Plough, Sword & Book
Ernest Gellner's philosophy of human history as discussed in Plough, Sword, and Book offers readers a view of human history that is unique and comprehensive. The author aims to outline human history with theories and models that employ a method of deductive reasoning. Specifically, Gellner wishes to offer his readers a "clear and forceful" view of his philosophy so that it may be examined critically (page 13).
Gellner's model of human history entails a society passing through three principal stages: hunting and gathering, agrarian society, and industrial society (pages 16-17). The author enlists a number of sources from which he derives his philosophic analysis of humanity's development and evolution. Gellner's discussion of Platonism with respect to cultural intuition and adoption of an explicit theory stating what had previously been a mere practice (pages 76-77) mingles with Hegel and Marxist theories on thought and politics (pages 142-143). His variety of sources allow for a wide range of both philosophic input and debate.
Essentially, the author pushes for a philosophic historical outline that depicts hunting and gathering groups of humans who eventually initiate an agricultural community stemming from a sense of long-term obligation to their individual group (page 33). Agrarian societies-Gellner's plough-then pass into an industrial or urban society which allows for the entry of a class system in which social order must be maintained through defensive groups or order-enforcers (page 145)-Gellner's sword. The transitions between stages could not be possible without the cognitive development of mankind through the introduction of literacy (page 71) through religious scriptures-Gellner's book. In Gellner's model of human history, religion also provides legitimization of the social system (page 99) leading to modern society.
As the author discusses the shift between the three principle stages of human history, he outlines the major activities that pushed society through the industrial and agricultural revolutions, or "great leaps" of human history. These activities fall into three main groups identified by Gellner as production, coercion, and cognition (page 20-23). Agrarian societies focused mainly on the production and storage of food (page 16) while Industrial societies focused on the production of wealth and weapons, or means of coercion, and the production of food becomes a lesser focus (page 17). One of the most important elements in the evolution of human history, cognition, occurred at the point when "the genetic equipment of man became so permissive as to allow the wide range of social comportment" that we can observe in the modern society (page 67).
For the average reader, Gellner's "clear and forceful" statement (page 13) within the pages of Plough, Sword, and Book can be a bit overwhelming in that it provides a great deal of philosophic idea applied to history between the Neolithic age and the present. At times, Gellner's text may also seem overwritten which could muddle his "clear" statement to scholarly readers. Perhaps Gellner's most successful element within his text was his execution and compilation of so many philosophic thinkers' ideas into a single outline. Gellner includes ideas from Aristotle to Weber and from Kant to Kuhn making his philosophic vision of human history a scholarly work indeed. Although the future of human history cannot, according to Gellner (page 15), be predicted, Plough, Sword, and Book can help scholars understand the evolution of our past so that we may better understand the future though the greater possibility of comprehension provided by Gellner's scholarly efforts.
is the world we now recognize. But even if they were not, they help us set up the problem. H o w can one arrive at the point at which we find ourselves? The basic features of our world were codified by the theory of knowledge of the eighteenth century, and recodified in the twentieth. In outline, it is very simple: simplicity is of its essence. It teaches that all facts are separate and equal, and all form part of one single interconnected logical space. Any one fact can be conjoined with any
capitalist spirit on the one hand, and the Protestant vision of the world on the other. The precise nature and relevance of that affinity continues to be the subject of vigorous debate. Yet the deep affinity seems to be more important than the questions concerning causal priority. The overall picture is roughly this: Europeans had lived in a world in which salvation, and mediation with the divine and the sacred, were ascribed to a special organization. The divinity with which the organization
is that which is possessed by morally sound men, and it is from the nature of ultimate reality that we read off the criteria of moral health, which then enable us to identify the trustworthy witnesses. They in turn reconfirm the message concerning the true nature of reality. The circle is complete, and with variations of detail it is repeated by most or all the codified belief systems of the agro-literate age. Cartesianism inverts all this. The world is to be located within knowledge. The
Reformation. You might sum up this story as follows: first, dissidents out (of society); next, all dissidents into well-supervised rule-bound hostels; third, with the reformed generalization of priesthood, everyone may be a dissident, and opt out of prescribed and ascribed roles. No further supervision or restriction on individualism. In this way, an unrestrained, socially pervasive individualism is born. The entry of the Church into the world had modified the situation: a kingly priest, on this
rather suggest that single-end rationality may not be quite such a difficult and rare accomplishment. Need it really be the fruit of a long, complex and arduous evolution, which took place within one particular historical tradition? (That is, on the whole, the viewpoint argued here.) Could it not be ever latent in all mankind? On this view, Homo economicus was ever hidden inside social man, signalling wildly to be let out. He emerged with glee at the very first opportunity. M a n was born a