Philosophy

Review: Kripal, Esalen

March 8, 2007
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Review: Kripal, Esalen

Situated along the picturesque coastline of Big Sur California, the Esalen institute has long been a world leader in alternative and experiential education—on the cutting edge of everything from Zen to hallucinogenics. Attracting such luminaries as Henry Miller, Joseph Campbell, Aldous Huxley, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and Hunter S. Thompson, the institute has had a profound influence on the American counterculture ever since it was first conceived by maverick intellectuals Michael Murphy and Richard Price in the early ’60s. Forthcoming from author Jeffery Kripal, Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion is a highly readable and entertaining account of the institute and the unique synthesis of religion, science, and philosophy envisioned by its leaders. Here’s an excerpt from an advance review in last month’s Publishers Weekly to whet your appetite for Kripal’s revealing new look at one of the most important hothouses of America’s counterculture: Many readers will probably not have heard of Esalen—but that doesn’t mean they wont find its history fascinating. Kripal, a professor of religious studies at Rice University, tells the story of this beautiful retreat in California’s Big Sur region—its history at once sexy, salacious, intellectual, and political—with reverence and playfulness, alternating between the hushed . . .

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Eddie Glaude on the Tavis Smiley Show

March 7, 2007
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Eddie Glaude on the Tavis Smiley Show

Eddie S. Glaude Jr., author and Princeton University professor of religious studies, was featured on the Tavis Smiley Show last weekend discussing “how his new book, In a Shade of Blue: Pragmatism and the Politics of Black America, offers a starting point for examining the upcoming election season through the eyes of African Americans.” You can listen to archived audio from the program online at the Tavis Smiley Show website. With In a Shade of Blue Glaude, one of our nation’s rising young African American intellectuals, makes an impassioned plea for black America to address its social problems by recourse to experience and with an eye set on the promise and potential of the future, rather than the fixed ideas and categories of the past. Heady, inspirational, and brimming with practical wisdom, this timely book is a remarkable work of political commentary on a scale rarely seen today. To follow its trajectory is to learn how African Americans arrived at this critical moment in their history and to envision where they might head in the twenty-first century. Read an excerpt. . . .

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Review: Kuzniar, Melancholia’s Dog

February 27, 2007
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Review: Kuzniar, Melancholia’s Dog

A recent review by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas in the February 22 London Review of Books begins by noting the fact that “the dog/human bond, for all its importance, is one of the least examined relationships in Western culture.” And indeed, though the attachment between dogs and their human companions plays an important role in the lives of millions of Americans, “dogs have never been considered an appropriate subject for serious scholarship.” Alice Kuzniar’s new book Melancholia’s Dog: Reflections on Our Animal Kinship promises to change that. Moving beyond the stereotypes that confine discussion of the dog/human relationships to “lowbrow, popular media and arts,” as LRB notes, “this is probably the first time that a scholar of Kuzniar’s ability has shown the courage to tackle the deeper aspects of our relationships with dogs.” The review continues: Our dogs are metaphors for ourselves, something that many of us may have long suspected, but because the idea had never been articulated, or not fully, perhaps we did not appreciate the fact. Or perhaps we didn’t want to face it. Thanks to Alice Kuzniar we know it now. . . .

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Press Release: Taylor, Mystic Bones

February 20, 2007
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Press Release: Taylor, Mystic Bones

In a December 2006 New York Times editorial (which we reprinted online), Mark C. Taylor wrote that his current manner of thinking and teaching “cultivate a faith in doubt that calls into question every certainty.” This philosophy is on elegant display in Taylor’s newest book, Mystic Bones. By combining images of weathered bones with philosophical aphorisms, Taylor refigures death in a way that allows life to be seen anew. These haunting photographs speak to themes of ruin, mortality, and ritual, and to a theology based on immanence rather than transcendence. At once a fine art book of great originality and a profound spiritual meditation, Mystic Bones is Taylor’s most personal statement yet of after-God theology. See the press release. . . .

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An unabashed fan of the bourgeoisie

February 6, 2007
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An unabashed fan of the bourgeoisie

Deirdre McCloskey is no stranger to controversy and her latest work, The Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce promises to make her the focus of debate once again. An ingenious reply to more than a century’s worth of critics whose scorn for the bourgeois lifestyle has become ubiquitous in modern culture, McCloskey’s book is nothing less than a wholesale reinterpretation of Western intellectual history; a dead-serious reply to the critics of capitalism that has got the reviewers talking. In an article in the February 4 Chicago Sun Times critic Hedy Weiss remarks: “To put it in a nutshell: McCloskey is an unabashed fan of the bourgeoisie and the system of capitalism that has led to the creation of the much-maligned class she defines in the broadest terms.” Quoting McCloskey, the article continues: “The bourgeois life… generates and sustains what I consider to be seven important virtues, including common sense and know-how, courage, temperance or self-command, a sense of justice and fairness to others, and the notion of transformative love. It also can be the source of hope, which I would define as being able to imagine a future goal, and faith, which I see as the source of . . .

