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A Small Treatise on the Great Virtues: The Uses of Philosophy in Everyday Life Paperback – September 1, 2002


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; Reprint edition (September 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805045562
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805045567
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #189,427 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

French right-wing "nouveau philosophe" Comte-Sponville, a professor at Paris's Sorbonne, had an international success with this not-so-small book, though it's unclear how many buyers have made it all the way through. Dividing the book into 18 virtue-based chapters "Politeness," "Fidelity," "Prudence," "Temperance," "Courage," "Mercy," "Gratitude," and so on Comte-Sponville quotes a multitude of philosophers from the ancient Greeks through Spinoza, Hobbes and Nietzsche to modern Frenchmen like Vladimir Jankelevitch. But doing so fails to make what is essentially a quirky, self-centered monologue into an all-ages dialogue: "Kant and Rousseau think gratitude a duty. I'm not convinced. Moreover, I don't really believe in duties." Such pronouncements presume a reputation and familiarity that does not carry over to these shores. The humorless writing on humor seems oddly pitched as well: "One mustn't exaggerate the importance of humor, however. A bastard can have a sense of humor, and a hero can lack one. But as we have seen, the same is true of most virtues, and as an argument against humor it proves nothing, except of course that humor itself proves nothing." This is Comte-Sponville's first book rendered in English, and despite the concise translation (by Catherine Temerson), it's not hard to see why. (Aug. 30) Forecast: While Holt must have How Proust Can Change Your Life-like ambitions for this title, Alain de Botton scored with readers because they warmed to his loopy self-obsessions. Unfortunately, fans of de Botton won't find much kinship with self-labeled "atheist and neo-cynic" Comte-Sponville, despite his considerable philosophical reputation, and sales, in Europe.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* In an age of political correctness, individual virtue has shriveled into an anachronism for many commentators. Not for ComteSponville, a Sorbonne philosopher whose reflections on virtue bridge the gap between timely and timeless. Ascending from politeness (the slightest virtue, pertaining only to form and ceremony) to love (the ultimate virtue, binding society together, motivating all service and sacrifice), ComteSponville confronts his readers with the moral challenges essential to the enlargement of our character and the redemption of our humanity. The analysis of 18 virtues naturally focuses on foundational attributes such as justice and generosity, especially within the context of twenty-firstcentury expectations. Yet, again and again, the great moral philosophers of the past--Aristotle and Plato, Hume and Montaigne--speak up, shredding the smug complacency of modernity. And although he himself disavows any religious belief, ComteSponville opens the door to pious thinkers--from Saint Paul to Simone Weil--who see in mortal virtues a partial reflection of God's immortal goodness. His subject demands a sober seriousness, but ComteSponville still manages to avoid taking himself too seriously: humility makes it into his litany of virtues, as does humor. A laudable renewal of the ancient quest for ethical wisdom. Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

He uses a charming sometimes quite humoristic style, which makes this book quite pleasant to read.
asfeir@lau.edu.lb
Andre Comte-Sponville examines 18 virtues, from the minor to the major, culminating in far and away his most important, love.
T. Burket
This book steps back and looks at what 2400 years of thinking has lead us to believe about the right way to behave.
Irene Aiello

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

30 of 31 people found the following review helpful By asfeir@lau.edu.lb on October 29, 1998
Format: Hardcover
I have read the book in French and attended various meetings/panel discussions where the book was discussed. Look forward to the English edition.
The author's motivation and approach are quite interesting. Motivation: He once made a statement to the effect that "now that places of prayer are empty and supermarkets are full, I wanted to find out whether western society has still something worth living for" (I am quoting from memory). Approach: A book of practical philosophy.
The book addresses both points brilliantly. It brushes up all "Virtues" that made mankind more human. It builds up crescendo from small virtues like politeness to love "Agape". All his arguments are written clearly and are well referenced. He uses a charming sometimes quite humoristic style, which makes this book quite pleasant to read. Each chapter covers one virtue and they are all well constructed and linked together. I find the chapter on what makes humor a virtue quite interesting and rather surprising particularly as it comes towards the end, just before love. Definitely a good book to have in every home if we agree with the author's motivations.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Alessandro Bruno on November 22, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This book is apparently very popular in France and continental Europe. It deserves equal success in North America. It is a collection of essays that explore 18 virtues. Love, Politeness, Fidelity, Tolerance, Humor among them and drws his, very readable and humorous, analysis from his own experience and from the great philosophers of all time ranging from Aristotle to Aquinas, Kant, Nietzche and Rielke to mention a few from memory. The virtues are also arranged according to an order. He starst with politeness, which he considers to be almost a virtue, to Love, the ultimate virtue. In many ways I was reminded of Alain de Botton's excellent Consolations of Philosophy. Indeed, it is equally good but interestingly different. Read them both. Also a warning to those who seek absolute truths: There aren't any to be found here, and that's part of the charm and its appeal to free-thinkers.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By "dgoldste18" on December 16, 2002
Format: Hardcover
It's hard to believe people once discussed philosophy. The stuff today seems so dense and esoteric -- who would bother?
Readers of Comte-Spone Sponville will want to bother. "A Small Treatise" brings philosophy to where it belongs: back to the question of how should one live?
This is not "Chicken Soup for the Intellectual's Soul" nor it is a dull, moralizing tract lamenting the good old days. Comte-Sponville examines the qualities we call virtue -- from Politeness to Love -- and brings fascinating insight to each. For instance, he discusses how parents first teach their children to "act" virtuous rather than "be" virtuous. His thoughts about mercy, justice, and courage, are almost invigorating to read.
Comte-Sponville's style and candor are engaging. It's clear he's not a traditional moralist, but he's certainly not a moral relativist either. He has a good sense of his own foibles and writes quite interestingly about his experience trying to teach virtue within his family.
Who should read this? Everyone.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Nitin Anand on February 5, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I have just recently become interested in philosophy and wanted something not too in depth, yet intellectually stimulating. This book was particularly good for me because it didn't go into much detail about the foundations of the concepts discussed, it just gave an in-depth applicable discussion on 11 or so important virtues in life. I found the frequent references to other philosophers helpful as well because I am new to the subject and now am familiar with the basic ideas of different philosophers.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Irene Aiello on December 16, 2003
Format: Paperback
This is a remarkable book. We have stopped asking the question "How should we live" except in religious contexts and in looking at tough intractible problems. This book steps back and looks at what 2400 years of thinking has lead us to believe about the right way to behave. Why be polite? What is loyalty? What is courage? The price of the book is worth it for the last chapter alone, which talks about the virtue of love.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By area d fm on June 1, 2005
Format: Hardcover
The real beauty of this book is the way Comte-Sponville reminds us of philosphy's original purpose: to help us figure out the best way to live. His quotes--from Spinoza, Aristotle, Montaigne, Kant, Epicurus, Augustine, Descartes, Pascal, Plato, Acquinas, Rousseau, and Jankelevitch, among others--almost always surprise me and make me want to go back to the authors themselves. The text at times reads smoothly and at times requires us to slow down and reread. The more I read this, the more impressed I am. The ideas are brief, dense, and resonant. He has an eye for gnomic thoughts and has trained himself to write aphorisms with the best of them. The first chapter--on politeness--dazzles with its insight. It reminds me of Poe's purloined letter. Everything he says seems so obvious, but for some reason I failed to notice it until he pointed it out to me. The last chapter--on love--is a surprise, especially the way he uses it to raise questions about the nature of ethics. I keep finding myself reading this the way I read Montaigne or Aristotle--there's too much to keep in my head at one time, but I keep coming back to it, knowing that each half hour will make me pause and give me something to think about for the rest of the week.
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