Mind, Language, and Metaphilosophy: Early Philosophical Papers
Richard Rorty was one of the top American philosophers in the second half of the 20th Century, and now we get to read his early work, which help sets the foundation for his later work.
This collection brings together his early philosophical papers that were published in journals, and are just now being reprinted. With this collection students and teachers of philosophy will enjoy this work, and be able to explore one of the great thinkers of the 20th Century without having to search through old journals. The essays are presented in chronological order, from the earliest to the more recent. All of them focus on his early work. While Rorty himself felt these earlier writings were not up to par with his later, more seminal work, of which there are many large collections, it is an easily accessible introduction to modern 20th Century American philosophy. Like most modern philosophy the writing is highly technical; the average reader will be hard pressed to follow along. Even in its highly technical nature, this is still an important work and should not be ignored.
Cambridge University Press
Richard Rorty, Stephen Leach, Editor, James Tartaglia, Editor
True Stories of the Philosophical Theater
In his first book, he calls a “nonfiction novel,” Yerucham narrates an engrossing intellectual and spiritual autobiographical novel. Written in a sparse journalistic style, True Stories is like Kerouac’s On the Road narrative, with the endless, repetitive, cyclical journeys, the episodes fragmentary and unresolved, but more learned and spiritual, like the structure of a Tibetan Mandala. Yerucham is a peripatetic soul, the wandering Jew, even ending up in Israel for a time. He studies western philosophy, gives it up; studies poetry with Ginsberg in New York, but decides to hit the road; visits and lives in a myriad of the spiritual places around the world for many years, a kind of crazed Lonely Planet-style traveler one encounters in India’s bottom budget lodges. With his depressions, breakdowns, horrible sicknesses, along the way, it’s only movement that alleviates these chronic physical and mental ailments. He’s autodidactic, much like the fictional Larry Durrell in Maugham’s Razor’s Edge, studying all cultures and taking whatever they might offer. In the end, like Larry (who finally drives a taxi), Yerucham, with new wife and daughter in tow, returns to the United States looking for a job.
Along the way, exploring the “philosophical theater,” we visit many places, meet many people, both locals and travelers, and perhaps discover, as the author hopes, “Deeper truths are often found in fiction than in fact, but when truths found in fiction are combined with strict veracity of narrative, the returns are doubled.”
As a mystic, Yerucham once renounced writing, but in a “return to western philosophy,” well earned, but now with “purer mind with holier motivations,” we have this book. This is no microwave package of Eat, Pray, Love, but more a gourmand‘s search, if not for enlightenment, at least, for peace of mind, for simplicity in the midst of complexity inside and outside. Recommended for readers who care about the people and the quests mentioned in this review.
Adequate Wisdom: Essays on the Nature of Existence
Adequate Wisdom: Essays on the Nature of Existence is an exhaustive collection of philosophical viewpoints presented for a layman. Smolin presents the general reader with an overview of essays that discuss existence, our cosmos, and the many different viewpoints held by people. The simplistic wording by Smolin makes these essays easy to comprehend and gives the general reader a framework to build a better understanding of “the nature of existence.”
The essays are short but concise. Covering a wide range of diverse subject matter, the essays can be read alone or as a whole. There is a great deal of information covered by Smolin, and he does an exceptional job organizing, arranging, and presenting the vast research that is clearly evident as you read through this book. Smolin goes into great depth exploring the nature of forms and processes, which provides the background necessary to discuss the myriad of subject matter contained in this book. The book is comprised of eight parts: Essentials, Questions and Ideas, Physical Existence, Biological & Human Existence, Trends & Other Matters, God & Religion, Humanity and Final Thoughts. “We can begin to piece together the varied components of existence, creating a clearer understanding of how the world works and then proposing guidelines to help us make wise decisions and lead meaningful lives.”
