Outstanding Academic Titles 2022: Philosophers and Philosophy

Enjoy five selections from the Choice Reviews 2022 Outstanding Academic Titles list. This week we highlight, in no particular order, Outstanding Academic Titles from the past year about philosophers and philosophy.

1. Rousseau, Nietzsche, and the image of the human
Franco, Paul. Chicago, 2021

Nietzsche scholarship is a mixed bag, but Franco’s Rousseau, Nietzsche, and the Image of the Human is not—it is outstanding. Franco’s aim was not merely a scholarly sifting of ideas, influences, criticisms, and teachings, but something altogether more practical and necessary: a “retrieval of the whole movement of moral, cultural and political reflection that runs from Rousseau to Nietzsche” (p. 10). This is required to understand oneself as a human being and the challenges of modernity. The late modern view of the human being as motivated by rational self-interest, though not wholly false, suffers from a certain “narrowness and flatness” and seems to be “an impoverished and uninspiring image” of humanity (p. 136). Franco’s engagement with and retrieval of the political and moral thought of Rousseau and Nietzsche provides resources that allow one to conceive of oneself, perhaps anew, in terms of the psychological depths, spiritual height, and human possibilities that, though not completely closed off by the late modern world, are more and more difficult to achieve. View on Amazon

2. Wittgenstein’s artillery: philosophy as poetry
Klagge, James Carl. MIT, 2021

In this superb book, Klagge (Virginia Tech) elucidates what Wittgenstein meant by comparing the composition of philosophy with the composition of poetry. A central question about Wittgenstein’s work is whether his writing style is merely an idiosyncrasy of the man or a vital element of his method(s). Klagge offers readers a way of answering: it is a vital element of his method(s). Klagge maintains that an important shift happened after the Tractatus: through teaching, Wittgenstein became concerned with whether his audience understood what he was saying and its purpose. Thus, he came to focus on the noncognitive aspects of philosophy, especially temperament and attitude and their role in trying to get someone who does not agree with one or see things one’s way to shift perspective (attitude). The right way to do philosophy is not by trying to alter belief by argument but to alter attitude—what is foregrounded and backgrounded in experience, for example. With such a goal in mind, Wittgenstein struggled to find the right method and style to achieve it. View on Amazon

3. Kant’s critique of taste: the feeling of life
Makkai, Katalin. Cambridge, 2021

In Kant’s Critique of Taste, Makkai (Bard College, Berlin) argues convincingly that Kant’s lasting legacy in Critique of Judgment has more to do with elucidating the power of art for animating ideas as well as generating cognitive pleasure—a “twofold peculiarity”—than with working out the differences between the beautiful and the sublime. Kant’s purpose involves advocating for an “aesthetic attunement” linking “the art of judgment” with “caring for the world.” Makkai coaxes this enigmatic linkage out of five brilliantly conceived chapters, glossing Kant’s text but also interpreting Marcel Duchamp and singer Zadie Smith. In Makkai’s reconstruction, one implication readers can draw from Kant’s premises is the intriguing suggestion that what is at stake in aesthetic arguments about personal taste is nothing less than care for the world itself. On this reading, Kant, although writing during the Enlightenment, inserted his ideas about “the feeling of life” squarely into debates that are still being had today about epistemic injustice. View on Amazon

4. The undivided self: Aristotle and the ‘mind-body’ problem
Charles, David. Oxford, 2021

Cartesian metaphysics gives rise to a “mind-body problem.” If the mind and the body are metaphysically distinct—the former being immaterial and the latter material—how are they able to interact? In this remarkable book, Charles (Yale) argues that the problem is insoluble from a Cartesian or even post-Cartesian point of view and that philosophical interests would be best served by a return to Aristotle, who did not conceive of humans as composed of two metaphysically distinct components. Anger, for instance, is not a psychological state existing apart from the physical body; rather, it is “inextricably psycho-physical.” This book takes readers on a sweeping journey through Aristotle’s psychology as it is rooted in his hylomorphic view of substance as “enmattered form.” The result is a splendid study, technical yet readable, and extremely compelling. The audience for this indispensable volume will be scholars in a variety of philosophical fields, including ancient philosophy and philosophy of mind. View on Amazon

5Erasmus of Rotterdam: the spirit of a scholar
Barker, William. Reaktion Books, 2021

The “Renaissance Lives” series published by London-based Reaktion Books promises on its website to offer “lively” biographies of Renaissance notables, and this exemplary volume delivers on that promise. Writing with clarity and fluidity, Barker (Dalhousie Univ.; Univ. of King’s College, Nova Scotia) delineates the multiple aspects of the life of this prince of scholars in the context of the political, cultural, theological, and humanistic currents characteristic of the 16th century, offering an engaging introduction to the life and accomplishments of Erasmus. This remarkable Renaissance “self-fashioned” prodigy emerged from obscure origins and, thanks to his masterly embrace of the new technology of printing, rose to the summit of his profession. Barker analyzes selections from Erasmus’s voluminous scholarly output and succeeds in presenting a multi-faceted portrait of his subject, based in part on traditionally verifiable biographical data but articulated primarily by illustrating that the author’s works “can present the living spirit of the writer” and indeed “show him better.” View on Amazon

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