Philosophy

Excerpt: A Significant Life

April 3, 2015
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Excerpt: A Significant Life

  “A Meaningful Life” An excerpt from A Significant Life: Human Meaning in a Silent Universe by Todd May *** Let us start with a question. What does it mean to ask about the meaningfulness of life? It seems a simple question, but there are many ways to inflect it. We might ask,“What is the meaning of life?” Or we could ask it in the plural: “What are the meanings of life?” If we put the question either of these ways, we seem to be asking for a something orsomethings, a what that gives a human life its meaningfulness. The universe is thought or hoped to contain something—a meaning—that is the point of our being alive. If the universe contains a meaning, then the task for us becomes one of discovery. It is built into the universe, part of its structure. In the image that some philosophers like to use, it is part of the “furniture” of the universe. When we say that the meaning of life is independent of us—that is, independent of what any of us happens to believe about it—we do not need to believe that there would be a meaning to our lives even if none . . .

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2015 PROSE Awards

February 20, 2015
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2015 PROSE Awards

Now in their 39th year, the PROSE Awards honor “the very best in professional and scholarly publishing by bringing attention to distinguished books, journals, and electronic content in over 40 categories,” as determined by a jury of peer publishers, librarians, and medical professionals. As is the usual case with this kind of acknowledgement, we are honored and delighted to share several University of Chicago Press books that were singled-out in their respective categories as winners or runners-up for the 2015 PROSE Awards. *** Kurt Schwitters: Space, Image, Exile By Megan R. Luke Art History, Honorable Mention *** House of Debt: How They (and You) Caused the Great Recession, and How We Can Prevent It from Happening Again By Atif Mian and Amir Sufi Economics, Honorable Mention *** American School Reform: What Works, What Fails, and Why By Joseph P. McDonald Winner, Education Practice *** The Public School Advantage: Why Public Schools Outperform Private Schools By Christopher A. Lubienski and Sarah Theule Lubienski Winner, Education Theory *** Earth’s Deep History: How It Was Discovered and Why It Matters By Martin J. S. Rudwick Honorable Mention, History of STM *** The Selected Poetry of Pier Paolo Pasolini: A Bilingual Edition By Pier Paolo . . .

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Ted Cohen (1939–2014)

March 21, 2014
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Ted Cohen (1939–2014)

Ted Cohen, legendary professor at the University of Chicago and scholar of aesthetic philosophy, whose expertise included, “jokes, baseball, television, photography, painting and sculpture, as well as the philosophy of language and formal logic,” passed away last Friday at age 74. From the University of Chicago News: While some philosophers aim to construct large-scale theories, others “look with a very fine, acute eye at specific phenomena and work from the example outwards, beginning with the ordinary and exposing the extraordinary within it,” said Cohen’s longtime friend and colleague Josef Stern. “Ted was that kind of philosopher.” From the Chicago Maroon: Many students remembered him as an expert in his field and an excellent professor, always welcoming others’ insight and connecting his rambling anecdotes back to the text. The “classic image” of him smoking outside of Harper Memorial Library wearing a red beret will also be a part of that memory, said fourth-year Julie Huh. “His presence exuded such nonchalance, and he always took his time with his cigarette outside Harper.” We remember Ted Cohen as the author of Jokes: Philosophical Thoughts on Joking Matters (1999) and contributor to The Great Latke–Hamentash Debate (2005), the latter of which chronicles the event . . .

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Excerpt: Robert B. Pippin’s After the Beautiful

January 23, 2014
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Excerpt: Robert B. Pippin’s After the Beautiful

Excerpt from After the Beautiful: Hegel and the Philosophy of Pictorial Modernism by Robert B. Pippin There are many reasons to be skeptical that anything of value can result from trying to project Hegel into the future like this. After all, anyone who has heard anything about Hegel has probably heard that he said two things: that philosophy was its own time understood in thought, and some summary of the following remarks. In all these respects art, considered in its highest vocation, is and remains for us a thing of the past. Thereby it has lost for us genuine truth and life, and has rather been transferred into our ideas instead of maintaining its earlier necessity in reality and occupying its higher place. What is now aroused in us by works of art is not just immediate enjoyment but our judgment also, since we subject to our intellectual consideration (i) the content of art, and (ii) the work of art’s means of presentation, and the appropriateness or inappropriateness of both to one another. The philosophy of art is therefore a greater need in our day than it was in days when art by itself as art yielded full satisfaction. Art . . .

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Excerpt: Contesting Nietzsche

December 2, 2013
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Excerpt: Contesting Nietzsche

An excerpt from Contesting Nietzsche by Christa Davis Acampora *** Homer is Nietzsche’s exemplar for two key crucial concerns throughout his works: creativity and power. The potency of Homer’s poetic transformation of human toil and struggle both fascinated and spurred Nietzsche to try to capture and command the same kind of force. Nietzsche’s Homer is not simply the founder of a certain form of culture; he is a revolutionary, a reformer, someone who effects a tremendous revaluation. Thus, it is important in Nietzsche’s account that Homer is late. Here, late means that Nietzsche regards the emergence of what is classically considered Homeric as standing at the end of a significant period of cultural development rather than at the beginning. Nietzsche regards Homer as having overcome dominant cultural traditions that developed prior to his arrival on the scene. Thus, he considers Homeric literature to be a late development in Greek culture rather than its founding moment. The life of struggle, previously portrayed by Hesiod as a kind of punishment for all . . .

