- Hardcover: 432 pages
- Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First edition (January 4, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0374150850
- ISBN-13: 978-0374150853
- Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.4 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 30 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #995,251 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Examined Lives: From Socrates to Nietzsche First Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
Miller (The Passion of Michel Foucault) profiles 12 thinkers whose philosophies may have been consistent but whose engagements with the social and political mores of their time were far more fraught. From Plato's failure to mold the tyrant Dionysius into a philosopher king through Seneca's murky relationship with the despotic Nero to Kant's capitulation to King Frederick William II, the author casts a welcome light on the flawed, all-too-human aspects of famed moralists. Likewise we are made privy to a Descartes struggling to avoid religious controversy and a contradictory, sometimes paranoid Rousseau determined to publicly justify the abandonment of his own children to orphanages. Miller remains neutral, preferring to juxtapose the behavior of his subjects side by side with their words, even if, as in the cases of Socrates and Diogenes, so much still remains unknown about their lives. Nonetheless, this compelling book elegantly lays bare the distance between the abstract formulation of right action and its achievement in the real world, indicating that the lives of the great philosophers can be exemplary but not always in the ways we might have hoped. (Jan.)
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Miller combines short biographies and compact synopses of 12 philosophers’ ideas of wisdom. In a format suiting those intrigued by the history of philosophy but not yet prepared to take on the texts, Miller introduces Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Diogenes, Seneca, Augustine, Montaigne, Descartes, Rousseau, Kant, Emerson, and Nietzsche. Enlivened by Miller’s attention to how the subjects lives and actions measured up to their declamations, the presentations start with the thinkers’ adoption, in some cases from revelation, in others from reflection, of moral inquiry as a mode of the enlightened life. As well as the questions they strived to answer about truth and ideal conduct, Miller pointedly presents how their mental realms of abstraction, ever buffeted by demands of material or political realities, could agitate contemporaries or provoke posterity to bridle at inconsistencies between words and deeds, such as Rousseau’s notorious abandonment of his children. Conducting his audience safely through abstruse aspects of these philosophers’ precepts, Miller proves concise about their imitational symbolism to those of introspective bent. --Gilbert Taylor
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The active participation in a philosophical life is something that Miller seeks to emphasize with those selected for summary in the text. This form of active study of philosophy is perfectly contradictory to the modern study of the subject. As explained in the introduction, the modern study of philosophy "that the truth of a proposition should be evaluated independently of anything we may know about the person holding that proposition."
Although the book is meant to be a short survey of the lives of these men, I felt that the depth and breadth of the material was too great for too few pages. Miller was certainly able to illustrate his purpose and the lives of each individual. However, I felt it difficult, at times, to follow some of the events (summarizing the life and contributions of a philosopher in about 25 pages is difficult). I also had a desire for more information; perhaps additional reading is necessary. Great book for a novice in philosophy.
Cathy in Seattle