Outstanding Academic Titles 2020: Philosophy

This week's sneak peek from our 2020 Outstanding Academic Titles list: award-winning titles about philosophy for college libraries.

This week’s sneak peek from our 2020 Outstanding Academic Titles list: award-winning titles about philosophy for college libraries.

1. Nihilism
Gertz, Nolen. MIT, 2019

Gertz (applied philosophy, Univ. of Twente, The Netherlands) makes a valuable contribution to the “MIT Press Essential Knowledge Series,” which comprises pocket-size books on topics of interest. In fewer than 200 pages, complete with pull quotes decorously spread across entire pages, Gertz explains what nihilism is and is not, the history of nihilism (going back to Plato), and societal identification of nihilism in the settings of everyday life. Gertz is well versed in the subject matter at hand and has a strong command of both the philosophical roots of nihilism and the emergence of nihilism in popular culture. The questions Gertz raises about nihilism in today’s cultural milieu serve as the starting point, and he demands that one think about whether one is oneself a nihilist without knowing it. This is a wonderful introduction to some pressing questions in philosophy, both political and personal.
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2. When time warps: the lived experience of gender, race, and sexual violence
Burke, Megan. Minnesota, 2019

Issues of sexual violence and rape are at the forefront of feminist philosophy and theory. In particular, feminist phenomenology, a branch of philosophy concerned with understanding the lived experience of women within patriarchal power relations, has focused on how the threat of sexual violence shapes feminine embodiment. For example, feminist phenomenologists have examined the ways in which the possibility of sexual violence and rape may prevent a woman from traveling alone at night, a fear that is not likely to occur to a man. The difference is not that a man cannot be raped, but rather that men’s embodiment does not situate them as the site of such abuse. In When Time Warps, Burke (philosophy, Sonoma State Univ.) sets forth a new direction for feminist phenomenology by focusing on the sexualized racism, temporality, and chrononormativity of sexual violence. In particular, she argues that sexual violence, whether as threat or actual harm, severs the temporal continuity of women’s lived experience. The rape victim, for example, experiences herself as out of sync with her past (prior to the trauma) and unable to pursue an open future (after the trauma). View on Amazon

3. Kant’s conception of freedom: a developmental and critical analysis
Allison, Henry E. Cambridge, 2020

In this work Allison (emer., Univ. of California, San Diego) returns once again to a topic he exploredin Kant’s Theory of Freedom (CH, Apr’91, 28-4451). This reviewer heartily agrees with the author’s assessment that the current book is neither a revision nor a replacement of that earlier book, or indeed any of his previous works on the topic. Rather, it is a fresh approach tracing the historical development of Kant’s thoughts on freedom, including ones expressed in many early and minor works, with more detail and insight than Allison has offered in his other works. He carefully analyzes and critiques Kant’s various views so one can understand the logic and evolution of Kant’s thinking. Extensive comparisons to conceptions of freedom in Kant’s predecessors and contemporaries (Wolff, Rousseau, Leibniz, et al.) enrich the discussion.
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4. Platonism and naturalism: the possibility of philosophy
Gerson, Lloyd P. Cornell, 2020

Platonism and Naturalism is the concluding volume of an excellent trilogy that includes Aristotle and Other Platonists (CH, Sep’05, 43-0238) and From Plato to Platonism (CH, Jul’14, 51-6099). In the earlier volumes Gerson (Univ. of Toronto) argues that Aristotle can be (and ought to be) understood as being in conformity with Plato’s thought—rather than the typical interpretation wherein they are radically opposed—and he orients Plato on a philosophical/historical path that places him in continuity with the later Platonists, especially Plotinus. This volume places the entire “Platonic tradition” in dialogue with contemporary philosophical naturalism, which Gerson takes to be anti-Platonic. Gerson brilliantly argues that philosophy itself is essentially Platonic in that it is concerned with “the real” or the world of forms. He contends that there is no possibility for a naturalistic philosophy, since naturalism claims that there “exists no realm of subject matter that is unreachable by the natural sciences, specially the realm of the immaterial” (p. 26). It is for this reason that Gerson sees Platonism and naturalism as diametrically opposed, and he argues that naturalism is anti-philosophical.
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5Freedom, resentment, and the metaphysics of morals
Hieronymi, Pamela. Princeton, 2020

Major positions on freedom and responsibility have stood in opposition since the Greeks. P. F. Strawson’s “Freedom and Resentment” (1962), which is reprinted in this volume, was revolutionary, and Hieronymi (UCLA) explains at length why Strawson’s approach to morality deserves fresh momentum today. Hieronymi agrees that Strawson offers a compatibilist stance, reconciling determinism with the freedom to be moral. She assesses Strawson’s meta-ethical position as “social naturalism” because there is ample responsibility to others displayed in natural human behavior. Moral conduct, performed by agents holding each other morally responsible, is neither a useful mistake nor a myth that can be dispelled. Chapter by chapter, the author thoroughly analyzes both the intricate arguments Strawson used to build his case and the challenging criticisms against those arguments. Relieving some persons from moral responsibility under certain determining conditions does not mean that all persons are always excusable under all causal conditions. Much of this book’s value can be credited to Hieronymi’s expansion of social naturalism and her reorientation of meta-ethics toward bioculturalism and pragmatism on morality.
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