32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on July 2, 2006
If I was told I could keep only three works on philosophy, my choices would be instant: (1) Aristotle's Complete Works, (2) Hume's Treatise (and other works), and (3) Solomon's "Joy of Philosophy." That is how estimable I hold Solomon and this book.
University of Texas professor Solomon is an unique persona in philosophy. Schooled and trained in the Anglo-American analytic tradition, his favorite philosophers and ideas come from the Continental side of the profession. This hybridization of analytic training and existentialist thinking brings together the best of both possible worlds. Unlike most Continental thinkers, who are often arcane, verbose, free-association, and ideological, Solomon is accessible, concise, and driven by philosophy's "historical" or "grand" themes. And unlike most Anglo-American philosophers, "living" philosophy is the reason to do philosophy. It's not merely a method, it's a way of life. And in his superb dexterity, he's able to articulate Continental themes in the Angl-American style. For those of us demanding rigor, clarity, and logic, he delivers better than most in the analytic tradition.
All of Solomon's books are a joy to read, because he embues philosophy with joy of philosophy itself. Thus, his title for this, his most comprehensive and systematic, work, could not be more appropriate on numerous levels.
Solomon can keep up with the best of analytic rigor that the Ango-American tradition requires, and still reach into the depths and breadths of our humanity to distill vividly those distinctly human features, which really amount to something, that makes the examined life not only worthwhile, but a joyful difference. His conceptions find existentialism the most viable means, the same existentialism which I've always considered outlandish ideology. In Solomon's hands, his own regard for existentialism must be an appropriate response to, and a fulfilling expression of, the human condition. First and foremost, he revels in clarity and lucidity. Second, and no less important, he demands philosophical relevance - indeed, confronting concerns that affect us the most. Third, what could be perceived as Ideological in his bent toward existentialism, he re-presents as an entirely normative response to human reality; no window dressing, no appeals to some particular creed, and no dismissal of the real issues people seeking philosophy expect to receive.
Solomon's unique charter is his ability to dissolve the "charms, wit, and myths" of the human past (in true Wittgensteinian style), face the incontrovertible realities of existence itself (without any Sartrean "exits"), and resolve our dilemmas to the extent to which they can be (each in their own incommensurate manner). Existentialism has met Analytic rigor and has been found to be highly responsive to our inner-most, and outter-most, aspirations. Rather than obfuscate, he's daringly lucid and unequivocally clear. Rather than "provide manna from heaven," he offers realistic analysis of the various options for living a full and authentic life as it only can and must be. Rather than avoid the central concerns of our human existence, he compels us to face them head-on. Rather than devolving into puzzles, or offering pablum, or finding "exits," he insists on context and autonomy, difference and similarity, choice and determinism, freedom and enslavement, not in any Hegelian dialectic that resolves into a thesis, but as true tensions of life itself.
"The Joy of Philosophy: Thinking Thin versus the Passionate Life" is the one book of his that encompasses the most salient and necessary features of life itself, without ambiguity, without inextirpable prose, and without pat answers. His many other books, especially "The Passions" and "Love" are extraordinarily terrific reads, but this single volume presents his over-arching outlook in lucid perspective. Whether one agrees or agrees to disagree with Solomon's ideas, they vivify philosophy, and that makes the "examined life" all that much more joyous.
"The Joy of Philosophy" contents should whet your appetite (my quick annotations bracketed):
I: The Passionate Life (his singular most important theme)
II: The Politics of Emotion (again, the reintegration of reason and emotion)
III: Rationality and Its Vicissitudes (humans are more than a rational animal)
IV: Justice, Sympathy, and Vengeance (sociobiology's contribution to the good life)
V: The Tragic Sense of Life (do we really want to endure this headache?)
