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The Examined Life: Philosophical Meditations Hardcover – October 15, 1989

3.7 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Nozick meditates on sex as the realm of one's strongest emotions, the "we" of a romantic couple, accepting death, the holiness in simple everyday acts, the need of each person to feel important, to feel she or he makes a difference. In 27 informal, pointed chapters the Harvard social thinker ( Anarchy, State, and Utopia; Philosophical Explanations ) fixes his attention on areas often glossed over in formal philosophy. What is creativity if there's nothing new under the sun? Is Zen-like enlightenment too good to be true? His answers to these and other questions are worth heeding in an accessible, novel discourse. A systematizer, Nozick constructs a matrix of reality's manifold dimensions (value, wisdom, destiny, etc.); he formulates "principles of proportionality" to help us give each thing its due weight.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Nozick here offers an illuminating discussion of such topics as death, sexuality, and friendship--concerns that everyone has but that have not often been discussed by analytic philosophers, among whom Nozick holds eminent rank. His consideration of broader questions--e.g., what is the nature of value?--leads him to extend the theory of value he developed in Philosophical Explanations ( LJ 11/1/81), and he unifies a wide range of phenomena that previous philosophers have been unable to connect as tightly. He also addresses theological concerns, throwing unexpected light on such topics as the nature of God and the problem of evil. Chapter 25, "The Zig-Zag of Politics," will without doubt rivet political philosophers, for here Nozick recants in part the libertarianism he supported in Anarchy, State, and Utopia ( LJ 1/15/75). This strikingly original book will arouse much discussion. Highly recommended.
- David Gordon, Bowling Green State Univ., Ohio
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster, Inc.; First Edition edition (October 15, 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0671472186
  • ISBN-13: 978-0671472184
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.2 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,133,390 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Scott D. Scheule on August 25, 2005
Format: Paperback
The Examined Life is the first I've read from Robert Nozick. I had read a review denigrating the book, one of his later works, as a mere "self-help book," but after flipping through it in a Borders' a few months ago, decided to give it a read. If nothing more than a "self-help book," it's one of the best of that genre. I feel expanded, even irradiated.

The title obviously comes from Socrates' famous line (challenge) in the Apology, and Nozick's answer is rich and full of blood. A set of meditations, touching upon one by one the significances of life, all flows forth and simply blooms from the opening line: "I want to think about living and what is important in life, to clarify my thinking-and also my life." The act of creation, sexuality, love (of parent, of child, of God), the nature of reality and its component dimensions, politics, eating, and much more are all probed, fleshed full and good.

The author's style is bold and broad: it charts new ground, it makes daring leaps from uncertain foundations. Yet, he remains modest and honest. Questions breed tentative answers and new questions: some are answered, some are ground into new questions once again. There is an unmistakable organic nature, and one is left with the warm reward of having more questions after finishing than one did when beginning. The meditations, each a chapter long, grow as crystalline lattices from little germs, pearls from simple sand. The prose is easy: the author, polite to the last, apologizes when brief incursions into metaphysics become necessary. And I, an atheist, was fascinated by these meditations on brahma and the Christian God, the creative guesses at age old paradoxes: why does He let evil things happen, and why is Enlightenment so hard to reach?
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Format: Paperback
There being so few reviews here on this work I thought I would read them all before adding my own, afterall if I would just be repeating the others why bother. I was very impressed by the general knowledge of Nozick and the philosophical sophistication of the reviewers. But I belive that same sophistication made them miss the boat on this one.
This is not hard analytic philosophy. This is an examination of everyday concerns about life that apply to everyone and it is written for everyone, not just those of us with degrees in philosophy. For the lay person, it provides a glimps at how a philosopher might approach a problem, even one where a straight answer may not be possible. The nature of "Love's bond" for example may do little more than create a framework for how to think about one's intimate relationship, but it does it in such a way as to expose the reader to the economic analysis of human motivation and also to such things as the motivations that keep people ( or political groups ) from even offering conditional statements. Even his use of parenthetical digressions encourage the reader to go beyond what he is presenting and apply their own analysis to the sub-issue. True, things like the difference between making love and f...king may not be of great philosophical importance at university but his distinction is insightful and fun and the sort of subject matter that tittilates the neophyte in to wondering why they never looked at it that way. Then that neophyte might also wonder what else they should examine in that light.
These days the only political philosophy that seems to rule the land is pragmatism, the only debate on ethics is between relativism and absolutism, and the only exposure to epistomology is via cyberpunk and "the matrix.
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Format: Paperback
I wish more philosophers of Nozick's stature would share their thoughts about the things that matter most to them, and us. A book like this took courage to write, and I found it wonderfully stimulating. This book is a great example of how a philosopher's approach to life can yield practical insights into such topics as religious faith, marriage, love, sexuality, etc. A great book.
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Format: Paperback
...and far from ok if you don't. Nozick's book has a tendency toward sentimentality, but I do think he is to be applauded for trying to take on these issues. So rarely does a philosopher write about things that really matter to us, like love or death or family or sex. I suppose the price you pay for writing about human issues like these is a sacrifice of rigour and an unfortunate tendency to sound like a self-help book.
Nevertheless, the book is worth reading, if only because it reminds us where philosophy comes from and why we think in the first place. I disagreed with Nozick often and consider some of the chapters puff pieces, but I must admit that it's been a long time since I read a contemporary philosophical work that made me consider changing the way I think and act.
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Format: Paperback
I admire Nozick greatly, and he is one of the only philosophers I continue to read now that I've graduated college. This book is probably his best book to read "for pleasure," and as there are few contemporary philosophy books that fall into this category, this one seems like an important buy for that reason alone. Unfortunately, the ideas for most of the essays here are quite a bit more interesting than how they actually turn out. Some topics promised real intrigue, only to degenerate into mush (some) or academic gobbledygook (others). (The essay on the Holocaust is, however, a real gem.) I subtract a second star because this book is also infamous for Nozick's recanting of quite a bit of his philosophy from _Anarchy, State, and Utopia_, his most important book. He was more convincing his first time around. After spending years and years being one of the only philosophers in the universities to defend libertarianism, Nozick appears to have let his colleagues bully him into selling himself out. This might earn him a few more friends in the People's Republic of Cambridge, but long-time admirers have been seriously let down. Nevertheless, the book is very ambitious. It falls a bit short of its promise, but really gets one thinking and expands the scope of what philosophy offers. On balance, not bad at all.
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