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The Ashtray


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About the Author

Errol Morris is a director of films, primarily documentaries, including The Thin Blue Line; Gates of Heaven; Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control; and The Fog of War, which won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature for 2003.


"A scrappy continuation of Morris's disagreement with Kuhn and an explanation of why he thinks Kuhn's ideas, which bear a certain resemblance to Berkeley's, are so pernicious. . . . The Ashtray strikes me as an unlikely source for reaching a better understanding of Kuhn.; Morris dislikes him too much and can't be trusted not to stack the deck against him. He ignores, for example, the excellent arguments against Whiggishness as a form of propaganda used to justify the historical dominance of Westerners over the rest of the world. But the book is a marvelous tool for the better understanding of Errol Morris, who is both a great artist and a fascinating individual in his own right."
--Laura Miller "Slate"
"A wonderful read, combining memoir, epistemological reflection, the ethnography of academic philosophy -and confession of faith. The Ashtray will provoke and stimulate any serious reader, but it will provide particular insights for anyone familiar with Morris's important films."
--Charles E. Rosenberg, Harvard University "Fortean Times"
"Errol Morris is a remarkable documentary film maker. He pursues his craft in the conviction that there is truth to be found and that creative and determined efforts will uncover it. In this extraordinary book, Morris explores his animating philosophical commitments about truth, reality, and knowledge. He presents his outlook in sharp opposition to ideas about relativism and incommensurability that he associates with Thomas Kuhn's profoundly influential The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Morris's book is entertaining and engaging, but above all else it offers us a compelling exploration of the value of truth."--Joshua Cohen, Apple University "Fortean Times"
"Is truth real or is it a matter of opinion? That is the question Errol Morris ponders in this fascinating book. His argument for the reality of truth is compelling, informative, and lively. And there's another powerful lesson in it that goes far beyond the seemingly abstract philosophical issues: We escape the bubble of relativism precisely when we reach out to other human beings, when we care about something more than the 'little me, ' when we offer the world our love--as Morris has done with his inspiring films, and now with this book."
--Edward Frenkel, University of California, Berkeley, author of Love and Math "Fortean Times"
"Many readers will know Errol Morris for his superb films that have won an Academy Award and other high honors. He has given us a book of the same quality and importance. It is a sustained argument in defense of Truth and Reality. At the same time, it is the story of a life in passionate pursuit of these vital ideas, not as distant abstractions but as things that actually exist in the world and demand our respect. It is about time! In an era of false news in our media, pseudo facts in politics, and political correctness in academe, no cause is more urgent than the cause of Truth and Reality."
--David Hackett Fischer, Brandeis University "Fortean Times"
"Oscar-winning filmmaker Morris was once a graduate student under philosopher Thomas Kuhn, author of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, and this intimate analysis of flaws in that 1962 treatise is driven by Morris's smart, conversational tone. . . . Throughout the heady discussion, Kuhn's cantankerous personality is revealed: he once threw an ashtray at Morris, who is responding--albeit 45 years later--by lobbing this combative tome into the academic and practical world."
--Laura Miller "Publishers Weekly, starred review"
"The documentarian Errol Morris gives us The Ashtray, a semi-autobiographical tale of the supremely influential The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas S. Kuhn. A spellbinding intellectual adventure into the limits, fragility, and infirmity of human reason. Morris's tale is picaresque. Anecdotes, cameos, interviews, historical digressions, sly side notes, and striking illustrations hang off a central spine that recounts critical episodes in the history of analytic philosophy."
--Laura Miller "Boston Review"
"What is it about philosophers? A more fissiparous bunch it would be hard to find: if they aren't threatening each other with pokers, they are flinging ashtrays at each other's heads. . . . The Ashtray is passionate, polemical and defiantly written in chatty, accessible language with copious amusing footnotes. Frequently scabrous, Morris acknowledges that it could be seen as a vendetta, and freely admits that it is, as he views Kuhn's idea of the social construction of knowledge as pernicious and disturbing. As befits a man whose life has been dedicated to documentary films, Morris sets great store by the existence of an objective truth, and this book is his passionate defence of that truth. . . . I found this all rather enjoyable. If you want an opinionated, impolite page-turner picking a fight with half of the modern philosophy of science, this is definitely the book for you."
--Laura Miller "Fortean Times"

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