How Should One Live?: Comparing Ethics in Ancient China and Greco-Roman Antiquity by Richard King (DeGruyter) Chinese and Greco-Roman ethics present highly articulate views on how one should live; both of these traditions remain influential in modern philosophy. The question arises how these traditions can be compared with one another. Comparative ethics is a relatively young discipline; this volume is a major contribution to the field. Fundamental questions about the nature of comparing ethics are treated in two introductory chapters, and core issues in each of the traditions are addressed: harmony, virtue, friendship, knowledge, the relation of ethics to morality, relativism, emotions, being and unity, simplicity and complexity, and prediction. More
Derek Parfit, On What Matters, Volumes 1 and 2, Oxford University Press, 2011, 592pp. + 848pp., $55.00 (hbk), ISBN 9780199265923
It is finally here. Wrapped in a stunning jacket design featuring the author's own photographs and embossed gold and black titling, the two massive volumes of Derek Parfit's On What Matters will be the most beautiful philosophy books on any shelf they grace -- a worthy start to living up to over a decade of being "the most eagerly awaited book in philosophy", according to Oxford University Press's promotion materials. Given the enormous stature of Parfit's 1984 Reasons and Persons (my colleague Jake Ross calls its part IV 'the Platonic Form of philosophy') and Parfit's selective publication schedule, it should be no surprise that his second book should be so anticipated. But with Brad Hooker's  advance notice that it is "probably . . . the most important publication in moral philosophy since Henry Sidgwick's The Methods of Ethics in 1874" and Peter Singer's  front-page Times Literary Supplement gush that it is "the most significant work in ethics since Sidgwick's masterpiece was published in 1873," On What Matters certainly has a lot to live up to.
Lofty expectations aside, there is no doubt that On What Matters is an epochal work. Philosophers my age and younger have never experienced a philosophical world in which there were not conferences and symposia being organized for Parfit to present drafts of the material collected in this work and critics to evaluate it before it was even finished. It is at the same time one of the most collaborative philosophical works ever created (Parfit thanks hundreds for their input) and one of the most intensely personal. And the book is indeed a remarkable achievement, giving us a truly comprehensive picture of the moral outlook -- both normative and metaethical -- of one of the greatest moral thinkers of our time. Whether or not its many specific arguments are widely accepted, the comprehensive picture of the normative terrain it outlines is one with which future work will need to grapple. More
Plants As Persons: A Philosophical Botany by Matthew Hall and Harold Coward (SUNY Series on Religion and the Environment: State University of New York, SUNY) Plants are people too? Not exactly, but in this work of philosophical botany Matthew Hall challenges readers to reconsider the moral standing of plants, arguing that they are other-than-human persons. Plants constitute the bulk of our visible biomass, underpin all natural ecosystems, and make life on Earth possible. Yet plants are considered passive and insensitive beings rightly placed outside moral consideration. As the human assault on nature continues, more ethical behavior toward plants is needed. Hall surveys Western, Eastern, Pagan, and Indigenous thought, as well as modern science and botanical history, for attitudes toward plants, noting the particular resources for plant personhood and those modes of thought which most exclude plants. The most hierarchical systems typically put plants at the bottom, but Hall finds much to support a more positive view of plants. Indeed, some Indigenous animisms actually recognize plants as relational, intelligent beings who are the appropriate recipients of care and respect. New scientific findings encourage this perspective, revealing that plants possess many of the capacities of sentience and mentality traditionally denied them. More
Friendship in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Age: Explorations of a Fundamental Ethical Discourse by Albrecht Classen (Fundamentals of Medieval and Early Modern Culture: De Gruyter) Although it seems that erotic love generally was the prevailing topic in the medieval world and the Early Modern Age, parallel to this the Ciceronian ideal of friendship also dominated the public discourse, as this collection of essays demonstrates. Following an extensive introduction, the individual contributions explore the functions and the character of friendship from Late Antiquity (Augustine) to the 17th century. They show the spectrum of variety in which this topic appeared - not only in literature but also in politics and even in painting. More
