Recently, a string of authors have lamented the state of American university education, including the limited aspirations of college students. Instead of pursuing, as William Deresiewicz called it, “passionate weirdness”, students major in applied subjects such as business studies, enter the financial sector and management consultancies, quickly leaving a more critical engagement with the status quo behind. What’s striking for the student of cultural history is the fact that every quarter-century or so this sentiment resurfaces, with professors expressing extreme frustration with how unlike them their students are, how docile and unquestioning. Tracing a trajectory from Horkheimer and Adorno’s ‘Dialektik der Aufklärung’ (1947) via Bloom’s ‘The Closing of the American Mind’ (1987) to more recent examples such as Deresiewiciz’s ‘Excellent Sheep’ (2014), BRB critic Bruce Fleming analyses this historical phenomenon. What he finds is that reading all these eerily similar books back to back suggests larger truths that no individual author can more than hint at, truths about the position of cultural critics and their ultimate inability to change that culture.
The perception of logical empiricism and its influence on contemporary analytic philosophy is currently undergoing a re-assessment. The received view has been inculcated in generations of students through such influential works as A.J. Ayer’s ‘Language, Truth and Logic’ (1936). Yet the origins and gradual emergence of logical empricism as a philosophical movement are far more complex and extend well beyond the English-speaking world. A case in point is Eino Kaila’s ‘Human Knowledge’, which was first published in Finnish in 1939 and which has only now been translated into English. As BRB reviewer Adam Tuboly argues, the translation of Kaila’s book, which has been given the English subtitle ‘A Classic Statement of Logical Empiricism’, forces historians of analytic philosophy to rethink their assumptions — and to acknowledge Kaila as a thinker who demonstrates a remarkably systematic and comprehensive style.
In a world that is more and more connected by electronic and other social media, questions of reputation and its management become ever more important, even to individuals who previously would not have thought of themselves as being in the public limelight. A recent volume, ‘La Réputation’ (2013), edited by Gloria Origgi and published by the Centre Edgar-Morin, explores this topic from an interdisciplinary perspective. Composed of twelve articles, ranging from psychology and economics to philosophy and sociology, the volume aims at a ‘disenchantment’ of the elusive notion of reputation. As reviewer Thomas Mollanger notes, though the volume engages little with the extensive body of reputation research in the English-speaking world, it nonetheless succeeds in highlighting and analyzing the centrality of reputation to a range of social phenomena.
Greg Frost-Arnold’s first book, ‘Carnap, Tarski and Quine at Harvard’ (Open Court, Chicago 2013), has as its subject matter a manuscript by Rudolf Carnap that was recently discovered in the University of Pittsburgh’s Archives of Scientific Philosophy. The original German manuscript is about the conversations of Carnap, Tarski and Quine (sometimes featuring Goodman) which took place at Harvard in the academic year 1940-41. That year marks a decisive point in the evolution of Carnap’s thought on semantics (one year later, he published his Introduction to Semantics). As Carnap and Quine reported in their intellectual autobiography, the dispute about analyticity played a crucial role in that highly productive year. ‘Carnap, Tarski and Quine at Harvard’, argues BRB reviewer Adam Tamas Tuboly, is a highly elegant edition and commentary of Carnap’s notes, claiming just as much as is warranted on the basis of the manuscript and other relevant texts. Its scholarly assumptions are carefully formulated and manage to unify three co-existing historiographical strategies: narrative, argumentative and micro-historical. The micro-history, in this case, consists in the conversations between Carnap, Tarski and Quine, yet the overall story fits with an emerging bigger narrative concerning the history of logical empiricism and analytic philosophy.
“A man of great wit, and little acumen, or penetration, can never succeed in jesting. Such a man proves always intolerable, with his facetious conceits, to judicious persons. His jests are merely playing on words, or puns, or allegorical, metaphorical and tropical modes of speech, and the like kinds of wit, without applying them with any acumen or penetration: and in that case he must fall into the insipid. Without acumen, a man cannot possibly guard against false thoughts: and if in jesting he thinks without acumen, he overlooks the differences of objects, and in that case may easily, by a false conceit, represent to himself a coincidence in things which greatly differ.”
