Ernest Gellner  

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'Paris,' said Gellner, 'is the world capital of obscurity. The production of obscurity in Paris compares to the production of motor cars in Detroit in the great period of American industry.'

‘Why then,’ asked the chairman Colin MacCabe, 'have Foucault, Derrida, Barthes et al. been so influential all over the world?' 'Because,' replied the imperturbable Gellner, 'there is a demand for obscurity.' At this, MacCabe turned helplessly to Dr George Steiner. 'I don’t think Ernest means that' said the good Doctor benignly . 'I do.' replied Gellner and rested his case. (Naughton, J. (1992) 'Admiral Plays a Blinder', The Observer 18 October.)

--Popularizing Anthropology (2002) by Jeremy McClancy, ‎Christian McDonaugh

"A cleric who loses his faith abandons his calling; a philosopher who loses his redefines his subject".-- Words and Things (1959) by Ernest Gellner

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Ernest André Gellner (9 December 1925 – 5 November 1995) was a British-Czech philosopher and social anthropologist, described by The Daily Telegraph when he died as one of the world's most vigorous intellectuals and by The Independent as a "one-man crusade for critical rationalism."

His first book, Words and Things (1959) prompted a leader in The Times and a month-long correspondence on its letters page over his attack on linguistic philosophy. As the Professor of Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method at the London School of Economics for 22 years, the William Wyse Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Cambridge for eight, and finally as head of the new Centre for the Study of Nationalism in Prague, Gellner fought all his life—in his writing, his teaching, and through his political activism—against what he saw as closed systems of thought, particularly communism, psychoanalysis, relativism, and the dictatorship of the free market. Among other issues in social thought, the modernization of society and nationalism were two of his central themes, his multicultural perspective allowing him to work within the subject-matter of three separate civilizations—the Western, Islamic, and Russian.

Selected works


  • Words and Things, A Critical Account of Linguistic Philosophy and a Study in Ideology, London: Gollancz; Boston: Beacon (1959). Also see correspondence in The Times, 10 November to 23 November 1959.
  • Thought and Change (1964)
  • Saints of the Atlas (1969)
  • Contemporary Thought and Politics (1974)
  • The Devil in Modern Philosophy (1974)
  • Legitimation of Belief (1974)
  • Spectacles and Predicaments (1979)
  • Soviet and Western Anthropology (1980) (editor)
  • Muslim Society (1981)
  • Nations and Nationalism (1983)
  • Relativism and the Social Sciences (1985)
  • The Psychoanalytic Movement (1985)
  • The Concept of Kinship and Other Essays (1986)
  • Culture, Identity and Politics (1987)
  • State and Society in Soviet Thought (1988)
  • Plough, Sword and Book (1988)
  • Postmodernism, Reason and Religion (1992)
  • Conditions of Liberty (1994)
  • Anthropology and Politics: Revolutions in the Sacred Grove (1995)
  • Nationalism (1997)
  • Language and Solitude: Wittgenstein, Malinowski and the Habsburg Dilemma (1998)

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