The Unlikely Buddhologist: Tiantai Buddhism in Mou Zongsan's New Confucianism by Jason Clower (Modern Chinese Philosophy: Brill Academic) Mou Zongsan (1909-1995) was such a seminal, polymathic figure that scholars of Asian philosophy and religion will be absorbing his influence for at least a generation. Drawing on expertise in Confucian, Buddhist, Daoist, and modern Western thought, Mou built a system of "New Confucian" philosophy aimed at answering one of the great questions: "What is the relationship between value and being?" However, though Mou acknowledged that he derived his key concepts from Tiantai Buddhist philosophy, it remains unclear exactly how and why he did so. In response, this book investigates Mou's buddhological writings in the context of his larger corpus and explains how and why he incorporated Buddhist ideas selectively into his system. Written extremely accessibly, it provides a comprehensive unpacking of Mou's ideas about Buddhism, Confucianism, and metaphysics with the precision needed to make them available for critical appraisal. More
The Ethics of Confucius and Aristotle: Mirrors of Virtue by Jiyuan Yu (Routledge Studies in Ethics and Moral Theory: Routledge) The emergence of virtue ethics, which might be the most significant development in contemporary ethics, takes Aristotle's ethics as the most important paradigm. Aristotle's ethical thinking, in contrast to modern Western moral philosophy, starts with a reflection on human life as a whole instead of on some moral acts, and focuses on character and virtue instead of on principles and rules. This way of doing ethics is shared by Confucius. First, Confucius seeks to find the human dao, i.e. the way to become a good person. Second, to become a good person, one must cultivate de, that is, a dispositional character (indeed, de has been generally translated as "virtue" in English). Confucius calls this dispositional character ren. Ren has been generally translated as "benevolence" or "humanity," but is also widely referred to as "virtue," "complete virtue," or "cardinal virtue." More
Overcoming Our Evil: Human Nature and Spiritual Exercises in Xunzi and Augustine by Aaron Stalnaker (Moral Traditions: Georgetown University Press) Can people ever really change? Do they ever become more ethical, and if so, how? "Overcoming Our Evil" focuses on the way ethical and religious commitments are conceived and nurtured through the methodical practices that Pierre Hadot has called 'spiritual exercises'. These practices engage thought, imagination, and sensibility, and have a significant ethical component, yet aim for a broader transformation of the whole personality. Going beyond recent philosophical and historical work that has focused on ancient Greco-Roman philosophy, Stalnaker broadens ethical inquiry into spiritual exercises by examining East Asian as well as classical Christian sources, and taking religious and seemingly 'aesthetic' practices such as prayer, ritual, and music more seriously as objects of study. More specifically, "Overcoming Our Evil" examines and compares the thought and practice of the early Christian Augustine of Hippo, and the early Confucian Xunzi. Both have sophisticated and insightful accounts of spiritual exercises, and both make such ethical work central to their religious thought and practice. Yet to understand the two thinkers' recommendations for cultivating virtue we must first understand some important differences. Here Stalnaker disentangles the competing aspects of Augustine and Xunxi's ideas of 'human nature'. His groundbreaking comparison of their ethical vocabularies also drives a substantive analysis of fundamental issues in moral psychology, especially regarding emotion and the complex idea of 'the will', to examine how our dispositions to feel, think, and act might be slowly transformed over time. The comparison meticulously constructs vivid portraits of both thinkers demonstrating where they connect and where they diverge, making the case that both have been misunderstood and misinterpreted. In throwing light on these seemingly disparate ancient figures in unexpected ways, Stalnaker redirects recent debate regarding practices of personal formation, and more clearly exposes the intellectual and political issues involved in the retrieval of 'classic' ethical sources in diverse contemporary societies, illuminating a path toward a contemporary understanding of difference. More
The Politics of Peace by Te-Li Lau (Supplements to Novum Testamentum: Brill Academic) Although scholarship has noted the thematic importance of peace in Ephesians, few have examined its political character in a sustained manner throughout the entire letter. This book addresses this lacuna, comparing Ephesians with Colossians, Greek political texts, Dio Chrysostom's Orations, and the Confucian Four Books in order to ascertain the rhetorical and political nature of its topos of peace. Through comparison with analogous documents both within and without its cultural milieu, this study shows that Ephesians can be read as a politico-religious letter 'concerning peace' within the church. Its vision of peace contains common political elements (such as moral education, household management, communal stability, a universal humanity, and war) that are subsumed under the controlling rubric of the unity and cosmic summing up of all things in Christ. More
The Moral Wager: Evolution and Contract by Malcolm Murray (Philosophical Studies Series: Springer) illuminates and sharpens moral theory, by analyzing the evolutionary dynamics of interpersonal relations as analyzed in a variety of games. We discover that successful players in evolutionary games operate as if following this piece of normative advice: Don't do unto others without their consent.