Smolin additionally includes some ideas based upon new research, for which further scrutiny and examination is warranted. “The obvious motif of this work is to embrace all components of the world and to suggest that everything is contingent upon everything else, while paradoxically allowing forms and processes to express themselves individually.” Most of the discussions cover scientific information and philosophical ideas, whereas, some of the discussions get a little more personal speaking about sexuality, self-control, religion, and state. While I may not agree with all of the contentions of the author, Smolin presents his work in a well-organized and classy form that leaves the reader open to explore his ideas.
Smolin’s essays cover diverse fields of life, philosophy, cosmology, sociology and psychology. “A key idea of adequate wisdom is the apparent duality between synergy and individualism, whereby virtually every form has its own function and structure while at the same time becoming part of another, greater structure.” It is well written and easy to understand. A worthwhile read for those have interest in this subject matter.
Rational Polemics: Tackling the Ethical Dilemmas of Life
The format herein is a series of essays or musings. No attempt is expended to make weighty universal pronouncements, and, in fact, no attempt is made to use “proper” language, though the vocabulary is adult and educated. Editing is of a high level, and continuity within subjects is good. Those subjects are wide ranging and not picked for political correctness. In fact, the one word I would use to describe this ramble is “refreshing.”
Most of the ideas offered, and the explorations developed, will have some familiarity to long-term libertarians and even to many people who have simply engaged in brainstorming as sophomores. That does not diminish the book’s utility. As a direct result of Devens’ fearless approaches to intimidating topics, we are presented with an invaluable stretching tool for young minds, with a stimulus to resume thinking widely for older readers.
The writer quotes some weighty sources, but frequently just skips across a subject with the alacrity of an immortal negotiating a mine field. The fact that esoterica, like the morality of cannibalism under survival necessity and the courtesies of telephone courtship, are touched upon is an indicator of the freewheeling nature of this compendium.
I don’t want to trivialize Rational Polemics in the least. Devens has grounded his musings firmly in the rationality of freedom and free inquiry. He espouses self-ownership, the necessity of self-determination, and the sanctity of individuality.
“The Universal Farce” is his first chapter, with an exploration of the fallacies, con jobs, and irrationalities of religion, wherein the first mover/creator formula is debunked without any shyness. Devens credits the genesis of his book to long-standing disillusionment with religion. He does an admirable job gutting the fraud. In other segments, common courtesy, drug legalization, treatment of criminals, and the death penalty are addressed. Sometimes delving takes a good chapter, as on racism; elsewhere, as in drug legalization, a page and a half suffice.
If you have any interest in freedom of the mind, in personal freedoms, in thinking outside the box, this would be a good candidate for your bookshelf or for your high school or college student’s next gift.
There is much that is mystifying in Daniel M. Harrison’s Butterflies: The Strange Metamorphosis of Fact and Fiction in Today’s World. Mystifying, but far from edifying. For instance, why is Butterflies classified under “Philosophy?” To characterize the book as such implies that thought-provoking analyses bolstered by the promise of plausibility might be contained within its pages. Not so. With its concatenation of logical fallacies, factual inaccuracies and cheap, drugstore mysticism doubling as ersatz vatic insight, Butterflies is an insult, rather than a contribution to that discipline. Moreover, it is difficult to decide which is more unsettling, that Butterflies has enjoyed commercial success or that this sham of a book was published—and not by a vanity press? Butterflies has been called “ambitious” and “challenging.” Those adjectives apply, but not on account of staggering insight, complexity, or originality—what makes the Harrison’s work challenging is its conceptual aimlessness.
