Outstanding Academic Titles 2023: Philosophy

Enjoy these five selections from the Choice Reviews 2023 Outstanding Academic Titles list. This week we highlight, Outstanding Academic Titles from the past year pertaining to philosophy. A hearty congratulations to the winning authors, editors and publishers!

1. Queering philosophy
Hall, Kim Q. Rowman & Littlefield, 2022

Queer theory is not new, but because the academic discipline of philosophy has not fully embraced this project, Queering Philosophy is an important book. It confronts “straight habits” within philosophy while simultaneously exploring ways of doing philosophy differently, particularly through a three-faceted methodology of counter-memory, smuggling, and recruitment. Counter-memory means collaborating with texts outside the canon, “philosophy alongside queer studies, queer alongside disability, race, gender, class, nation, and age” (p. 15). Smuggling means employing texts customarily excluded from the discipline to “call attention to and resist queer-eradicating practices in the field” (p. 15). Recruitment means enlisting theories and theorists “beyond individual self-identification as queer, a philosopher, or a queer philosopher” (p. 16). The result is promiscuous, collaborative, interdisciplinary, and intersectional; it is also an urgent and welcome addition to the literature on philosophy in general and to queer philosophy in particular. There is nothing profound or particularly surprising here, but the book is well written and well researched and will likely be useful reading, especially for those grappling with related subject matter. View on Amazon

2. Bad beliefs: why they happen to good people
Levy, Neil. Oxford, 2022

The thesis of this curious text is that humans are rational animals who all too often live in an epistemically polluted environment. The argument for this thesis flies in the face of many key tenets of contemporary cognitive science and also, perhaps surprisingly, of typical Enlightenment-driven philosophy. Levy (Macquarie Univ., Australia) defends the view that knowledge is “implicitly embedded in [the] social, and even physical, environment” (p. 59) and, thus, knowledge falters when this environment is “polluted.” The remedy, according to Levy, is to embrace nudging. By changing the aspects of the “choice architecture” and “engineering the epistemic environment” (p. 146), one can contend with bad beliefs—beliefs that run counter to relevant epistemic authorities but are nevertheless held by large cohorts of individuals within a community. Levy is keenly aware of the controversial nature of nudging—it is often characterized as paternalistic, in violation of autonomy, and manipulative. He has responses to these charges and offers clear insight into just what must be negotiated epistemically in debates involving, for example, climate change, anti-vaccine campaigns, and election result denials. View on Amazon

3. Philosophy of beauty: Shaftesbury on nature, virtue, and art
Gill, Michael. Princeton, 2022

In A Philosophy of Beauty Gill (Edinburgh) argues that few philosophers are more germane to the contemporary world’s focus on style, imagery, and self-aggrandizement than Anthony Ashley Cooper, the Third Earl of Shaftesbury (1671–1713). On Gill’s retelling, Shaftesbury’s singular blend of literary criticism, moral psychology, and discourse ethics offers readers a wide array of critical tools for negotiating the misinformation that predominates on social media platforms, something that Shaftesbury knew about firsthand as the victim and target of overheated, politicized “froth.” Shaftesbury’s confessional style is an instructive phenomenon as it reveals his partisan engagement in the information wars of his era; but his reactionary stance is offset by the fact that he is also a longitudinal thinker who critiques the modernist dream of subduing contingency because of its forgetfulness of human nature. Gill’s work casts new light on an author often overlooked as an ancestor of moral sense theory, inviting comparison with such contemporary voices as Annie Dillard and Greta Thunberg. View on Amazon

4. Martha Nussbaum and politics
Robshaw, Brandon. Edinburgh University Press, 2023

Few contemporary philosophers have had such a wide-ranging influence as Nussbaum (b. 1947). Grounded in a sustained engagement with Aristotle, Nussbaum’s scholarship stands as almost a glossary of the main issues in social and political philosophy. Politically, she is a liberal, and her work touches on education, feminism, fairness, animal rights, disability, religious expression, the emotions, multiculturalism, and international relations. Despite such a sweeping philosophical record, there has not been much scholarship considering her work as an organic whole. Robshaw (Open Univ., UK) sets out to provide an introduction to Nussbaum’s thought, one that presents it as unified in its philosophical trajectory. Written in lucid and accessible prose, the book progresses chronologically through Nussbaum’s oeuvre, and each chapter focuses on a particular theme as developed by Nussbaum in specific books. In a time of rampant threats to democratic society from polarization to conspiracy theories, Nussbaum’s political thought is valuable for addressing how people can think and live together. As Robshaw observes, Nussbaum is clever, but much more important, she is wise. View on Amazon

5Beauty in African thought: critical perspectives on the Western idea of development
ed. by Bolaji Bateye et al Lexington Books, 2023

Beauty in African Thought exemplifies contemporary African philosophy and how philosophical rigor can shed light on profound concerns in everyday life. The editors and their contributors have done a remarkable job of bringing to the fore the aesthetics of life among African peoples, revealing that development transcends economic efficiency. The volume addresses notions of beauty broadly understood, holistic spirituality and religion, agency and meaning-making, interdependence, and community in contrast to the individualism of Western metaphysics and political philosophy. This collection will be valuable for those with interests in African culture and thought and the development of African nations in the present era. Scholars pursuing issues of global development and environmental sustainability or of human flourishing and justice will unquestionably benefit from this excellent collection. View on Amazon

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