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Bernard E. Harcourt, from Occupy Wall Street

November 20, 2013
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Bernard E. Harcourt, from Occupy Wall Street

Compelled by the title of Bernard E. Harcourt’s upcoming talk (tomorrow) at Yale University— “So Michel Foucault and Gary Becker Walk into a Bar. . . .  A Lecture and Conversation with Bernard Harcourt on Punishment, Sexual Capital, and Neoliberalism”—we remembered a passage of his from Occupy: Three Inquiries In Disobedience. “We the People”: Myth and Democratic Challenge Judith Butler said, at Occupy Wall Street, “We’re standing here together making democracy, enacting the phrase ‘We the people!'” A bold statement—indeed, a real reappropriation that raises deep questions about this collective myth. In an odd way, it almost feels as if the Occupy movement had it harder than other contemporary resistance movements—dare I say, harder than even the Arab Spring revolutions. To be sure, the resisters in the Arab world faced (and may still face today) brutal authoritarian regimes. They risked, and in many cases lost, their lives. Their unmatched courage has been an inspiration around the world. On that count, they have stared down a far more violent and oppressive adversary than anyone else. But they had one. They had an identifiable adversary—oppressive and authoritarian regimes—that they could target and topple. They had and have a concrete goal, grievances, an objective, . . .

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The Idea of Nature, the Nature of Ideas

July 17, 2013
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The Idea of Nature, the Nature of Ideas

Guest blogger: Ryo Yamaguchi It is hard to imagine the world—or ourselves for that matter —without DNA, but for most of our intellectual history we knew nothing about those slender molecules. The modern microscope was invented near the beginning of the seventeenth century, with Friedrich Miescher isolating DNA in the late nineteenth, and between those times theories regarding biological formation and reproduction were explored by Enlightenment thinkers and scientists such as John Locke, Anton van Leeuwenhoek, Carl Linnaeus, and Comte de Buffon. We overlook it now as common knowledge, but biological reproduction was something these people had to think through, to explain without DNA, and the debates between concepts such as God, mechanics, fermentation, homunculi—and how they could inform life’s larger lineages, of the differences between species, of a natural history as a whole—abounded. Enter Immanuel Kant. Many of us do not think of Kant as a biologist, but he was deeply interested in natural history throughout his career, an interest that Jennifer Mensch takes up in Kant’s Organicism, published last month. Situating Kant among the above thinkers, she shows not only that Kant had theories of his own on the generation of life but that he applied these theories . . .

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PODCASTS: A not-quite episodic series

February 7, 2013
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PODCASTS: A not-quite episodic series

The phonograph predates the podcast by about 125 years, but theoretically any device used to reproduce sound could carry the moniker. So we say: ready your zonographs and talking machines—as part of our ongoing podcast series, hosted by Chris Gondek of Heron & Crane, we’re delivering a fresh batch from some of our Fall 2012 and Spring 2013 favorites. More information and links for listening below. *** Stephen T. Asma’s Against Fairness vindicates our unspoken and undeniable instinct to favor—and makes the case for favoring favoritism, so to speak. In this podcast interview, Asma considers where preferential bias fits in our utilitarian construction of fairness—and what this might have to say about our larger ethical worldview. The job of the philosopher, the evolutionary advantages of favoritism, Confucian thought, quotable Gandhi, the multinational politics of maternity leave, and the ideology of equality all make an appearance in a larger discussion about what might lead us to happier, more productive lives. Listen to the podcast here. *** First Son: The Biography of Richard M. Daley has already been heralded by Publishers Weekly as “compelling,” “dynamic,” “highly focused” and “meticulous.” In his discussion of the sometimes Shakespearean, sometimes Machiavellian life of the American . . .

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Joseph Cropsey, political philosopher (1919-2012)

July 9, 2012
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Joseph Cropsey, political philosopher (1919-2012)

Joseph Cropsey—American political philosopher; distinguished service professor emeritus in the Department of Political Science at the University of Chicago; dedicated teacher; and coeditor of the “Strauss–Cropsey Reader” (History of Political Philosophy), a staple in universities for fifty years—died last week at the age of 92. Cropsey completed his PhD in economics at Columbia University in 1952, with a dissertation on the work of Adam Smith, one of his lifelong scholarly interests (in addition to interstitial aspects in the works of Plato and Karl Marx, the figure of Socrates and issues of philosophical sobriety, and the limitations and entrapments of modern liberalism). By 1957, Cropsey was at the University of Chicago (after stints at the CCNY and the New School) as a Rockefeller Foundation Fellow, following Leo Strauss, who would become his most significant collaborator, and assist in his intellectual turn from economics to political philosphy. The University of Chicago News Office reports on their intellectual partnership: Strauss encouraged Cropsey to examine texts deeply. “When Strauss was at the head of his class, sitting up there, he would at a certain point say, ‘What does this mean?’ When I have to deal with a text of Plato, I have constantly to be asking . . .

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In Search of Goodness

March 31, 2011
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In Search of Goodness

“Be good and you will be lonesome.”—Mark Twain What constitutes goodness? For Twain, there’s humor in how we uphold the idea of the “good” alongside an exalted code of social behavior. Follow it too righteously and you might miss out on the fun, something quite literally suggested by Katharine Hepburn in an often-quoted line: “If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun.” But is goodness really about the nature of our actions? What does a good life look like? How does one become good? And how is a good life involved with the lives of others? In Search of Goodness, a new collection edited by Ruth W. Grant, grapples with just these questions. Contributors explore the concept of the good from diverse angles and multiple approaches, from film and literature to cognitive psychology and moral philosophy, all while enlisting a cast of characters that includes Billy Budd, Shel Silverstein, Iris Murdoch, Achilles, and Oskar Schindler, among others. In Search of Goodness problematizes the dichotomies that have long governed our discussions of the good while at the same time offering an array of insights which help us to understand this complex ideal. Grant, a professor of political science . . .

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