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Harvard University Press

Posted Sept. 4, 2020, 6:36 p.m. by T

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Changing the Subject – Philosophy from Socrates to Adorno

There are quite a few books crowding my bookshelves that offer an overview on Western philosophy and while each and everyone I find to have merits; some lack an engaging component.

Enter Raymond Geuss.

What I found refreshing from the get go, is that Geuss made a subjective selection of philosophers he decided to cover, which is comprised of the usual suspects but also leaving out some stalwarts, which sets the scene for not only him shedding light on the ones he feels passionate about, but also to venture towards practical rather than theoretical philosophy. While Geuss manages to approach things in a balanced manner, it should not come as a surprise that due to the nature of the selections made, the philosophers that made the cut are portrayed in a positive manner. On the upside this means that Geuss focusses his elaborations on the protagonists he has explored in detail.

Subjectivity aside, Geuss masterfully sketches out how the focus of Western philosophical thought changed over time or at least approaches towards eternal questions, as the title of the book suggests – a paradigm shift which can also mean progress.

Geuss’ take on philosophical theories mean that “changing the subject” can mean much more than mere distraction or deflection: It can mean an evolution of viewpoints that progressively incorporate and take into account new information and revelations as they become available.

While Changing the Subject – Philosophy from Socrates to Adorno has a lot to offer for the uninitiated, luminaries will be able to read in between the lines when it comes to Geuss’ approach and a question that I found myself presented with is if Geuss tried to indicate if Western philosophy as we know it is thought to an end with all consequences, it would have already become stagnant and come to an end not unlike a snake devouring its own tail.

Raymond Geuss expertly navigates through the conclusions he arrives at by illustrating them modestly yet rigorously and in an engagingly witty manner without imposing his personal take on the reader, which inspires the recipient to do delve further into the matter.

Aristotle – Art of Rhetoric

Rhetoric is not only a powerful device but can also be a weapon, especially when the aim is not merely to convince someone of what you deem to be right but if your convictions are harmful to others and used to gain power.

Enter Aristotle who realised the dilemma fairly early on with the advent of Greek society and further on put emphasis on the necessity of having good intentions and using rhetoric to spawn happiness instead of conflict, illustrating ways of rhetorically convincing people and arousing emotions for the greater good of society.

Having been penned over two thousand years ago, it is remarkable how relevant and valid the quintessence of the Art of Rhetoric still is and how its principles can be applied in the present day to produce results.  If this is your first exposure to Aristotle’s theory, the scales will fall from your eyes, as it unveils the structure most politicians and basically anyone addressing large sceptical audiences, base their speeches on.

A classic, insightful and essential piece of literature on persuasion and how rhetoric plays an important role to conveying one's information pertaining to any occasion, showing scientifically and systematically how a weak can be turned into a strong argument.

Smellosophy – A.S Barwich

Ah, the senses…

It would prove hard to make a case against the claim that the olfactory one has the connection to our frontal cortex on speed dial, as smells tend to elicit a range of associations and job memories out of nowhere. While this is a beautiful phenomenon, it is also a complex one and the details and reasons for it are difficult to pin down. It gets even more intricate if one sets out to explore if smells and their interpretation are coloured and influenced by one’s social and local contexts.

In his illuminating elaborations, A. S. Barwich examines in an accessibly manner the way smell is processed, interpreted and evaluated and closes in on the actual epicentre of the olfactory receptors in the nasal passage.

I found Smellosophy interesting as it made me question a range of things that I took for granted and never wondered about, e.g. why it is harder for me to determine as smell compared to telling differences and nuances between smells. This might appear obvious, but Barwich goes deeper and unveils deeper layers, looking at resulting mental images and both the verbal and conceptual representations thereof.

Things get really interesting when Barwich elaborates on how smelling can be compared to seeing and how it fits in with how neuroscience positions how we perceive things – if you are not familiar with the scientific models, Barwich comes to the rescue deciphering and presenting concepts in a nutshell and illustrates them in accessible worldly terms.

Smellosophy is a refreshingly educational book that channels its approach through scientific, philosophical and worldly lenses to present a holistic hole.

The Perfect Fascist – Victoria de Grazia

As Henry A. Wallace put it so poignantly, the myth of fascist efficacy has deluded many people and one of the more prominent protagonists is Mussolini and his fascist regime in Italy.

Victoria de Grazia carefully examines the roots of Benito Mussolini, his rise to power and what enabled him based on a personal incident involving his associate and military officer Attilio Teruzzi that soon became fatally political as it helped to eventually spawn the introduction of Italy’s first race laws.

Following Sylvia Plath’s preferences, De Grazia historically exemplifies the appeal and seductiveness of fascism, embedding her findings in a novel-like scenario. Centred around the renouncement of a marriage, the development and evolution of fascism in Italy is weaved in as it takes hold in all facets in society and becomes engrained in concepts of honour and masculinity, which results in the destruction and corruption of individuals and undermines pure emotions, i.e. making love a political affair.

Entwining two narratives, the contradictions and implications of fascisms are shown both on a national, political and bigger picture level as well as in private spheres, including those of its main proponents. Seemingly unrelated parts complement one another to a comprehensive whole that shows par excellence that the personal is the political and both the correlation and interdependencies.

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