In Praise of Prejudice

For Christmas my father gave me a copy of In Praise of Prejudice by doctor and essayist Theodore Dalrymple. His main point is that while, granted, racial prejudices that result in mistreating others are wrong, some prejudices — in the sense of received opinions that are held as a matter of cultural habit — are not only helpful, but necessary and unavoidable. He apparently recognized this as a point worth insisting on after working as a doctor among the English lower classes, where he observed that throwing out received opinion did not lead to a bunch of Descartes so much as to a preponderance of out of control thugs who substitute their own immediate impulses for social norms as the basis of their decisions. Dalrymple found this concerning to say the least.

It’s not a bad book, though in my case he’s “preaching to the choir,” to borrow a cliche. Yeah — traditional standards of behavior are a good idea, as is the acceptance of a good many pre-conceived ideas. The alternative is willful ignorance of both normative standards of behavior, and even of known facts, since it is literally not possible to investigate everything for oneself.

I would recommend this book to anyone who tends to accept that all moral tradition, prejudice, and discrimination are wrong, and is wondering why otherwise decent people believe and even insist otherwise. I’m not sure that I know anyone in that position, however.


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