The Philosopher’s Library (Part 3)
[Elizabeth Badinter in her library]
The philosophers of the End Times series recommended books to readers to get further into their philosophical world. As part of an occasional offshoot of that series, here’s a new batch to help you get your shelves re-calibrated.(Part 1 here, part 2 here)
[Mary Midgley with her shelves]
Let me narrow the focus from metaphysics in general to metaphysical issues arising from modern physics. Then, in no particular order, some accessible and excellent books are Time and Space, Barry Dainton , The Metaphysics Within Physics, Tim Maudlin , Quantum Mechanics and Experience, David Albert, An Introduction to the Philosophy of Physics, Marc Lange and Real Time II, D.H. Mellor.
[Martha Nussbaum and shelves]
Hmmm…. Well, if you want some simple logical concepts and a sense of philosophical theorizing, I hope my ‘Logic: The Basics’ is useful. (Yes, you said “apart from your own”, but this isn’t gratuitous self-promotion; it’s hard to point to entry-level ones that give a real taste for logical theorizing.) I think that Graham Priest’s ‘Logic: A Short Intro’ is similarly useful — though not intended to go into things at even the elementary level of my Basics book. (And there are lots and lots of others that are slightly more advanced — recent ones by Burgess, one by N. J. J. Smith, one by Restall, and the list goes on and on and on…) Unfortunately, the really cool philosophical ideas in logic require one to jump in and do some logic. And one can’t really do that without starting at the beginning — the sorts of books I mentioned.
[National Library, Prague]
But I can say this: almost any philosophical topic opens the door for logical theorizing! So, find any good book in philosophy — be it in metaphysics, epistemology, mind, language, religion, science, art, love, whatever — and you’ll have some logical options to play with. Life is short. Ride safe, but enjoy it!
[Trinity College Library, Dublin]
I’d say try one of the following: Simon Blackburn, Think: a compelling introduction to philosophy ; Simon Blackburn, Being Good: a short introduction to ethics ; Thomas Nagel, What Does it All Mean? A Very Short Introduction to Philosophy ; Bertrand Russell, The Problems of Philosophy . And if you want to delve a little deeper, try searching through the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited and written by contemporary philosophers. It’s difficult, but an excellent resource.
[Biblioteca Real Gabinete Portugues De Leitura, Rio De Janeiro, Brazil]
Books: Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War, Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time, Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Richard Feynman’s QED.
Terry Penner’s The Ascent from Nominalism, James Ladyman and Don Ross’s Every Thing Must Go, Robert Batterman’s The Devil in the Details, Alexander Bird’s Nature’s Metaphysics, Plato’s “Theaetetus” and “Sophist”
[St Florian Monastery, Austria]
Finding five non-philosophy books that illuminated my thinking on knowledge, truth, and logic is a difficult task. But let me mention two ways in which things outside philosophy, especially in the arts (novels, films, plays, dance, visual art), are important to my work in philosophy. First, novels, movies, etc., stimulate the imagination, which is very important for doing philosophy: for drawing new connections, for contemplating new concepts, for seeing things from new perspectives, and so on. Second, they give us a sense of a very deep kind of truth, different from the kinds of truth I have investigated so far, but one that I hope to incorporate into my study of truth in the future. Since recently these two types of stimulation have often come to me from the movies, I hope you don’t mind if I recommend to your readers five recent movies that I found extremely exciting in one or another of these respects (or both). It’s hard to choose, but here they are:
1. Waltz with Bashir (Ari Folman, 2008) 2. Tango (Carlos Saura, 1998) 3. Of Gods & Men (Xavier Beauvois, 2010) 4. The Diving Bell & The Butterfly (Julian Schnabel, 2007) 5. The Secret in Their Eyes (Juan Jose Campanella, 2009)
[The City Library, Stuttgart]
I think I’d recommend either fewer or more than five, and recent papers on topics of particular interest to individual readers as a supplement to books . They could start with Experimental Philosophy by Josh Knobe and Shaun Nichols, 2008, which starts with an informative ‘Experimental Philosophy Manifesto’ and contains a number of interesting papers, or for an overview, Joshua Alexander’s Experimental Philosophy: An Introduction. Then I’d advise people to follow their own inclinations after that, perhaps seeking inspiration from the books featured on the Experimental Philosophy blog.
[Bob Dylan in a library]
Assuming that your readers would have read Plato’s Republic, Hobbes’ Leviathan, and Rawls’ Theory of Justice, I would list the following, in no particular order: the first volume of Churchill’s History of the Second World War (admirably written, and an inspiring display of will power and cunning in the face of adversity); Michael Walzer’s Just and Unjust Wars (I am currently working on the ethics of war, but even for the non specialists, this is one of the best philosophical books of the 20th century); Tolstoy’s War and Peace (it’s got everything: war, love, private and collective grief, and a deep, deep love of humanity); Elliot’s Middlemarch (for she shows us that in the end, what really matters is the ordinariness of our daily moral life); Kant’s Groundwork.
