Themes

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 221

Thomas Sowell, author of A Conflict of Visions (published in 1967), is a political economist and philosopher. He is a polymath in the strict sense of the word; a member of the conservative think tank, The Hoover Institution, Sowell has published several books on economics (Knowledge and Decisions, 1980) and behavioral psychology (The Einstein Syndrome, 2002).

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Sowell's argument is that most political and economic discussions arise from dichotomous views on human nature. The "unconstrained" relies on reason, and integrates a natural, liberal concern for the greater good. The "constrained" view, on the other hand, places emphasis on the individual and experience, and affords little room for altruism.

The theme of trade-offs is important within the framework of the constrained vision versus the unconstrained one. For example, "trade-offs freely accepted are essentially solutions" says the unconstrained vision (107). "Trade-offs" are considered the lesser of two evils by the constrained vision. Those arguing for an unconstrained vision don't see trade-offs as necessary, whereas those with a constrained vision see no alternative to them.

Human nature is another touchstone topic in A Conflict of Visions. The two worldviews delineated by the book are based on fundamentally different appraisals of human nature. One (constrained) is inherently limited intellectually and morally, and another (unconstrained) believes that mankind is benevolent and that institutions generally impose unnecessary and counterproductive restrictions on mankind.

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