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 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2015



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


A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

A teacher and scholar of Buddhism offers a formally varied account of the available rewards of solitude.

“As Mother Ayahuasca takes me in her arms, I realize that last night I vomited up my attachment to Buddhism. In passing out, I died. In coming to, I was, so to speak, reborn. I no longer have to fight these battles, I repeat to myself. I am no longer a combatant in the dharma wars. It feels as if the course of my life has shifted onto another vector, like a train shunted off its familiar track onto a new trajectory.” Readers of Batchelor’s previous books (Secular Buddhism: Imagining the Dharma in an Uncertain World, 2017, etc.) will recognize in this passage the culmination of his decadeslong shift away from the religious commitments of Buddhism toward an ecumenical and homegrown philosophy of life. Writing in a variety of modes—memoir, history, collage, essay, biography, and meditation instruction—the author doesn’t argue for his approach to solitude as much as offer it for contemplation. Essentially, Batchelor implies that if you read what Buddha said here and what Montaigne said there, and if you consider something the author has noticed, and if you reflect on your own experience, you have the possibility to improve the quality of your life. For introspective readers, it’s easy to hear in this approach a direct response to Pascal’s claim that “all of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Batchelor wants to relieve us of this inability by offering his example of how to do just that. “Solitude is an art. Mental training is needed to refine and stabilize it,” he writes. “When you practice solitude, you dedicate yourself to the care of the soul.” Whatever a soul is, the author goes a long way toward soothing it.

A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-25093-0

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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