Somewhat less supple than Simon Blackburn’s Think (1999) as a general introduction to philosophy but an excellent, readable,...


It can’t take you to the airport, but philosophy, as this spirited book argues, can do all sorts of great things—including contribute to our happiness.

An introduction to “public philosophy,” which Gutting (Philosophy/Notre Dame Univ.; Thinking the Impossible: French Philosophy Since 1960, 2011, etc.) defines as “an application of and a complement to the more technical and specialized work of academic philosophers,” this well-argued book begins a daunting task: making political arguments less stupid and more humane. Those arguments, writes the author, tend toward practical or epistemic circularity, a less folksy way of saying that they preach to the choir: if you believe that George W. Bush was a dunce, then it follows that anyone who believes that he was a great president is also a dunce. Gutting counsels greater generosity of spirit in advancing our political views, which fuel debates that are central to attaining knowledge about our social world, therefore allowing us to make better choices about what policies to pursue. If all that seems a touch ideal, so do the author’s informed critiques of capitalism, which similarly draw on the “principle of charity” while showing how our self-interest is traduced: “The amount of instrumental work [capitalism] demands leaves us little time for work that’s valuable for its own sake, and it pushes us to want things we think will make us happy even though they won’t.” By inference, capitalism thus works against our happiness, for all the protestations of the free market purists. Gutting’s applications of philosophical and scientific principles to such questions as abortion and the existence of God are bracing. One hopes that these pieces, which grew from the author’s blog posts for the New York Times, might encourage better argumentation. Besides, it’s nice to see both Richard Dawkins and climate change deniers get slapped around a little, if always politely.

Somewhat less supple than Simon Blackburn’s Think (1999) as a general introduction to philosophy but an excellent, readable, and eminently practical guide.

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-393-24227-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: June 23, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2015

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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This a book of earlier, philosophical essays concerned with the essential "absurdity" of life and the concept that- to overcome the strong tendency to suicide in every thoughtful man-one must accept life on its own terms with its values of revolt, liberty and passion. A dreary thesis- derived from and distorting the beliefs of the founders of existentialism, Jaspers, Heldegger and Kierkegaard, etc., the point of view seems peculiarly outmoded. It is based on the experience of war and the resistance, liberally laced with Andre Gide's excessive intellectualism. The younger existentialists such as Sartre and Camus, with their gift for the terse novel or intense drama, seem to have omitted from their philosophy all the deep religiosity which permeates the work of the great existentialist thinkers. This contributes to a basic lack of vitality in themselves, in these essays, and ten years after the war Camus seems unaware that the life force has healed old wounds... Largely for avant garde aesthetes and his special coterie.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1955

ISBN: 0679733736

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1955

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