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Jon Elster’s Brisk Meditations

Bernard Williams, 1 May 1980

Logic and Society 
by Jon Elster.
Wiley, 244 pp., £12.65, March 1978, 0 471 99549 5
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Ulysses and the Sirens 
by Jon Elster.
Cambridge/Editions de la Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, 240 pp., £9.75, May 1979, 0 521 22388 1
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... wants from the slave something he necessarily cannot have – ‘unilateral recognition’, as Elster puts it in Logic and Society, a recognition freely accorded to him by someone who is a chattel, who cannot freely recognise anyone. This state of consciousness is essential to the master, and implicit in the historical forms that his institution ...
The Cement of Society: A Study of Social Order 
by Jon Elster.
Cambridge, 311 pp., £30, October 1989, 0 521 37456 1
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Solomonic Judgments: Studies in the Limitations of Rationality 
by Jon Elster.
Cambridge, 232 pp., £25, October 1989, 9780521374576
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Nuts and Bolts for the Social Sciences 
by Jon Elster.
Cambridge, 184 pp., £22.50, October 1989, 0 521 37455 3
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... and ethics are fascinating. With Logic and Society (1978) and Ulysses and the Sirens (1979), Jon Elster sprang to the fore as an exciting exponent. His gifts for simplifying technicalities, for novel applications and for scholarly connections have helped to spread the word across many disciplines. His rampant individualism – the conviction that ...

Proverbs

William Ian Miller: Jon Elster, 10 August 2000

Alchemies of the Mind: Rationality and the Emotions 
by Jon Elster.
Cambridge, 450 pp., £14.95, March 1999, 0 521 64487 9
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... phases? Did Shakespeare say to himself: ‘No way I can beat Hamlet, so why write again?’ Jon Elster wrote two gems in the 1970s and 1980s, Ulysses and the Sirens and Sour Grapes. Not that they have deterred him from publishing at a stupendous rate since, though he has never recaptured that earlier refulgence. In Alchemies of the Mind, he ...

Happiness and Joe Higgins

Brian Barry, 20 October 1983

Explaining Technical Change: A Case-Study in the Philosophy of Science 
by Jon Elster.
Cambridge, 273 pp., £22.50, June 1983, 0 521 27072 3
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Sour Grapes: Studies in the Subversion of Rationality 
by Jon Elster.
Cambridge, 177 pp., £17.50, June 1983, 9780521252300
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... Jon Elster needs, as they say, no introduction to regular readers of the London Review, who will be familiar not only with his name but also with the cast of his mind and the breadth of his interests. What makes him distinctive is a combination of philosophical acuity and detailed attention to contemporary work in history, the social sciences and cognitive psychology ...

Can Marxism be rescued?

Alan Ryan, 17 September 1987

An Introduction to Karl Marx 
by Jon Elster.
Cambridge, 220 pp., £5.95, October 1986, 0 521 32922 1
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Making sense of Marx 
by Jon Elster.
Cambridge, 556 pp., £32.50, May 1985, 0 521 22896 4
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Analytical Marxism 
edited by John Roemer.
Cambridge, 321 pp., £27.50, March 1986, 0 521 30025 8
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... clearly, and defended in the plainest prose. Lest that give the impression that Jerry Cohen, Jon Elster and John Roemer see themselves as Marxists first and philosophers second, it must at once be said that their work is remarkable for the unflinching way in which they throw out whatever won’t pass a dispassionate scrutiny. ...

Double Brains

P.W. Atkins, 19 May 1988

Medicine, Mind and the Double Brain 
by Anne Harrington.
Princeton, 336 pp., £24.70, November 1987, 0 691 08332 0
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The Multiple Self 
edited by Jon Elster.
Cambridge, 269 pp., £9.95, September 1987, 0 521 34683 5
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Memory 
by Mary Warnock.
Faber, 150 pp., £11.95, October 1987, 0 571 14783 6
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... a turbulent childhood who became a modest and engaging young gentleman when strapped to a magnet. Jon Elster’s wide-ranging series of essays, now issued in paperback, deals with normal man. The Multiple Self considers the question of whether the normal self is a unity, or whether it should be regarded, in some non-metaphorical sense, as divided. Just ...
Plausible Worlds: Possibility and Understanding in History and the Social Sciences 
by Geoffrey Hawthorn.
Cambridge, 192 pp., £27.50, September 1991, 0 521 40359 6
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New Philosophy of Social Science: Problems of Indeterminacy 
by James Bohman.
Polity, 273 pp., £35, October 1991, 0 7456 0632 6
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... which for most common-sense analysts would entail rejecting all counter-factuals. More usefully, Jon Elster proposed that a valid counter-factual had to develop consistently out of a single historical branching-point: ‘the alternative state,’ he argued, had to ‘be capable of insertion into the real past’ (Logic and Society, 1978). Hawthorn ...

Grand Theories

W.G. Runciman, 17 October 1985

The Return of Grand Theory in the Human Sciences 
edited by Quentin Skinner.
Cambridge, 215 pp., £17.50, July 1985, 0 521 26692 0
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Classes 
by Erik Olin Wright.
Verso, 344 pp., £20, September 1985, 0 86091 104 7
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Powers and Liberties: The Causes and Consequences of the Rise of the West 
by John Hall.
Blackwell, 282 pp., £19.50, September 1985, 0 631 14542 7
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... on John Roemer’s A General (Grand?) Theory of Exploitation and Class (reviewed here by Jon Elster on 20 October 1983). The definition enables him to salvage, as it were, the proletariat of advanced capitalist societies, since it follows from it that the ‘working’ class is still much the largest component of the labour force even in Sweden ...

Knowledge

Ian Hacking, 18 December 1986

How institutions think 
by Mary Douglas.
Syracuse, 146 pp., $19.95, July 1986, 0 8156 2369 0
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... be logically sound. To this end she takes a formal characterisation of functional explanation from Jon Elster. Because it is not easy to grasp abstractly, I’ll venture a colourful example. A well-known phenomenon of the British Dominions up to 1939 was the remittance man. English sons who fell out with their fathers due to ...

Economic Performance

Sydney Checkland, 19 April 1984

The Victorian Economy 
by François Crouzet, translated by Anthony Forster.
Methuen, 430 pp., £18, June 1982, 0 416 31110 5
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British Economic Growth 1856-1973 
by R.C.O. Matthews, C.H. Feinstein and J.C. Odling-Smee.
Oxford, 712 pp., £37.50, October 1982, 0 19 828453 5
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The Cambridge Economic History of Europe. Vol. VII: The Industrial Economies: Capital, Labour and Enterprise 
edited by Peter Mathias.
Cambridge, 832 pp., £13.50, June 1982, 0 521 28800 2
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... new ‘connections’ between phenomena, and indeed ‘connections between connections’ (as Jon Elster described it, LRB, Vol. 4, No 17). These bridging speculations perform their magic either by deliberately leaving to others the challenge of overall integration on a national scale, or by denying its necessity. Moreover the desire to ...

Iwo Jima v. Abu Ghraib

David Simpson: The iconic image, 29 November 2007

No Caption Needed: Iconic Photographs, Public Culture and Liberal Democracy 
by Robert Hariman and John Louis Lucaites.
Chicago, 419 pp., £19, June 2007, 978 0 226 31606 2
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... debate conducted by empowered citizens, of the sort championed by political scientists like Jon Elster and Amy Gutmann, and the consumption of patriotic propaganda in the interests of the state. Hariman and Lucaites look back with some nostalgia to the ‘good war’ and its flag-raising as a high point of American public culture. They recognise ...

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