The author often muddles recklessly through concepts and fields he does not fully grasp, from hard sciences to the humanities feigning a knowledge that his claims and blatant absence of legitimately cited research bely. In its prologue, Butterflies promises readers access to “hyper-reality,” defined as a “zone of hard-core truth.” This slighting treatment of a concept supposedly foundational for the narrative is symptomatic of the diseased superficiality that pervades Butterflies. Harrison’s definition of “hyper-reality,” elides the term’s place in intellectual history, overlooking how “hyper-reality” was a contested term of semiotics that surfaced most visibly in French Structuralism of the 1960s, a movement that would influence fields from musicology to history for decades to come. It still does. Harrison’s shameful oversimplification is either an intentional erasure, a sign of unpardonable ignorance, or tacit assumptions about the audience’s ignorance.
Butterflies has its virtues, however. Harrison brings 20th century geopolitics, globalization, and recent economic trends together with skill and in approachable, conversational prose. Also, the structure of Harrison’s work is creative. Each chapter oscillates, forming a braid between chapters on non-fiction and fiction. This interlacing of the two gradually becomes a chiasmus — fact comes to seem as improbable as fiction, while fiction adopts a degree of unrelenting brutality generally reserved for reality. Moreover, this structure harmonizes with a key theme in the book about the notional separation of those two categories.
Still, creative structure cannot forgive the lack of intellectual rigor, coupled with counterfeit certitude that pervades Harrison’s roughly non-fictional chapters. In one non-fiction passage, Harrison challenges the theory of relativity. Sadly, his obvious ignorance of basic physics makes his posturing as a Wunderkind- juggernaut ready to crush basic precepts of the field ridiculous. Elsewhere, Harrison alludes to historical moments and figures with varying degrees of inaccuracy, at one point presenting what is little more than a simplistic, unconvincing inversion of the Platonic Theory of Forms, as if it were a revelation. Is the author indulging in parody at his own expense or is Harrison merely delusional? The fiction chapters, which often glamorize a dissipated elite, high on ephemeral pleasures and hollow successes, are nearly unbearable. The reason for discomfort is not related to explicit sexual content, but because it is written so poorly (and exhibits a peculiar obsession with grounding description of girls [eerily] and women by their breasts, cup size, and all). Perhaps Harrison believes that what is provocative is, a posteriori, compelling. If the author had demonstrated the ability to use, rather than abuse, language (errors are not merely stylistic, but grammatical), these chapters might have been less agonizing to read. Though one might object that Harrison is transcending the conventions of the English language, that defense would only be valid if he had first demonstrated mastery of it. One press release advertised Butterflies as a “manifesto of the millennial age.” If so, Harrison’s work is little more than an inadvertent, likely unearned, condemnation of a generation and an epoch.
This reviewer fervently hopes that Harrison has not captured a new Zeitgeist–one where charlatans are sages and ‘wisdom’ is spouted by the ignorant or, worse, by those who prefer to pander to ignorance, rather than erase it. Perhaps he is merely constructing a vast cautionary tale. At least the Lost Generation, poised at the start of the 20th century, produced some writing that one hopes is as lasting as Butterflies is ephemeral.
Would You Kill the Fat Man?: The Trolley Problem and What Your Answer Tells Us about Right and Wrong
Who, other than philosophy majors knew about trolleyology and its variations including x-phi (experimental philosophy)? This is a fascinating and fun read complete with the ethics questions that endlessly entertain undergraduates. If one will not consider a sacrificial murder under any circumstances, new details are added to test the boundaries of one’s core beliefs. So, if you could save five people by killing one (he is fat in order to effectively stop the train) would you do it? Enhancements can be added – suppose one could act with remote tools instead of a more personal engagement? The author, David Edmonds, is a senior research associate at the University of Oxford’s Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, so he is eminently qualified to review the brain teasing and moral quandaries that these types of scenarios evoke. Practical ethics deals in deep thought about the choices we make and the underpinnings of those choices whether it is race, religion, bias, nationalism, etc. People make choices based on their ethics so it is practical in the sense that society must understand the ramifications of these choices and what may lie beneath them. A very relevant and interesting look at this topic and in spite of the serious subject; it is a light hearted approach. Fun diagrams, good bibliography, notes to chapters and comprehensive index.