From this advice, some significant implications for moral theory follow. First, we cannot view morality as a categorical imperative. Secondly, we cannot hope to offer rational justification for adopting moral advice. This is where Glaucon and Adeimantus went astray: they wanted a proof of the benefits of morality in every single case. That is not possible. Moral constraint is a bad bet taken in and of itself. But there is some good news: moral constraint is a good bet when examined statistically. Murray’s game-theory ethics offers some practical calculus for a more nuanced use of contract theory in the development of moral norms. His theory is less compelling when he attempts to account for altruism within this evolutionary nexus. It is hoped that Murray’s analysis of relativism become widely known as he avoids both extremes of unnecessary subjective nihilism and moral objectivism. More
Friendship: An Exposé by Joseph Epstein (Houghton Mifflin) Joseph Epstein's last book of social criticism was the best-selling Snobbery: The American Version– his exploration on the various ways snobbery exists, its different forms, and how snobs and snobbisms changed after the decline of old-line WASP values.With Friendship, a similar observation animates his quest as he investigates a subject equally universal and, in many ways, more complex, rich, and perfectly suited to his trademark blend of sophisticated wit and commentary. More
The Philosophy of Friendship by Mark Vernon (Palgrave Macmillan) links the resources of the philosophical tradition with numerous illustrations from modern culture to ask what friendship is and how it relates to sex, work, politics and spirituality. Unusually, he argues that Plato and Nietzsche, as much as Aristotle and Aelred, should be put center stage. Their penetrating and occasionally tough insights are invaluable if friendship is to be a full, not merely sentimental, way of life for today. Vernon offers a blog and some self evaluation resources at his website: www.friendshiponline.info. The work manages to invoke the traditions and concepts of philosophy while maintaining a balanced view of the demands of modern life. More
Living Philosophy: An Introduction to Moral Thought, 3rd Edition
by Ray Billington (Routledge) is a thoroughly revised and
updated version of its highly successful and popular predecessor.
Incorporating several brand new case studies and discussion points,
the book introduces central questions in ethical theory to the
student and assumes no previous knowledge of philosophy.
Each chapter deals with a particular ethical issue and has an accompanying case study designed to encourage discussion. New topics raised include genetically modified organisms (GMO), environmental ethics, bioethics and the human genome, as well as a new chapter on religious and cultural relativism in the light of September 11th. Ray Billington's style is at once refreshing and honest and his approach to the subject is always clear. The coverage of the book is tailored for any introductory course in ethics.
When Jesus Came to Harvard : Making Moral Choices Today by
Harvey Cox (Houghton Mifflin) Over the fifteen years that Harvey Cox
taught his Harvard undergraduate class Jesus and the Moral Life, the
course grew so popular that the lectures had to be taught in a
theater usually reserved for rock concerts. The overwhelming
response was a clear signal of the hunger for guidance in today's
confusing world, where moral guidelines seem to shift daily. How can
we ask today "What Would Jesus Do?," when Jesus never had to cope
with an unintended pregnancy, or confront a teenage daughter about
her drug use, or decide whether to put an ailing parent in a
In his new book, Cox brings the moral wisdom of Rabbi Jesus into the twenty-first century by way of the questions, arguments, responses, and doubts of centuries of rabbinic and Christian theological exploration, as well as the voices of the thousands of Harvard students who attended his course over the years. Cox shows how we can extrapolate from Jesus' parables and bridge the gap between the ancient and modern worlds. As an example, he recalls his experience while locked in a southern jail during the civil rights movement, when the song "We Shall Overcome" rang from nearby cells. The message he takes is from the story of the Resurrection: transcendent hope rising from the depths of injustice.
When Jesus Came to Harvard is not another look at the "historical Jesus," but it considers Jesus' contemporary significance by concentrating on the stories he told and those told about him. For youth and adults, Christian and non-Christian, When Jesus Came to Harvard is urgently relevant.
