The value of this book is certainly not as an introduction to twentieth-century French philosophy for those with little or no previous knowledge of it. The review of the developments in actual philosophical ideas and arguments in Part 1 is much too brief and cursory to help such readers.
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As a consequence, moreover, the way in which these ideas and arguments are described is such that it could only make much sense to someone already reasonably familiar with the field. For example, Brunschvicg's version of idealism is distinguished from Kant's by the fact that "Brunschvicg does not understand the objects of our knowledge to be constituted on the basis of a priori and unchanging categories; instead, the objects of our knowledge unfold historically as the mind reflects on its own activity" p. This sentence could mean much only to someone who had read Brunschvicg's own account of what that historical unfolding amounts to.
Or, to take another example more or less at random, no one could really understand what was meant by saying that. This methodological privileging of structure -- the underlying rules or "general laws" -- over event -- the act of articulating the myth -- leads structuralism to place emphasis on synchronic relations rather than diachronic developments p. The role of Part 1, then and this is not in itself a criticism, just a statement of obvious fact is plainly not to provide this kind of understanding of the development of French philosophy in the last century.
Where the book does have enormous, and virtually unique, value, however, is as a rich scholarly resource for those who do already have some acquaintance with the texts, placing these texts and their authors, and the whole activity of philosophising which they embody, in their cultural and institutional context. Anyone who wants to know about the intellectual and professional life of virtually any twentieth-century French philosopher whose works they read cannot fail to find what they want in the "Brief lives" section.
Those seeking to track down the works of these authors which have been translated into English are sure to find the bibliography useful. Schrift has produced a work of very thorough scholarship for which all English-speaking students of French philosophy will be grateful. What is not so clear, however, is whether, or at least how far, Schrift's central claim is correct. He says that "it is impossible to understand the evolution of French philosophy in the twentieth century without understanding some of the unique aspects of French academic culture" p.
But the examples that he gives of ways in which French philosophy is affected by the culture, in this sense, seem to me to be rather superficial. He mentions, for instance, "the supposed faddishness" p. This may well be, as he says, explained by the "highly centralized and regulated system of academic instruction and professional certification" in France. But such a succession of fashions is hardly peculiar to French philosophy, although it may be more frequent in the recent French tradition than it is elsewhere, and it does not seem to be crucial to the understanding of French or any other philosophy as philosophy , as opposed to as a social phenomenon.
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Secondly, Schrift refers to the "cult" with which many of the leading French philosophers have been surrounded, or have even surrounded themselves, "with the result that the interlocutors with whom they are engaged and the teachers from whom they learned are often completely eclipsed from view" p. Again, to the extent that this is true, it is an interesting fact about French life in general, but it does not seem relevant to understanding the content of those philosophers' ideas and arguments.
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Each chapter introduces one of the major themes in philosophy. Baggini's approach combines explanation with summary while encouraging the reader to question the arguments and positions presented. Product details Format Paperback pages Dimensions x x People who bought this also bought.
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