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Review: Hyman, The Objective Eye

January 25, 2007
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Review: Hyman, The Objective Eye

John Hyman’s newest work, The Objective Eye: Color, Form, and Reality in the Theory of Art, addresses one of the perennial issues in art theory—the fascinatingly complex nature of pictorial representation. Here, Hyman makes a radical departure from recent trends in the philosophy of art to formulate what a review in the January 25 London Review of Books has called a “devastating critique of subjectivism”—all the while using “a complex array of texts and arguments from the full historical sweep of Western cultural reflection on the nature of pictorial art” to build his own “carefully nuanced” objectivist stance. But though the work of reformulating hundreds of years of theoretical writings in the arts might sound complicated, the London Review continues, “the rigorous clarity and elegant concision of Hyman’s writing—literary virtues to which the best analytical philosophy has always aspired—carry his reader through even the most difficult sections. No one will come away from this book without having learned a great deal about one of the most familiar mysteries of human culture.” And indeed, readers will find this an engaging critique of contemporary art theory a fascinating challenge to some of our most fundamental assumptions about the nature of pictorial representation. . . .

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Press Release: Borgmann, Real American Ethics

January 19, 2007
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Press Release: Borgmann, Real American Ethics

In Real American Ethics: Taking Responsibility for Our Country, Albert Borgmann looks at how we, as ordinary citizens, can take responsibility for our country, from the big concerns to the small and shows how the two are fundamentally connected. Accessible and timely, Borgmann’s book goes beyond merely recounting the usual litany of American moral failings to creatively grapple with the effects of our consumer-driven culture—everything from obesity to environmental destruction—and to propose actions we can take to inspire real change. By developing an ethics grounded in our everyday reality we can begin to restructure our lives in a way that’s consistent with the distinctive American values of generosity and resourcefulness. Free from ideological dogma and tiresome culture-war finger-pointing, Real American Ethics is a work of refreshing honesty and commitment—required reading for anyone who wants to see America live up to its potential. Read the press release. Read an excerpt. . . .

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Review: Ekeland, The Best of All Possible Worlds

January 3, 2007
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Review: Ekeland, The Best of All Possible Worlds

Joseph Mazur, a professor of mathematics at the University of Marlborough, published a review today of Ivar Ekeland’s newest book The Best of all Possible Worlds: Mathematics and Destiny in the international journal of science, Nature. In his review, Mazur praises the book for its fascinating exploration of the work of eighteenth-century French intellectual Maupertuis, a philosopher and physicist whose ideas—as Mazur notes—continue to have a profound impact in both fields to this day. Mazur writes: The eighteenth-century French philosopher Pierre-Louis Moreau de Maupertuis gave us the principle of least action: in all natural phenomena, a quantity called ‘action’—for him, the product of mass, distance travelled and velocity—tends to be minimized. In his view, God, being the supreme mathematician, had created the “best of all possible worlds” by insisting that everything in it obey the principle of least action, an economy of effort—a metaphysical rule designed to support the laws of mechanics. In The Best of All Possible Worlds, Ivar Ekeland skillfully traces the historical developments of de Maupertuis’ principle as it matured from a metaphysical directive in physical two- or three-dimensional space to a mathematical principle in a conceptual space where the action is not just minimized but stopped . . .

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Review: Snyder, Reforming Philosophy

November 7, 2006
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Review: Snyder, Reforming Philosophy

John Stuart Mill, a man popularly thought to be responsible for the reformation of Victorian philosophy, is a household name among philosophers. Unfortunately one of his greatest contemporaries is not. William Whewell, a man equally engaged in transforming the philosophical conventions of his era, is often overshadowed by Mill’s fame. However, as noted by a recent review in the Times Literary Supplement, Laura J. Snyder’s Reforming Philosophy: A Victorian Debate on Science and Society eloquently demonstrates that it was not Mill alone, but rather the dialectic generated by the rivalry of these two great thinkers that was ultimately responsible for the radical transformations in the field of philosophy that took place during the Victorian era. Placing their teachings in their proper intellectual, cultural, and argumentative spheres, Laura Snyder revises the standard views of Victorian philosophy, showing that the concerns of both men remain relevant today. A rich and nuanced understanding of the intellectual spirit of Victorian Britain, TLS calls Snyder’s work “science history at its best.” Reforming Philosophy will be welcomed by philosophers and historians of science, scholars of Victorian studies, and students of the history of philosophy and political economy. . . .

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Walter Benjamin (July 15, 1892-September 27, 1940)

September 27, 2006
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Walter Benjamin (July 15, 1892-September 27, 1940)

Today, September 27th, is the anniversary of the death of Walter Benjamin. Widely considered to be one of the most important intellectuals of the twentieth century, Benjamin’s work synthesized Marxist philosophy with Jewish mysticism to produce a unique contribution to the fields of philosophy and literary criticism. The quintessence of a renaissance thinker and outspoken critic of Fascism, Benjamin’s work was a powerful response to the totalitarian Nazi regime that plagued his native Germany. Through his writing Benjamin sought to expose the futility of the Fascist belief in historical and political progress by destabilizing the various dogmas underlying it. It was his powerful intellectual condemnation of Fascism that would make him a known target of the Nazi gestapo and eventually lead to his death by suicide on September 27, 1940 in a failed attempt to flee the Vichy regime across the French-Spanish border. An opponent of the static belief systems that eventually condemned him, he might have appreciated the multitude of philosophical and literary works that have since taken him as their subject and the variety of interpretations each one lends to the significance of his life and death. A most recent and welcomed addition to such works is Michael . . .

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