Over the fifteen years that Harvey Cox taught `Jesus and the Moral Life" to undergraduates at Harvard, the course grew so popular that the lectures had to be given in a theater usually reserved for rock concerts. Cox's students came from a wide variety of backgrounds (Christian, Jewish, Muslim, atheist) and from all different programs at Harvard Eventually the classroom included visiting fellows, postdoctoral scientific researchers, midcareer diplomats, city planners, and journalists. The overwhelming response was a cleat signal of the hunger for guidance in today's confusing world, where moral guidelines seem to shift daily. In WHEN JESUS CAME TO HARVARD: Making Moral Choices Today, Cox translates the method and message of Jesus into today's idiom.
Cox reminds readers that Jesus was a rabbi and a storyteller, and that the most profound lesson we can take from his stories is the value of imagination. Jesus taught and applied Torah, the Jewish law, and in good rabbinical fashion he never delivered an easy answer to a hard question; instead, he told stories, forcing the seekers to come to their own decisions. "What motivates people are stories," Cox writes, "narratives, accounts of situations in which choices must be made and stands taken." Jesus invited others — especially through his parables — to sharpen their moral insight and then to make their own choices. He encouraged people to draw on the imagination to solve moral dilemmas, something Cox believes we need to practice more. "Of course we need reasoning to lead a moral life, but we need — even more — the capacity to intuit what is important and to see a way through what sometimes appears to be an impasse. We need to appreciate not just how other people see things but how they feel about them, and to do this our most potent resource is still the human imagination, awakened by compelling narratives."
With this in mind, Cox considers the stories in the New Testament, both those Jesus told and those that were told about him, and shows how each can still inform moral choices today. In the Gospel of Matthew, for example, the Sermon on the Mount provides rich insights into our yearning for safety, comfort, and wealth. "[Jesus] was asking people, then
and now," Cox writes, "to try to seek an alternative to the kind of security — itself often very shaky — the world of money and accumulation seems to offer." And as to those parables which he and his students found confusing, Cox suggests that "perplexity and confusion are not always obstacles to learning," and that perhaps what we need to take from these stories is that "growing up means learning to live with unsatisfying and incomplete endings. The parables remain vivid because they refuse to cater to our craving for tidy completion."
Teaching a class of hundreds of students of various cultures and beliefs how to make moral choices in today's world may seem a tall order, and to focus the lively discussions that he knew would fill each class, Cox encouraged his students to consider a special approach to moral reasoning. During heated discussions of modem dilemmas, he would first tell his students to check the facts of a given situation: 'What, exactly, is partial birth abortion?" "Who, precisely, is cutting down the trees in the Amazon?" Next the class had to decide if the argument a student was making was consistent, coherent, and logical Counter-arguments were considered, as well as possible responses. Then the class would focus on loyalties. 'What, I asked them to consider, are your fundamental life commitments — to family, nation, faith, community, ethnic group, gender? How do these loyalties, even if you hold them in varying and changing degrees, influence your thinking about moral questions?' Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Cox asked students to think about "grand narratives," or worldviews, formative narratives that all of us carry around and that influence our every decision. This way of dealing with each issue as it came up sparked a lot of discussion, and required that people tell their own stories and listen to those of others. It proved to be one of the reasons the course became so popular.
Another was undoubtedly the professor leading the group. Cox's distinct voice canes the reader through the book, as it must have through the semesters of "Jesus and the Moral Life," His style is playful, conversational, and his remarkable talent to stimulate discussion about the life of Jesus even among nonreligious students and readers comes through on every page. In a chapter on biblical genealogies, he writes that he instructed his students not to read them, but to sing them. After considering some of the racy plot lines about Rahab and Tamar found in accounts of Jesus' ancestry, he adds, "With this kind of scandalous stuff inside the covers of the Good Book, who needs to waste money on true romance magazines?'
Cox is also quite open about his own experiences, and offers some of his own story over the course of the book. He writes of stumbling blocks he faced while teaching the class, and points at which — sparked by something that came up in a class or that he was preparing for his students — his approach to moral reasoning changed. After he had been teaching the course for a few years, he began to study the spiritual exercises of Saint Ignatius Loyola, and after some hesitation, Cox found and worked with a spiritual director on these exercises. Loyola thought that to truly follow Jesus, one should imagine carrying on a conversation with him. Cox writes, "Now, years later, I still carry on imaginary conversations with the rabbi from Nazareth. It has become my principal form of meditation." This, in turn, led him to talk to students about self-examination, about solving moral dilemmas by joining the questions' Who am I?" with "What must I do?
