Books of the Year

Five of the most enjoyable philosophy books to be reviewed by tpm in 2009.

The Idea of Justice
by Amartya Sen

“Justice delayed is justice denied,” runs the old adage. Amartya Sen has taken this truism and turned it against almost all his illustrious predecessors who have written about justice. To Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Kant and even his old teacher John Rawls, Sen adds: and likewise justice idealised is justice not realised. At least he would have done, had he been a canny intellectual opportunist rather than a thoughtful, measured Nobel laureate. Such pithy sound bites are absent from a text which is at times repetitive, loose and in need of a good edit, but which also contains such a generous measure of incisive, clear and important ideas that any such failings are quickly forgiven.
Read full review by Julian Baggini

Rescuing Justice & Equality
by G.A. Cohen

Rescuing Justice & Equality forms part of a stream of writings about egalitarian justice which Cohen has produced over the last 20 years. It collects together, updates and adds to a number of key papers and arguments that he has produced over the period. The themes pursued here continue directly from the concerns of Cohen’s last book If You’re An Egalitarian, How Come You’re So Rich?, even reproducing one of its chapters. [...] The central claims of both parts of the book are interesting and highly original contributions to contemporary debates in liberal egalitarian philosophy. Arguments for these claims are conducted in Cohen’s characteristically forensic analytical style. This book is philosophers’ philosophy. It will be challenging for those who are uninitiated in the academic twists and turns of debates about Rawls’ A Theory of Justice and the ins and outs of academic debates in liberal egalitarianism.
Read full review by Rajeev Sehgal

Beauty
by Roger Scruton

The cheery gnome on the back cover, the patronising blurb, the brevity of the book itself, all suggest that Beauty is another addition to the well-stocked Introduction to Aesthetics shelves. That is not what Scruton has given us. Indeed Beauty reads far more like a conclusion than an introduction – sweeping in scope but by no means a comprehensive treatment of the topic, rich in resonances with Plato, Hume, Kant and Schopenhauer among many others but offering little in the way of analysis of their work. This, it is clear, represents the distillation of a career’s worth of thought on the subject: confident, ruminative and idiosyncratic rather than thorough and impartial.
Read full review by Jenny Bunker

The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty
by Peter Singer

Singer seems particularly genuine when he lets loose a bit, even at the risk of offending some of his affluent readers. He writes a great couple of pages about the ludicrous yacht collection owned by Microsoft co-founder and not-so-impressive philanthropist Paul Allen. He also asks great questions about arts funding. In 2004, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York spent $45 million on a small painting of a Madonna and child. For that amount of money you could buy 900,000 sight-restoring cataract operations in a developing country, or perhaps save 45,000 lives. “How can a painting, no matter how beautiful and historically significant, compare with that?” The deep philosophical question of the book is about such comparisons, and the obligations they give rise to. But Singer doesn’t want us to get tied up in knots. Give much more, he seems to say. Just do it.
Read full review by Jean Kazez

Providence Lost
by Genevieve Lloyd

Providence Lost is, in large part, a marvellous history of two conceptions of providence, freedom, and the good life in western thought. This history runs from Euripedes and the Pre-Socratics through Kant. Lloyd masterfully blends philosophical analysis with compelling biography. A particularly good example of this combination is “The Philosopher and the Princess.” In that chapter, Lloyd examines Descartes’s famous correspondence with Princess Elisabeth. Lloyd focuses on Descartes’s struggle to help Elisabeth gain control of her passions and achieve the good life. The failure of Descartes’s various proposed remedies leads to multiple revisions of his view, and so the fact that Elisabeth is “encumbered … by the restraints and demands of a bizarre court life” leaves a lasting mark on Cartesian philosophy.
Read full review by Erik J. Wielenberg

  1. TPM: The Philosophers’ Magazine | Best of 2009 - pingback on December 21, 2009 at 10:25 am

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