Top News, Articles, and Interviews in Philosophy

The Well-Ordered Universe: The Philosophy of Margaret Cavendish

2019.03.04 : View this Review Online | View Recent NDPR Reviews Deborah Boyle, The Well-Ordered Universe: The Philosophy of Margaret Cavendish, Oxford University Press, 2018, 273pp., $74.00, ISBN 9780190234805. Reviewed by Alison Peterman, University of Rochester This is a book about one of the most exciting philosophers of the early modern period -- Margaret Cavendish -- by one of the very best scholars of Cavendish's philosophy. Deborah Boyle's work on Cavendish has been ground-breaking; it also happens to be deep, clear, sensitive, erudite, and creative. The book is Boyle's comprehensive study of Cavendish's philosophy, covering her metaphysics, natural philosophy, epistemology, ethics, and politics. But the book's polestar is what Boyle rightly identifies as the deep unifying theme of Cavendish's work: order. "Cavendish conceives of order and regularity as the highest goods" (6), Boyle writes, and Cavendish's concern with order and disorder pervades all aspects of her philosophy. In the first chapter,... Read [More]

Virtuous Emotions

2019.03.03 : View this Review Online | View Recent NDPR Reviews Kristján Kristjánsson, Virtuous Emotions, Oxford University Press, 2018, 225pp., $61.00 (hbk), ISBN 9780198809678. Reviewed by Sara Protasi, University of Puget Sound Where do we draw the line between moral and moralistic, righteous and self-righteous, saintly and sanctimonious? This is what I kept wondering while reading Kristján Kristjánsson's book. Stimulating and ambitious, it is a must-read for anyone interested in one of the many areas it addresses: moral philosophers are its primary audience, in particular those of Aristotelian and virtue ethics leaning; ancient specialists will find that Kristjánsson, while not pursuing a historically accurate interpretation of Aristotle, is attentive and knowledgeable with regard to the texts, and will appreciate the insights he brings into Aristotelian ethics; emotion theorists, especially those interested in the role of emotions in moral education, will appreciate his "unapologetically interdisciplinary" (3) approach, and... Read [More]

On Being Useless: A Daoist Reflection

Utility, or usefulness, is an invisible thread that runs through and organises every aspect of our society. It is a basic, universal and inescapable measure of all worth in modern lives. This is obvious in our attitudes to work and education. Economics treats utility as a measurable quantity which serves, and even dictates, decision-making. Many academics, particularly in the sciences, now need to justify their research in terms of “impact”, a quantifiable indicator of economic or social contribution. The governments of the US and the UK have cut down on their funding for liberal arts subjects, for lacking an obvious and measurable use. The assumption is that education should be a means to produce future workers.But even beyond work, leisure is presented as the means to recharge our body and mind so we can keep on working, and is turned into a commodity, to be bought or sold, in the tourism industry.This has repercussions on our moral discourse too, implying that being useful equals [More]

The Ambitious Academic: A Moral Evaluation

"Ambition makes you look pretty ugly”(Radiohead, Paranoid Android)In Act 1, Scene VII of Macbeth, Shakespeare acknowledges the dark side of ambition. Having earlier received a prophecy from a trio of witches promising that he would ‘be king hereafter’, Macbeth, with some prompting from his wife, has resolved to kill the current king (Duncan) and take the throne for himself. But then he gets cold feet. In a poignant soliloquy he notes that he has no real reason to kill Duncan. Duncan has been a wise and generally good king. The only thing spurring Macbeth to do the deed is his own insatiable ambition:I have no spurTo prick the sides of my intent but onlyVaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself And falls on the other.(Macbeth, Act 1, Scene VII, lines 27-29)Despite this, Macbeth ultimately succumbs to his ambition, kills Duncan, and reigns Scotland with increasing despotism and cruelty. His downfall is a warning to us all. It suggests that ambition is often the root of moral collapse.I have a confession to make. I am deeply suspicious of ambition. When I think of ambitious people, my mind is instantly drawn to Shakespearean examples like Macbeth and Richard II: to people who let their own drive for success cloud their moral judgment. But I appreciate that there is an irony to this. I am often accused (though ‘accusation’ might be too strong) of being ambitious. People perceive my frequent writing and publication, and other scholarly activities, as evidence of some [More]

The Character Gap: How Good Are We?

2019.03.02 : View this Review Online | View Recent NDPR Reviews Christian B. Miller, The Character Gap: How Good Are We?, Oxford University Press, 2018, 276pp., $21.95 (hbk), ISBN 9780190264222. Reviewed by Alexandra Plakias, Hamilton College Christian Miller has written an accessible, engaging introduction to the moral psychology of virtue and vice. The book is part of OUP's 'Philosophy in Action' series, which the publisher describes as "small books about big ideas." It's not aimed at scholars, but would be useful for beginning students or for a general audience wishing to learn more about why we act the way we do, and how we can become better. The book is divided into three sections: "What is Character and Why is it Important?", "What Does Our Character Actually Look Like Today?", and "What Can We Do to Improve Our Characters?". Miller begins the first chapter with a discussion of character, virtue, and... Read [More]

Ernst Mach

[Revised entry by Paul Pojman on March 3, 2019. Changes to: Bibliography] Ernst Mach (February 18, 1838 - February 19, 1916) made major contributions to physics, philosophy, and physiological psychology. In physics, the speed of sound bears his name, as he was the first to systematically study super-sonic motion. He also made important contributions to understanding the Doppler effect. His critique of Newtonian ideas of absolute space and time were an inspiration to the young Einstein, who credited Mach as being [More]