Misreading Oakeshott

Here John Gray does it:

"or a sceptical view of the power of human reason (as in David Hume and Michael Oakeshott), conservatives distrusted any attempt to remake the world according to the dictates of high-minded ideals and abstract models."

This is a common mistake made by people who do not understand Oakeshott was an idealist philosopher. Oakeshott was not "sceptical" about human reason. He did not say that rationalism is good reasoning, but still even the best reasoning comes up short of the mark. To the contrary, what he said was that rationalism is irrational. It is an attempt to replace concrete thinking with reasoning that is abstract, and therefore partial and defective.

An analogy: imagine that some people's image of top notch free throw shooting was formed by watching Andre Drummond. They tell everyone, "The way to shoot free throws is the Andre Drummond way." Now Oakeshott comes along and says, "No, that way is nonsense: he gets terrible results."

And, as a result, the Drummond people reply, "Ah, so Oakeshott is skeptical of human's ability to shoot free throws!"


  1. The data shows that people with a higher-arched shot get better results. Clearly, then, the best way to shoot free throws will involve throwing the ball as high as possible.


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