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new book – ‘A Significant Life: Human Meaning in a Silent Universe’ by Todd May

April 2, 2015

A Significant Life

A Significant Life: Human Meaning in a Silent Universe by Todd May (University of Chicago Press, 2015)

(kindle ed.), (amazon.co.uk), (UK kindle ed.)

Book description from the publisher:

What makes for a good life, or a beautiful one, or, perhaps most important, a meaningful one? Throughout history most of us have looked to our faith, our relationships, or our deeds for the answer. But in A Significant Life, philosopher Todd May offers an exhilarating new way of thinking about these questions, one deeply attuned to life as it actually is: a work in progress, a journey—and often a narrative. Offering moving accounts of his own life and memories alongside rich engagements with philosophers from Aristotle to Heidegger, he shows us where to find the significance of our lives: in the way we live them.

May starts by looking at the fundamental fact that life unfolds over time, and as it does so, it begins to develop certain qualities, certain themes. Our lives can be marked by intensity, curiosity, perseverance, or many other qualities that become guiding narrative values. These values lend meanings to our lives that are distinct from—but also interact with—the universal values we are taught to cultivate, such as goodness or happiness. Offering a fascinating examination of a broad range of figures—from music icon Jimi Hendrix to civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer, from cyclist Lance Armstrong to The Portrait of a Lady’s Ralph Touchett to Claus von Stauffenberg, a German officer who tried to assassinate Hitler—May shows that narrative values offer a rich variety of criteria by which to assess a life, specific to each of us and yet widely available. They offer us a way of reading ourselves, who we are, and who we might like to be.

Clearly and eloquently written, A Significant Life is a recognition and a comfort, a celebration of the deeply human narrative impulse by which we make—even if we don’t realize it—meaning for ourselves. It offers a refreshing way to think of an age-old question, of quite simply, what makes a life worth living.

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new book – ‘The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction’ by Matthew B. Crawford

March 31, 2015

World Beyond Your Head

The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction by Matthew B. Crawford (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2015)

(kindle ed.), (amazon.co.uk), (UK kindle ed.)

Book description from the publisher:

A groundbreaking new book from the bestselling author of Shop Class as Soulcraft

In his bestselling book Shop Class as Soulcraft, Matthew B. Crawford explored the ethical and practical importance of manual competence, as expressed through mastery of our physical environment. In his brilliant follow-up, The World Beyond Your Head, Crawford investigates the challenge of mastering one’s own mind.

We often complain about our fractured mental lives and feel beset by outside forces that destroy our focus and disrupt our peace of mind. Any defense against this, Crawford argues, requires that we reckon with the way attention sculpts the self.

Crawford investigates the intense focus of ice hockey players and short-order chefs, the quasi-autistic behavior of gambling addicts, the familiar hassles of daily life, and the deep, slow craft of building pipe organs. He shows that our current crisis of attention is only superficially the result of digital technology, and becomes more comprehensible when understood as the coming to fruition of certain assumptions at the root of Western culture that are profoundly at odds with human nature.

The World Beyond Your Head makes sense of an astonishing array of common experience, from the frustrations of airport security to the rise of the hipster. With implications for the way we raise our children, the design of public spaces, and democracy itself, this is a book of urgent relevance to contemporary life.

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See also: Author’s website

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new book – ‘Self and Other: Exploring Subjectivity, Empathy and Shame’ by Dan Zahavi

January 15, 2015

Self & Other

Self and Other: Exploring Subjectivity, Empathy, and Shame by Dan Zahavi (Oxford University Press, 2015)

(kindle ed.), (amazon.co.uk), (UK kindle ed.)

