nations of intellectual and religious liberty -- cherished by those at both ends of the political spectrum -- are artifacts of the very partisan politics they supposedly transcend. The Trouble with Principle offers a distinctive, compelling, and provocative challenge to the debates of our day that no intellectually honest citizen can afford to ignore.


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Review: The Trouble with Principle

User Review  - Leonard - Goodreads

Almost as much as Derrida, Fish sort of lives to needle people, and at times his style can be a bit, well, arch. Still, this is an amazing and brilliant piece of work, perfectly dovetailing into both ... Read full review


At the Federalist Society
Sauce for the Goose
Of an Age and Not for All Time
Boutique Multiculturalism
The Rhetoric of Regret
Fraught with Death
The Dance of Theory
Vicki Frost Objects
Playing Not to Win
Why We Cant All Just Get Along
Faith before Reason
Beliefs about Belief
Putting Theory in Its Place
Truth and Toilets

Mission Impossible
A Wolf in Reasons Clothing

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About the author (1999)

Stanley Eugene Fish, who writes on law and literary criticism and history, was born on April 19, 1938, in Providence, Rhode Island. He was educated at the University of Pennsylvania and Yale University. Fish holds a Ph.D. from Yale. During his career, he has held major academic posts, serving as Kenan Professor of English at Johns Hopkins University from 1974 to 1985 and as Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professor of English and Law at Duke University since 1985. He is known for his expertise in English literature and literary theory, particularly the subjectivity of textual interpretation. Fish's works include Is There a Text in This Class?: The Authority of Interpretative Communities, 1980 and Doing What Comes Naturally: Change, Rhetoric, and the Practice of Theory in Literary and Legal Studies, 1989. He received a Guggenheim fellowship in 1969.

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