VI: Thinking Death in the Face (it's the only human certainty)
VII: Recovering Personal Identity (homage to a key concept of who we are)
VIII: Deception, Self, and Self-Deception (what Truth Tables don't explain)
P.S.: Has Analysis Ruined Philosophy (yeah, and it's time to put "love" and "wisdom" back into it)
As with all of Solomon's books, he is accessible, articulate, concise, and most importantly, exceedingly fun and enjoyable to read.
36 of 40 people found the following review helpful
Like the other book I've read by Robert Solomon, "Spirituality for the Skeptic," this book appears to have a lay audience in mind at least, but in reality it's aimed only at the academic community of philosophers.
The irony which has twice misled me is that the book's central argument is that philosophy ought to be directed at laymen rather than the academic community. Insofar as it is not, Solomon believes, philosophy has lost its calling.
Otherwise, the book moves through a few minor themes, arranged as chapters. One is that passionate reasoning, rather than dispassionate reasoning, is the key to good philosophy and fulfillment in life. He's written another book on the philosophy of love, and another on Nietzsche, and both of those played a big role in this chapter. A second theme was the role of emotion in politics and social relations. In my review of "Spirituality," I criticized Solomon for going on about science this and science that while appearing totally unfamiliar with science, but in this chapter he proved me wrong, showing some familiarity, but not uncritical acceptance, with evolutionary psychology. The third chapter argues that ethics is inherently emotional, it cannot be purely rational, contrary to the hopes of so many theorists. The fourth chapter elaborates on this, looking closely at justice, sympathy and vengeance. I was uninterested and didn't read this chapter well, but it appeared to me that he argues that there is no objective justice, while supporting the thesis of chapter three. I barely made it through this chapter.
Chapter five set the book on fire for me: it is essentially about the problem of evil: how do we make sense of suffering. He reminded me of Unamuno, a philosopher I fell in love with one day in college, and evidently forgot the next. I'll have to remember him this time. He discusses free will, fate, luck, and so on; the theme of the chapter seemed to be: silly philosopher, you are not as rational as you think you are. But this IS the kind of thing that philosophy should think about. And then philosophers would have a role in real life, and maybe then there'd be a few more university positions for them.
The sixth chapter was another good one, this time on death. Most of the chapter was a meditation on how hard it is to really realize that I, me, the dude thinking, am going to die. Solomon covered the subject fairly, including a few references to Chuang Tzu and Epicurus, two of my personal favorite philosophers. I think a missing reference that would really help with this project of thinking through death is the great English divine, Jeremy Taylor; or perhaps, the admonitions from the Orthodox Christian tradition about the remembrance of death. Anyway, my personal belief is that none of us can be too conscious of the fact that we are going to die, and live our lives accordingly. So I applaud this chapter; it serves its purpose.
Chapters seven and eight, on "recovering personal identity" and self-deception appear to be responses to academic debates with which I am unfamiliar, especially regarding the nature of the self. It appears to me, an outsider, that philosophy is responding to developments in cognitive science, rather than leading the way, and will continue to do so for awhile. Let me recommend Owen Flanagan if you're interested in this sort of thing, because I've found his writing much more relevant and purposeful than Solomon's; the latter often seems to be writing his thoughts rather than writing about anything in particular. That's fine of course, unless you want to read about something in particular.
Unfortunately, I think I'm done with Solomon now. I've read two of his books, as charitably as I can, and both of them seemed to me, as I said above, to be addressing solely the academic community of philosophers, ironically arguing that the academic community of philosophers shouldn't address solely the academic community of philosophers. Reading such books is quite frustrating of course, because I personally don't have any concern over the academic (you know). But I do love philosophy.
It reminds me A LOT of the famous line from Kierkegaard's "Either/Or" about a sign in a shop window; the sign says "pressing done here," and a guy goes in to get his clothing pressed, only to be informed that the sign is for sale, that in fact pressing is not done here.
If you're in a position similar to mine, let me recommend Julian Baggini's "What's it all About?" as a wonderful, strongly opinionated but lightly written introduction to serious philosophical thought about the meaning of life.