Why do you think it's important for students who receive an education grounded in scientific reasoning to take a course in moral reasoning? How did you hope your students changed after taking your course?
Science and technology (and gigantic economic and political institutions) play such a powerful role in all our lives that we really need to be prepared to live with them, and to manage them, with deepened moral awareness. At least students need to be able to recognize a moral issue when one confronts them. I hope the course helped with this.
Did students of different backgrounds interpret moral issues (and how to apply Jesus' teachings to those issues) in characteristically different ways?
Jewish students tended to put more emphasis on acts, while the Christian students looked more at the inner motivation. Buddhist students tended toward nonviolence in all situations, the Muslims toward the just use of power. The nonreligious students were often surprised by how much of Jesus' ideas and life they could accept.
Are certain stories of Jesus easier to relate to in the twenty-first century? Did people in previous centuries turn for guidance to different stories than we do today?
I think all the stories of Jesus still retain a sharp relevance, although we do of course read different things into them. The question of how Jesus treated "outsiders" looms with greater importance today.
Over the more than fifteen years that you taught "Jesus and the Moral Life" at Harvard, can you name one change you made to keep the class fresh and relevant?
I started with a focus mainly on the ethical and moral issues, but over the years I noticed that the students had an intense interest in the philosophical and spiritual issues that lurk everywhere, both in the Bible and in life around us. So I included more of those, and the students responded positively.
Was there a particular lecture in the syllabus that seemed to generate the most debate?
Yes. When we discussed Jesus' warnings against the spiritual danger of wealth and his obvious preference for the poor, this raised serious questions in the students' minds about their own career plans and goals. The exchanges were always lively, sometimes sharp.
What are some of the challenges you encountered when preparing "Jesus and the Moral Life"? How did the university support you? Now that the course is "retired," has anything been created to replace it?
The biggest challenge was the unexpectedly large enrollment, which neither the university officials nor I had anticipated. This required moving the lectures to a much larger hall than I had been used to. I also had to find additional section leaders, since the discussion sections played such a key role in the course. Harvard helped me find them and provided good training opportunities for them. Unfortunately, no course quite like mine has been introduced, and now the whole "core curriculum" idea is being reexamined and may be eliminated.
Can you describe how the course was organized? Were topics presented in a special order?
The trajectory was quite simple. We followed the life of Jesus as it is told in the Gospels, from the Nativity stories to the Easter accounts. Along the way, we turned to whatever moral and/or philosophical/religious issues these stories raised, especially the ones the students themselves were facing. I used this approach because even relatively uninformed students were familiar with the general outline of Jesus' life, and I also believe the Gospel writers had good reasons for presenting the narrative in this order.
You write that as our communities become less homogeneous, it seems to become more difficult to find common moral ground. How can Jesus, who is so firmly linked to only the Christian tradition, be an accessible moral example to people of other faiths?
Actually, Jesus is linked to more than one tradition, though in different ways. Nowadays some Jews see him as in the line of the prophets and rabbis. (Notice that some of the blurbs on the book's jacket and in the publicity materials were written by rabbis.) Muslims also see Jesus as one of the prophets, with several prominent mentions in the Qu'ran and the Hadith. Buddhists respect him as a bodhisattva, and he is an important figure in popular Hindu devotion. What is perhaps most important about the course and this book is that the students address precisely the question of the moral relevance of Jesus in a religiously pluralistic society.
How do you personally deal with moral relativism?
I start by admitting that my own perspective is necessarily relative, but that the moral basis of life, which we all grasp from our own perspectives, is ultimately not relative. But the fact that we live with different perspectives today necessitates a continuing and intense dialogue about the choices we face.
Who are some of the theologians you turned to for inspiration and guidance when creating the course?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Paul Tillich, Abraham Joshua Heschel, Thich Nhat Hanh. Which parable or story about the life of Jesus means the most to you?
The Good Samaritan. It's not a morality tale but the unlikely casting of an improbable character as "the one who showed mercy." But I also like the King's Banquet, when none of the invitees show up, so unsuspecting passersby are pulled in. That's life!
