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February 13, 2011

Sunday Book Thread

Thomas Carlyle coined the term "the dismal science" to describe economics -- his point being that economics confounds the hopes and dreams of so many utopian planners. Every so often a philosopher or academic economist will agonize over the fact that economics is unrooted in any kind of ethical framework, and will send out an anguished cry like The Economist's Oath: On the Need for and Content of Professional Economic Ethics . I haven't read the book yet, but if history is any guide it will be yet another academic crie de coeur to infuse economics with a "heart". My hackles go up every time I see a book like this -- generally the first time I come across a word like "fairness" or "greed" or "equal", I throw the book down in disgust. We'll see.

I've also re-visited Sir James George Frazer's The Golden Bough. As a study of religion and myth, it's been superceded by more recent books, but in my mind it's still one of the best reference books on the topic. Many academics have hated this book for years due to the "social Darwinist" aspects, and the perceived cultural superiority that Frazer brought to the subject; but even with the flaws, it is a fascinating and comprehensive insight into human culture, myth, and religion. (I'd advise casual readers to pick up the omnibus edition published in 1922, rather than one of the earlier multi-volume editions. Frazer revised the work several times during his life, but seldom to positive effect.) Carl Jung's books may make interesting parallel reading, something like Man and His Symbols.

What is everyone else reading?


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posted by Monty at 09:02 AM

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