Whereas most historians and commentators have thought of the history of Hungarian philosophy as a history of the reception of Western ideas, a new book by Tamas Demeter sets out to identify a distinctively ‘Hungarian’ strand within twentieth-century philosophy in Hungary. What gives Hungarian thought its distinctive flavour, Demeter argues, is a keen awareness that many of the most pressing philosophical problems are deeply connected to problem of society and sociality. So thoroughgoing is this strand that one might plausible speak of ‘Hungarian sociologism’ (by analogy with ‘German idealism’ and ‘British idealism’). As reviewer Akos Sivado argues, the book succeeds in establishing “a framework that provides the interpretational basis for a coherent narrative of twentieth-century intellectual life” in Hungary and, as such, contributes to a continuation of the very tradition it identifies.
The general capacity to feel pain is part of being human, yet it is subject to a number of seeming paradoxes. For one, we alone must endure the pain in our own bodies, yet we readily observe pain in others and expect that they suffer from it as we do. Furthermore, while we fear pain and condemn those who wantonly inflict it, violence in all its forms and meanings fascinates us. It is these, and other, paradoxes that Arne Johan Vetlesen, professor of philosophy at the University of Oslo, discusses in his recent book ‘A Philosophy of Pain’. The diversity of phenomena and contexts through which pain manifests itself inevitably leads to a certain degree of eclecticism. The result, writes reviewer Chuanfei Chin, is less an analysis of pain and a model of its ‘circulation’ in society, but a more or less loosely woven tapestry of observations — one that may not be strong enough to bear the weight of the author’s ambitious project, but one whose patterns nonetheless stimulate the reader.
With the ambitious title of his most recent book, “Nietzsche, Psychology and First Philosophy”, Robert B. Pippin is setting himself a formidable task: to evaluate, and contribute to, one of the core debates that have surrounded Nietzsche’s oeuvre from the very beginning. Yet, writes reviewer Kristof Fenyvesi, while Pippin’s status as a major Nietzsche scholar is undoubted, there simply aren’t enough new ideas in this slim volume to fulfill the promise of its title. If there were only a handful of analyses on Nietzsche and psychology, and if Pippin had not previously published nearly every important thought contained in this book, then this little volume would certainly have the charm of novelty. However, as things stand it is simply too short for a monographic survey of Nietzsche’s relation to psychology, and too long to serve as a useful introduction or commentary.
In his recent book ‘Rage and Time’ (originally published as ‘Zorn und Zeit’ in 2006), Peter Sloterdijk, best-known to the English-speaking world for his ‘Critique of Cynical Reason’, published in the 1980s, tells a compelling story of the mediations, exploitations, and translations of rage through, and into, the great religious and political ‘cosmologies’ of Western civilisation. ‘Rage and Time’, according to reviewer Francisco Klauser, is a powerfully written book about the sociopolitical ordering, coding, and accumulation of rage; a book which, in sum, acknowledges and investigates the role of rage as one of the driving forces of human history. However, while Sloterdijk’s narrative is rich in suggestive power, his analysis of the upcoming sociopolitical challenges in the 21st century remains essentially incomplete — the future of rage has yet to unfold.
Martha Nussbaum, in her latest book, warns of a world in which “the humanistic aspects of science and social science — the imaginative, creative aspects of rigorous critical thought” are being lost. Instead of surrendering to “thin market norms” and the demands of the labour market, education must rediscover its goal of creating citizens who are both compassionate and capable of critical thinking. While the impetus behind such demands is laudable, it would be irresponsible — writes reviewer Stephen John — to ignore the shortcomings of Nussbaum’s book in the name of political expediency. Too often she succumbs to hasty overgeneralization, lumping together different trends and developments and, in the process, overlooking sources of political agreement and convergence. While the book’s message is important, it fails in its ambition to map out the future shape of education.