Bioethics: A Philosophical Introduction by Stephen Holland (Philosophy Today: Polity Press) (Paperback) This book provides a clear and stimulating introduction to bioethics: It is also a comprehensive and illuminating study of some of the most important themes of our times. From the more familiar debates on euthanasia, living wills and new reproductive technologies such as IVF, Holland guides the reader through the philosophical implications of recent developments in genetics such as prenatal genetic therapy, genetic enhancement and human cloning. The book is built around four important themes. First, the nature of moral status: do human embryos have moral status? Do animals? What are the implications for bioethics of the moral status of such creatures? The second theme — life, death and killing — looks at the ethics of ending human life, or of failing to lengthen it as long as possible. Holland then explores the question of personal identity as it connects with contemporary bioethical problems. Finally, he presents and develops a version of the argument from nature — which continues to be influential in bioethics — in order to try to make sense of the objection that some biomedical innovations are 'unnatural'.
By structuring the discussions in this way the author succeeds in creating a clear, engagingly written introduction to bioethics that will be an ideal textbook for students.
Stephen Holland is an incredibly lucid writer. He begins by writing, 'The aim of this book is to introduce bieothics by discussing some contemporary issues in a philosophical way', and then proceeds to define exactly how and why this will be accomplished. Every chapter of the book begins this way, and the development of ideas and principles that follows is incredibly clear and completely non-biased. The latter is probably the most notable aspect of the book; Holland does a good job of presenting not only the strengths, but also the weaknesses, of every view on every issue. For instance, when discussing the 'fault line' between the liberal and conservative view on the value of life, he shows specific cases where each would succeed and conditions under which each would fail. His bibliography is extensive, and many topics have in-text suggestions for further reading, which makes the book a valuable tool for anyone doing research in bioethics. Holland arranges the book around four themes: moral status; life, death and killing; personal identity; and, the normativity of the 'natural'. In each part he approaches issues related to the theme, such as discussing stem cell therapy and xenotransplantation in the section on moral status. Holland's discussions are always illuminating and thought-provoking, and often, very rousing. After reading about the chapter on the value of life, I immediately went online to look up specific cases of extreme circumstances that could possibly justify abortion.
The Pro-Life/Choice Debate by Mark Y. Herring (Historical Guides to Controversial Issues in America: Greenwood Press) examines the issue from the debate's origin to its current state and expected future. Follows a brief conceptual history of the idea of Abortion in the west with narrative chapters including discussions of the pro and con arguments associated with abortion as it now stands in stalemate or erosion, featuring quotes from doctors, politicians, religious figures, and ordinary people.
Historical Guides to Controversial Issues in America Series is new format. It looks at how did today's hot-button issues develop. How did these issues grow into passionately debated controversies within American society? The volumes in this series present narrative chapters to trace the key aspects of important issues throughout history. Each volume features:
While the disagreements on abortion date to the beginning of this nation, most of its public debate has taken place during the 20th century. Herring examines the issue from the debate's origin to its current state and expected future. Narrative chapters include discussions of the pro and con arguments associated with abortion, featuring quotes from doctors, politicians, religious figures, and ordinary people.
First in the new Historical Guides to Controversial Issues in
America series, this volume studies the major events and periods in
the development of the abortion debate throughout its history.
Students will find a nonpartisan approach to landmark cases, acts and amendments, and Pro-Life and Pro-Choice advocates. A list of Pro-Life/Choice Web sites and other electronic resources for further research is included.
Moral Education: A Teacher-Centered Approach by Joan F. Goodman, Howard Lesnick (Pearson Allyn & Bacon) reveals the richness of moral education, as well as its centrality and pervasiveness, and provides an instructional approach that respects the diversity of viewpoints.
This book describes the ordinary moral questions that arise in every classroom, every day. Through the voices of children, teachers, administrators, and parents, it presents and analyzes the conflicting assumptions and priorities of those interested in moral education.
Ethics and Aesthetics of Freedom in American and Chinese Realism by Wenying Xu (Studies in Comparative Literature, V. 60: Edwin Mellen Press) Wenying Xu has written a remarkable book on the ethics and aesthetics of freedom. This book undertakes a great responsibility of its own: to find a way of discussing together works of art and writers' careers that are separated by much of the twentieth century and by thousands of miles. The Americans she studies are Henry James and William Dean Howells, and she treats major works from the later nineteenth century, including James's The Portrait of a Lady and The Princess Casamassima and Howells's A Hazard of New Fortunes. She finds in these works not only accomplishments admirable in themselves, although not beyond criticism, but she also finds examples of these writers' work that allow her purchase on the work of later twentieth century Chinese writers: Liu Binyan (born 1924) and Zhang Xianliang (born 1936).