Book description from the publisher:

Can you be a self on your own or only together with others? Is selfhood a built-in feature of experience or rather socially constructed? How do we at all come to understand others? Does empathy amount to and allow for a distinct experiential acquaintance with others, and if so, what does that tell us about the nature of selfhood and social cognition? Does a strong emphasis on the first-personal character of consciousness prohibit a satisfactory account of intersubjectivity or is the former rather a necessary requirement for the latter?
Engaging with debates and findings in classical phenomenology, in philosophy of mind and in various empirical disciplines, Dan Zahavi’s new book Self and Other offers answers to these questions. Discussing such diverse topics as self-consciousness, phenomenal externalism, mindless coping, mirror self-recognition, autism, theory of mind, embodied simulation, joint attention, shame, time-consciousness, embodiment, narrativity, self-disorders, expressivity and Buddhist no-self accounts, Zahavi argues that any theory of consciousness that wishes to take the subjective dimension of our experiential life serious must endorse a minimalist notion of self. At the same time, however, he also contends that an adequate account of the self has to recognize its multifaceted character, and that various complementary accounts must be integrated, if we are to do justice to its complexity. Thus, while arguing that the most fundamental level of selfhood is not socially constructed and not constitutively dependent upon others, Zahavi also acknowledges that there are dimensions of the self and types of self-experience that are other-mediated. The final part of the book exemplifies this claim through a close analysis of shame.

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new book – ‘The Soul Fallacy: What Science Shows We Gain from Letting Go of Our Soul Beliefs’ by Julien Musolino

January 6, 2015

The Soul Fallacy

The Soul Fallacy: What Science Shows We Gain from Letting Go of Our Soul Beliefs by Julien Musolino (Prometheus Books, 2015)

(kindle ed.), (amazon.co.uk)

Book description from the publisher:

Most Americans believe they possess an immaterial soul that will survive the death of the body. In sharp contrast, the current scientific consensus rejects the traditional soul, although this conclusion is rarely discussed publicly. In this book, a cognitive scientist breaks the taboo and explains why modern science leads to this controversial conclusion. In doing so, the book reveals the truly astonishing scope and power of scientific inquiry, drawing on ideas from biology, psychology, neuroscience, philosophy, and the physical sciences.

Much more than chronicling the demise of the traditional soul, the book explores where soul beliefs come from, why they are so widespread culturally and historically, how cognitive science offers a naturalistic alternative to religious conceptions of mind, and how postulating the existence of a soul amounts to making a scientific claim.

Although the new scientific view of personhood departs radically from traditional religious conceptions, the author shows that a coherent, meaningful, and sensitive appreciation of what it means to be human remains intact. He argues that we do not lose anything by letting go of our soul beliefs and that we even have something to gain.

Throughout, the book takes a passionate stand for science and reason. It also offers a timely rejoinder to recent claims that science supports the existence of the soul and the afterlife.

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new book – ‘Self-Knowledge for Humans’ by Quassim Cassam

January 4, 2015

Self-Knowledge for Humans

Self-Knowledge for Humans by Quassim Cassam (Oxford University Press, 2014)

(kindle ed.), (amazon.co.uk), (UK kindle ed.)

Book description from the publisher:

Human beings are not model epistemic citizens. Our reasoning can be careless and uncritical, and our beliefs, desires, and other attitudes aren’t always as they ought rationally to be. Our beliefs can be eccentric, our desires irrational and our hopes hopelessly unrealistic. Our attitudes are influenced by a wide range of non-epistemic or non-rational factors, including our character, our emotions and powerful unconscious biases. Yet we are rarely conscious of such influences. Self-ignorance is not something to which human beings are immune.

In this book Quassim Cassam develops an account of self-knowledge which tries to do justice to these and other respects in which humans aren’t model epistemic citizens. He rejects rationalist and other mainstream philosophical accounts of self-knowledge on the grounds that, in more than one sense, they aren’t accounts of self-knowledge for humans. Instead he defends the view that inferences from behavioural and psychological evidence are a basic source of human self-knowledge. On this account, self-knowledge is a genuine cognitive achievement and self-ignorance is almost always on the cards.

As well as explaining knowledge of our own states of mind, Cassam also accounts for what he calls ‘substantial’ self-knowledge, including knowledge of our values, emotions, and character. He criticizes philosophical accounts of self-knowledge for neglecting substantial self-knowledge, and concludes with a discussion of the value of self-knowledge.

This book tries to do for philosophy what behavioural economics tries to do for economics. Just as behavioural economics is the economics of homo sapiens, as distinct from the economics of an ideally rational and self homo economics, so Cassam argues that philosophy should focus on the human predicament rather on the reasoning and self-knowledge of an idealized homo philosophicus.

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See also: Book website

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