Lectures on the history of moral philosophy /

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Main Author: Rawls, John, 1921-
Other Authors: Herman, Barbara.
Format: Book
Published: Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 2000.
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Review by Booklist Review

Libraries with active modern philosophy collections will want to consider acquiring these collections of the work of Foucault and Rawls and Rogers' biography of Ayer. The third volume of Foucault's miscellaneous writings--previous volumes covered Ethics (1997) and Aesthetics, Method, and Epistemology (1998)--gathers lectures and prefaces, group discussions and interviews. Foucault made no claim to be a political theorist, yet the nature of power and the ways it is exercised were a central concern of much of his work. The volume's thirty pieces include historical discussions ("The Politics of Health in the Eighteenth Century," "About the Concept of the `Dangerous Individual' in Nineteenth-Century Legal Psychiatry") and theoretical analyses ("Truth and Juridical Forms," "Governmentality," "The Subject and Power"), as well as interviews and examples of Foucault's own political activism ("Letter to Certain Leaders of the Left"). Rawls' philosophical approach has had an impact, not simply through his classic works like A Theory of Justice (1971) but also through the generations of Harvard students who wrestled with classic works of philosophy with his assistance from 1962 to 1991. This volume draws together the final version of Rawls' lecture notes on the history of modern moral philosophy; it offers probing discussions of Hume, Leibniz, Kant, and Hegel and of the four basic types of moral reasoning--perfectionism, utilitarianism, intuitionism, and Kantian constructivism. Readers could hardly find a more enlightening (if sometimes challenging) companion in exploring key historical approaches to life's most fundamental moral and philosophical questions. Alfred Jules Ayer's life is at least as interesting as his philosophy. In challenging metaphysics' claim to essential truths about the universe and human morality, Ayer defined philosophy as a second-order discipline devoted to understanding the meaning of critical concepts, such as causation and the mind. In classic works, such as Language, Truth and Logic, and studies of such philosophers as Wittgenstein and Russell, Ayer demonstrated the range and role of his logical positivist approach. But Ayer separated philosophy from life partly because of his own hedonistic appreciation for life: he had affairs with several women at a time; socialized with intellectuals, show-business folk, and society types, on both sides of the Atlantic; and was a frequent television guest and a fanatical football fan. Drawing on interviews as well as other sources, Rogers fills in some of the interesting gaps left by Ayer's two volumes of autobiography. --Mary Carroll

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Review by Library Journal Review

Rawls is, of course, one of the major moral and political philosophers of the 20th century. These essays center on Kant's moral philosophy as influenced by Hume's and Leibniz's and as it influenced Hegel. Throughout, Rawls tries to understand the distinctive questions each philosopher posed to himself and the specific answers he gave. Among main topics are Hume's views of sympathy and practical reasoning and his critique of rational intuitionism; Leibniz's metaphysical perfectionism and his concepts of spontaneity, individuality, and freedom; Kant's concept of reason, different conceptions of the good, and formulations of the categorical imperative; and Hegel's view of the nature of ethical life and of freedom. Rawls's deep, tightly argued, and lucidly presented analyses warrant close attention by students on the subject.DRobert Hoffman, York Coll., CUNY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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Review by Kirkus Book Review

An examination of the philosophies of Hume, Leibniz, Kant, and Hegel—all nicely burnished by contemporary great Rawls (A Theory of Justice, 1971) over three decades at Harvard. Rawls’s “Kant Lectures” have enjoyed a cult status so great that it has propelled dog-eared copies of his notes across campuses and generations. After being guided by Rawls’s able hand through the rigors of such texts as Kant’s Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals and Hume’s Treatise on Human Nature, readers will appreciate how Rawls’s generosity, both to student and subject, earned these Harvard lectures a place in legend. Compiled in 1991 after the final of four major revisions, they’re examples of thoughtful, conscientious pedagogy, reflecting years of careful editing and rewriting. More interested in thorough exploration than critique, the author teaches from the position of a kind of “master” student, always acknowledging the difficulty of the text under consideration, but never talking down. He is careful to present problems of philosophy in the context of each author’s historical experience (to “see how philosophical questions can take on a different cast from, and are indeed shaped by, the scheme of thought from within which they are asked”) and to present ideas in their “strongest form.” Although the lectures are expressions of reverence for great thinkers, they also reflect the vibrancy of Rawls’s own scholarship. Readers interested in his ideas on social and economic equality, liberalism, and the possibility of justice in modern society should be particularly glad for the lectures focusing on G.W.F. Hegel’s critique of Kant. An important companion to Rawls’s recently published Collected Papers (not reviewed) and a testament to the lasting beneficence of great teachers.

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