Philosophy Feed

Emerson's Essays

Selected Writings of Ralph Waldo EmersonSelected Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson by Ralph Waldo Emerson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I first read a few of these essays when I was a sophomore, which seems like the perfect age to do so. When life is full of newness and potential, and we are making choices as to who we are going to become.

I read a little Emerson again a few years later during one of the anniversaries, when there was some Emerson focused events go on.

This reading comes in my very long project of re-reading through the canon in chronological order. And, this time, some resonated and some didn't. You can't accuse him of consistency. Some ideas seemed immature or disproven by the subsequent centuries, while others remain intoxicating. Clearly reading Emerson is still essential to understanding the American character.

One line that really resonated in my reading today was that there are always folks who think they know better how to do your job. Since he was clergy, that really connected with my own experience.

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The World As Will and Idea

The World as Will and Idea: Abridged in 1 VolThe World as Will and Idea: Abridged in 1 Vol by Arthur Schopenhauer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Thirty years ago as an undergrad in a modern philosophy class, I first read some Schopenhauer. And despite him being a pessimist, I find the writing beautiful and the ideas exhilarating, even if I didn't fully agree with them.

All these decades later, I feel the same, now having read more fully his major work.

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Essay on the Freedom of the Will

Essay on the Freedom of the WillEssay on the Freedom of the Will by Arthur Schopenhauer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Though I disagree with Schopenhauer's position on the freedom of the will (basically, that there isn't any), I recommend this essay as a model of fine philosophical writing. Well structured, clearly written, with cogent arguments, and reflecting an incredible breadth of scholarship and reading.

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Love: A New Understanding of an Ancient Emotion

Love: A New Understanding of an Ancient EmotionLove: A New Understanding of an Ancient Emotion by Simon May
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Love is "the joy inspired by whomever or whatever we experience as rooting, or as promising to root, our life."

May has numerous goals in this book. He reviews the traditional accounts of love in Western culture and finds them to be incoherent or inadequate to our time. He also shows how the modern development of romantic love tried to turn that love into a secularized version of divine love in a way that is impossible for humans and could only lead to disappointment.

He then develops his own rich account of love, as this idea of someone who roots us in life. 21 short chapters develop this idea fully. He then demonstrates how he arises in foundational texts of the Western tradition--Genesis and the Odyssey.

He also describes how Western culture has shifted to the child being the supreme object of love (instead of beauty, God, or our romantic partner). He argues that this is the first truly modern love and that parental love as developing seems free of the expectations of divine love, and thus has the chance to truly transform human loving in good ways.

There is so much in this book that one could spend years pondering and exploring it all.

On personal note: I did not read it for self-help purposes, but I found that the book was deeply revelatory, helping me to better understand myself, my former marriage, how it ended, developments in my divorce, experiences and emotions I've grappled with the last few years, including resentment, and also how I was able to finally let go and begin moving in directions. These theories gave new perspectives and language to my experiences.

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The Vocation of Man

The Vocation of ManThe Vocation of Man by Johann Gottlieb Fichte
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

So, twenty years ago when I read this I really admired it and had previously given it four stars here on Goodreads.

This time I only felt it was okay and mediocre.

When I read it in 2001 I had recently finished my dissertation in a philosophy department that was predominately Analytical. I set about some free reading in Continental philosophy that I had not previously read, this book being the one I enjoyed the most. The writing felt fresh and vital and very different from what I had been working on.

Maybe in 2023 I'm more broadly and deeply read in philosophy than I was twenty years ago and the book doesn't then strike me as fresh and vital?

I also took some time to peruse the copy I own of his Addresses to the German Nation, but wasn't interested in actually reading it thoroughly.

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The Therapy of Desire

The Therapy of Desire: Theory and Practice in Hellenistic EthicsThe Therapy of Desire: Theory and Practice in Hellenistic Ethics by Martha C. Nussbaum
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While I have read a number of Nussbaum's books over the last twenty years, I have in the last couple made sure to go back and work through her major texts that I hadn't yet read. This one is yet another excellent book. What a clear thinker, who writes with precision and elegance.

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Aztec Philosophy

Aztec Philosophy: Understanding a World in MotionAztec Philosophy: Understanding a World in Motion by James Maffie
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"Life on earth is slippery because order and being are always sliding into disorder and nonbeing. The existence and well-orderedness of the things upon which humans depend slip away from under their feet, causing them to lose their balance and suffer pain, hunger, thirst, sorrow, disease, and death."

An at time dense and other time exciting (for example, the philosophical importance of sweeping with a broom) survey of Aztec metaphysics. Since reading an article by Maffie some years ago, I've wanted to understand Aztec thought better, because of this core idea that the world is constantly changing and that to live well is to develop balance. That seems more useful than the centrality of certain foundations and unchanging ideas in much Western thought.

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