Philosophy

Edith Wyschogrod, 1930–2009

August 25, 2009
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Edith Wyschogrod, 1930–2009

Edith Wyschogrod, an influential philosopher of religion and Press author, died on July 16 at the age of 79. Over the years, the Press published two of her books, as well as an essay on value in Critical Terms for Religious Studies. Her Saints and Postmodernism was a key book in our Religion and Postmodernism series. Mark C. Taylor, a long-time Press author, was close friends with Wyschogrod for more than three decades. We asked him for his remembrance of this extraordinary woman, and he offered this thoughtful memorial. To speak from the burial place is to inhabit a terrain that is not a terrain, an exteriority that is the non-place of ethics, the “space” of authorization of historical narrative.—Edith Wyschogrod, An Ethics of Remembering Edith Wyschogrod now speaks to us from the burial place—speaks to us from the non-place of ethics she probed so thoughtfully, speaks to us of spirit and ashes, saints and terrorists, calculation and the incalculable, memory and forgetfulness. Memory and forgetting she taught us are never innocent but are ethical acts for which each individual must take responsibility. How to remember? How to forget? I first met Edith over thirty years ago and for the . . .

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What the Lincoln-Douglas debates mean

July 17, 2009
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What the Lincoln-Douglas debates mean

Harry V. Jaffa’s Crisis of the House Divided: An Interpretation of the Issues in the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, first published in 1959, has long been regarded as the standard historiography of the pivotal 1858 debates between Abraham Lincoln during his candidacy for the U.S. Senate and Democratic incumbent Stephen A. Douglas on the issue of slavery. And in honor of the fiftieth anniversary of the book’s publication, the University of Chicago Press has just reissued a new edition of Jaffa’s classic work, acknowledged today by Forbes magazine columnist Peter Robinson in an article that quotes Jaffa himself to demonstrate how the debates “turned on issues that were present at the very founding of western civilization—and that we must face again today.” In the article Jaffa argues that “the issue between Lincoln and Douglas was identical to the issue between Socrates and Thrasymachus in the first book of Plato’s Republic.” Just as Thrasymachus argues that justice “possesses no independent or objective standing” and is at the mercy of those in power, so too did Douglas argue that “the citizens of Kansas or Nebraska could make slavery acceptable in their states simply by voting in favor of it.” The article continues: Lincoln considered . . .

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Animals can tell right from wrong

May 29, 2009
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Animals can tell right from wrong

The research reported in Marc Bekoff and Jessica Pierce’s provocative book Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals is getting coverage around the world. Bekoff and Pierce argue that animals can act with compassion, altruism, and empathy. Rats, for instance, will not take food if their actions will cause visible pain to another rat. In a chimpanzee group in a Florida zoo, a chimp handicapped by cerebral palsy is rarely subjected to displays of aggression by other males. Elephants help injured or ill members of their herd, and have even show such compassion for members of other species. Feature articles about the claims made in the book have appeared recently in Australia in The Age (“Puppies may share our moral conscience“), in the UK (from whence we took our title) in the Daily Telegraph and in the Daily Mail, and closer to home in the less-whimsical Denver Post (“Canine emotions raise theological questions.”) Read an excerpt from the book and treat the animals you meet with new respect. . . .

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Press Release: Gere, Knossos and the Prophets of Modernism

May 21, 2009
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Press Release: Gere, Knossos and the Prophets of Modernism

Throughout human history, people have looked to the ancient world for lost knowledge and timeless wisdom—perhaps never more so than in the aftermath of World War I, whose swathe of devastation left millions dead and the Enlightenment dream in ruins. So when British archaeologist Arthur Evans began publishing breathless accounts of the ancient Minoan civilization he was uncovering on Crete—pagan, pacifistic, and matriarchal—it fired the imaginations of a whole generation of artists and intellectuals. With Knossos and the Prophets of Modernism, Cathy Gere tells the story of Evans’s excavations and their wide-ranging influence on the world of Western ideas. Over the first three decades of the twentieth century, Evans’s fanciful depiction of Minoan society drew the fervent attention of writers, artists, and thinkers who were at the forefront of the burgeoning modernist movement, including Robert Graves, H.D., Girgio de Chirico, Sigmund Freud, and James Joyce. As Gere traces the unexpected paths of Evans’s ideas through the lives and works of these figures, what emerges is an unforgettable portrait of an age of wrenching change—and of those who responded to it with intellectual vigor and fervid innovation. Read the press release. . . .

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Do animals have moral intelligence?

May 12, 2009
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Do animals have moral intelligence?

Last week the Boulder newspaper The Daily Camera published an interesting article about Marc Bekoff and Jessica Pierce’s provocative new book Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals. The review begins: waste no time in getting to the point: “(W)e argue that animals feel empathy for each other, treat one another fairly, cooperate toward common goals, and help each other out of trouble,” they write in the first sentence. “We argue, in short, that animals have morality.” Advancing bioethicist’s arguments about the moral treatment of animals to posit animals themselves as moral agents, the author’s place moral behavior firmly within an evolutionary context demonstrating how a variety of species are in fact incredibly adept social beings, relying on rules of conduct to navigate intricate social networks that are essential to their survival. The Daily Camera‘s Clay Evans continues: Most of the species examined by the authors are notably “intelligent” and social. Hyenas, wolves, elephants and primates predominate, though other, “lesser” species like rats have their moments on stage. Bekoff is always a pleasant read, but the book’s tales of animal cooperation will bring a smile to many readers’ faces (or a tear to their eyes).… For readers hardened . . .