I mention the latter because it is both one of the most important books in moral philosophy – if not the most important – but also because, or mainly, Kant’s abiding commitment to the fundamental equality of all human beings resonates through every single one of its pages. It is full of mistakes of course; in particular, its egalitarian commitment is somewhat vitiated by Kant’s attitudes to women. This last point notwithstanding, I find that book extraordinarily moving – the philosophical equivalent (to my mind) of J. S. Bach’s music. In the same way as Bach’s rigorous, almost mathematical phrasing at its best reaches sublime spiritual heights, Kant’s rigorous, demanding philosophy at its best reaches to the deepest, in fact spiritual, commitment to the intrinsic value of each and every one of us, irrespective of race, gender, social class, and community membership. I can think of no greater ideal to aspire to.
[Norma Jean in a library]
I’m afraid that I’m going to give you a longer answer than this simple request seems to invite. The reason is that Anglo-American legal philosophy has been stuck for awhile in a rut of its own making, and though some excellent people are writing in the area, few of the results would be of general interest. The name of this rut is legal positivism, a fairly disastrous theory of law that came to dominate the field. In its original form, the basic idea is, roughly, that law is the expression of a sovereign’s will, and so in principle independent of morality or other substantive, rational considerations. Now positivism combines an insight with a mistake. The insight consists in alerting us to a significant pathology to which law is susceptible. The mistake is to treat pathology as physiology. It’s as though having discovered polio one were to consider paralysis as the essential nature of the human organism, or view diabetes as the key to metabolism. The problem with positivism is actually even worse than these analogies suggest, since adopting this attitude to polio and diabetes doesn’t by itself spread the disease. But in the case of law, the theory is to some degree self-supporting. If you teach people in power that whatever they fancy, just because they fancy it has potentially the meaning of law, they are likely to give freer rein to their fancy in exercising power than they would otherwise.
This theory has two unfortunate effects on the practice of legal philosophy. First, having found itself in this rut, legal philosophy has invested great ingenuity into contriving ways of digging itself out. But all the intricate footwork is bound to be lost on the general reader who isn’t charmed by positivism to begin with. Second, law conceived along positivist lines presents a rather narrow and dull philosophical subject matter. The pronouncements of politicians or judges are not as such of great philosophical moment, and so a theory of law that holds these pronouncements to represent what law is, provides a rather narrow and impoverished philosophical agenda.
The conclusion is that your readers might do better to look beyond what counts as the current canon of legal philosophy, and consider books that aren’t a standard part of it. Here are a few illustrations. No one needs me to recommend reading John Rawls, but I’d like to start with him, since re-reading him as a preeminent legal philosopher, not just in his The Law of Peoples but also, and even more importantly, in A Theory of Justice, may prove illuminating both about Rawls and about the field. Similarly Jurgen Habermas’, Between Facts and Norms; not an easy read, but worthwhile, by an author who treats law as part of a broader vision of society, politics, and morality. The third suggestion is Ronald Dworkin’s new book, Justice for Hedgehogs. As I’m sure you know, Dworkin is part of the canon, perhaps its most prominent active representative, but was a critic of positivism from the start, and writes with a breadth and flair that give him a broader appeal. The two other suggestions belong to a somewhat different genre. Since the authors aren’t card-carrying members of the legal philosophy club, their philosophical approach is enriched by an interdisciplinary perspective; and the books themselves don’t attempt a general theory of law but explore one or another aspect of law with attention to the kinds of substantive issues it faces: Elizabeth Povinelli’s The Cunning of Recognition, and Shai Lavi’s, The Modern Art of Dying.
[Morrisey and shelves]
Christine M Korsgaard
I assume you mean apart from the obvious classics like Plato’s Republic, Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, Book III of Hume’s Treatise of Human Nature, Kant’s Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, Nietzsche’s The Genealogy of Morals and Mill’s Utilitarianism. I would certainly recommend that anyone interested in morality read those. But for some more recent books, here’s a few:
John Rawls, A Theory of Justice
Thomas Nagel, The Possibility of Altruism
Tim Scanlon, What We Owe To Each Other
Bernard Williams, Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy
Derek Parfit, Reasons and Persons, especially Part III.
[Camus and shelves]
My all-time favorite has got to be Thomas Nagel’s collection of essays, Mortal Questions. It’s one of the first books my dad gave me to read when I finally got around to asking him what philosophy was. I’m still thinking about bats and brain bisection. If you’re looking for a more systematic picture of Nagel’s philosophical outlook, though, you’ll want to pick up The View from Nowhere. Other favorites are Language, Truth and Logic, by A. J. Ayer; The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, by Thomas Kuhn; and the Kripke books we’ve been talking about. These are all pretty short, by the way. The best ones usually are. For aficionados, I’d recommend Huw Price’s, Facts and the Function of Truth, which had a profound impact on me when I was in grad school, and deserves to be better known.
[James Baldwin and shelves]
How to answer such a question without offending some of my friends, I am really not sure… On the nature of law, I still think that H.L.A. Hart’s The Concept of Law is the most accessible and the most rewarding read, a bit outdated as it may be. Ronald Dworkin’s most comprehensive critique of Hart’s theory is in his Law’s Empire. On the nature of conventions, David Lewis’s Convention is the classical text and at least the first half of it is not particularly technical or difficult to read. On theories of democracy there are two books recently published, both of them excellent: Tom Christiano’s The Constitution of Equality and David Estlund’s Democratic Authority. I would add, if I may, that the recently published Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Law (that I edited) contains a very wide range of discussions on these and similar matters written for non-professional audience.
[Mishima doing his thing with shelves]
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
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First published in 3:AM Magazine: Friday, July 29th, 2016.