In the last two centuries, our world would have been a safer place if philosophers such as Rousseau, Marx, and Nietzsche had not given intellectual encouragement to the radical ideologies of Jacobins, Stalinists, and fascists. Maybe the world would have been better off, from the standpoint of sound practice, if philosophers had engaged in only modest, decent theory, as did John Stuart Mill. Yet, as Ronald Beiner contends, the point of theory is not to think safe thoughts; the point is to open intellectual horizons.
In Philosophy in a Time of Lost Spirit, Beiner reflects on the dualism of theory and practice. The purpose of the theorist is not to offer sensible guidance on the conduct of social life but to test the boundaries of our vision of social order. Whereas the liberal citizen should embody the practical virtues of prudence and moderation, the theorist should be radical, probing, and immoderate. Looking back at the liberal-communitarian debate of the 1980s, Beiner recognizes that the antidote to our spiritless times lies neither in the embrace of community over individualism nor of individualism over community: both individual and community need to be submitted to radical questioning. It is by exposing ourselves to the challenge of fearless thinking encountered at the philosophical extremities that we are most likely to understand our own world at a deeper level.
In this collection of essays and reviews, Ronald Beiner helps us to think critically about the thought-worlds of our foremost contemporary thinkers, including Hannah Arendt, Allan Bloom, Michel Foucault, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Jürgen Habermas, Will Kymlicka, Christopher Lasch, Richard Rorty, Judith Shklar, Leo Strauss, Charles Taylor, and Michael Walzer.
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Ronald Beiner is professor of political science at the University of Toronto. His book What's the Matter with Liberalism? was awarded the Macpherson Prize in 1994 by the Canadian Political Science Association and the University of Toronto Press.
'Philosophy in a Time of Lost Spirit is a tour de force of critical engagements with most major contemporary political philosophers: Rorty, Sandel, Walzer, Habermas, and Foucault. Much of its richness is in the fine grain of these encounters; those drawn to it for its broad themes should also follow Beiner into the detail of his arguements. The rewards are many, for he displays a remarkable and rare capacity to attend seriously to positions he ultimately rejects, and his essays are as much an education in the act of philosophizing as they are in their various specific topics.'(W. James Booth Books in Canada)
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