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Press Release: Brague, The Legend of the Middle Ages

April 20, 2009
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Press Release: Brague, The Legend of the Middle Ages

For decades now, in volume after volume, the celebrated French thinker Rémi Brague has delved deep into the past and emerged, again and again, with fresh insights that sharply illuminate the present. In his acclaimed The Wisdom of the World, for example, Brague showed how modernity stripped the universe of its ethical and sacred wisdom. The Law of God, his last work, added depth and context to current debates about God’s role in worldly affairs. And now, The Legend of the Middle Ages proceeds in Brague’s characteristically brilliant style to unknot the long-tangled strands of our ideas about this misunderstood age. Recently, the Middle Ages have emerged as the model for a harmonious future—a time when different religions and cultures peacefully coexisted and exchanged ideas. This legend, Brague argues, comes no closer to telling the full story than the Enlightenment-era portrayal of the Middle Ages as a benighted past from which the West had to evolve. Here, in a penetrating interview and sixteen essays, he marshals nuanced readings of medieval religion and philosophy to reconstruct the true character of this complicated and intellectually rich period. Brague’s vibrant portrait—of an age neither dark nor devoid of conflict—not only makes for compelling . . .

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Press Release: Hickey, The Invisible Dragon

April 2, 2009
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Press Release: Hickey, The Invisible Dragon

In 1993, Dave Hickey published a sharply opinionated book on art called The Invisible Dragon. It was a small volume, but the response was outsized—and, in many cases, outraged. While artists flocked to it, drawn by its forceful call for attention to beauty, huge numbers of more theoretically oriented professional critics absolutely savaged it, calling Hickey everything from naïve to reactionary. Sixteen years later, Hickey’s back—and time hasn’t dulled his edge. With this new edition of The Invisible Dragon, Hickey has both revised and dramatically expanded his controversial book, addressing his critics and supporters both, while simultaneously placing the book—and the reactions it provoked—firmly in the context of larger cultural battles of the time. Bringing the works of Warhol, Raphael, Caravaggio, and Mapplethorpe to bear on the current situation of contemporary art, museum culture, and art criticism, Hickey argues powerfully for a renewed attention to the inherently democratic—and thus essential—concept of beauty. Writing with a liveliness and excitement rarely seen in serious criticism, Hickey invests The Invisible Dragon with the passion and drama that lie at the heart of great art. Read the press release. . . .

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Rehabilitating intellectualism

March 31, 2009
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Rehabilitating intellectualism

For the past eight years the term “intellectual” has been frequently interpreted by the media as a piece of anti-populist or elitist rhetoric. But in a recent article for the New Republic Ross Posnock notes that Obama’s presidency has rehabilitated the term as one of praise rather than opprobrium, and with it interest in the history of black intellectualism in America. Tapping into this renewed interest, Posnock cites Leonard Harris and Charles Molesworth’s new book, Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher for its revealing look at the life and thought of its highly influential, yet often neglected subject. Inheriting the role of the leading spokesperson for black intellectualism from such figures as Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Boise, the authors show how Alain L. Locke both continued their legacy of leadership but also vitally updated the role. Posnock writes: Harris and Molesworth’s book “brings alive distinctive fashioning of the role of black intellectual” demonstrating his unique ability to operate as “a race man,” but also as “an apolitical aesthete,” keeping “up the pressure on both roles, as his thought continually refined itself and deepened.” Thus, expanding the influence of black intellectuals in American culture Harris and . . .

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The untold story of an influential African American intellectual

February 6, 2009
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The untold story of an influential African American intellectual

Black History Month offers an occasion to highlight some the nation’s most influential African-American scholars, activists, and leaders. Mostly, the focus is on the usual list of iconic figures—Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, and now, Barack Obama. But this year authors Leonard Harris and Charles Molesworth offer a timely tribute to one of the lesser known, yet most influential African American intellectuals of the twentieth century with their new book, Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher. A fascinating look at the life of a man often called the “father of the Harlem Renaissance” and whom the authors dub “the most influential African American intellectual born between W.E.B. Du Bois and Martin Luther King, Jr.,” as book critic Carlin Romano writes in his review for the Philadelphia Inquirer, the untold story of Locke’s profound impact on twentieth-century American culture and thought has been long overdue. From the review: This long-overdue book—astoundingly, the first full biography ever of a thinker for whom schools, prizes and societies across America are named—closes a project decided to do together after originally embarking on separate lives of their subject. Why has it taken so long for a definitive biography of Locke . . .

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John Patrick Diggins, 1936-2009

January 30, 2009
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John Patrick Diggins, 1936-2009

The New York Times reports today that intellectual historian and author John Patrick Diggins passed away Wednesday in Manhattan at the age of 73. Diggins—whose scholarly work encompassed the breadth of American political thought from “the signing of the Declaration of Independence to the present day”—was known for his “provocative, revisionist approach to the history of the American left and right.” The NYT notes that “he nourished a sneaking fondness for the Lyrical Left but declared Ronald Reagan to be ‘one of the two or three truly great presidents in history.'” The NYT article continues: “The tension between liberal ideals, pragmatism and authority ran like a leitmotif through books like The Lost Soul of American Politics: Virtue, Self-Interest and the Foundation of Liberalism, The Promise of Pragmatism: Modernism and the Crisis of Knowledge and Authority and Eugene O’Neill’s America: Desire Under Democracy“—all of which the University of Chicago Press is honored to have published. . . .

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