Professor Xu's own experiences as an exiled intellectual and writer in contemporary Chinese and American history have allowed her to formulate this remarkable constellation by using the work of the French social thinker Michel Foucault (1926-1984). She takes from Foucault an emphasis, associated with his earlier work, on the systems of coercion that operate through social institutions, including institutions of language; and she finds also in Foucault's later work a concern with living a free and beautiful life. As an independently conceived employment of the resources Foucault left in his intellectual "toolbox," this represents on Professor Xu's part a valuable theoretical contribution.
The topic of realism that is the overall concern of this book has been one of the most debated and denounced terms in critical vocabulary since the middle of the nineteenth century. In official Communist ideologies and programs for the arts, the term has taken on a coercive and deadening weight, and in many avant-garde discourses of the West, the term has seemed to name a foolish goal of somehow eliminating the differences between art and life. For Professor Xu, the term realism, and the goals it points toward, are too important to sacrifice. So she sets out to free it from the rigidities imposed on it by both sides. Liu Binyan is especially useful to her here, for before his exile from China late in his career, he had worked for decades to keep alive a more flexible and responsive mission of writing about life as it really was, which meant in ways that differed from those of the official party canons of realism. This practical example comes late in the book, but from the beginning, Professor Xu has sought to keep realism alive by understanding it in a pragmatic way, not as a metaphysical project of epistemological certainty, but rather as a manner of social conduct in the institution of art and in the service of life.
What Professor Xu defines as the "politics of resistance in the realist novel" is a noble task carried out by the four writers she studies, but it is part of her pragmatic perspective that she does not idealize them, even while she admires them. Whether Henry James and capitalism or Liu Binyan and communism, the writers she studies have made compromises with the social orders in which they live. Neither the New York experiences of Howells nor Zhang's "literature of the wounded" provides a perspective from which all of life may be encompassed, and Professor Xu is concerned to show the other sides of their pictures. She is well aware of the dangers that arise when writers assume the role of the "leading intellectual," what Paul Bové has characterized as "intellectuals in power," and yet she is willing to venture a risk. Writers who do the work of realism, by daring to delve into what is not immediately seen and to connect it to other parts of life, bring both intellectual and emotional resources to their readers. The dual realist tasks of "investigation" and "relationship" that she finds shared by Liu and Howells are better bets for improving human life than would be found in a society in which such tasks are left aside.
As a creative writer herself, Professor Xu is always aware that realist fiction is still fiction, that it is a form of art, and one might venture that her salutary emphasis on realism comes down to an unwavering commitment that art indeed serves life, that words make a difference to people, which means that fiction intervenes in reality.
Excerpt: In my discussions of these four writers, I will often use terms such as "domination," "oppression," "power," "resistance," "freedom," "practicing freedom," and "auto-critique." To explain what they mean and how I am using them, I choose to resort to Michel Foucault who offers a comprehensive analytical interpretation of domination and ways of resisting it. A reading of Foucault now, however, does not happen in a vacuum free from the different Foucaults that his critics have created. Therefore, it is going to be necessary to engage myself with many of the charges made by his critics and to "rescue" a Foucault which would serve as the theoretical framework for my study of literary realism. For this reason I devote Chapter One entirely to the discussion of Michel Foucault.
I will attempt to "rescue" Foucault from his critics by presenting my interpretation of his writings, paying close attention to the cultural materials he inherited and out of which he constructed his position, and by rebutting some of the criticisms leveled against his work. In Foucault's sense of the author who creates discourses and traditions which later writers develop and reconstruct, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Marx, and Merleau-Ponty are the authors whose discourses become an important part of his own. Nietzsche teaches him that the story of humans is best seen as one about people exercising power over others in a world filled with chance. Heidegger teaches him that humans acquire knowledge primarily through participation in social practices. Marx teaches him that social history is one of social practices which result in people suffering domination and oppression in spite of the intentions of those who participate in the practices. From Merleau-Ponty he learns the significance of others.
As for the criticisms of Foucault, I will try to refute the following charges: (1) Foucault is inconsistent when he asserts agency in his ethics and only leaves room for docile bodies in his analysis of power. (2) He is inconsistent in locating knowledge in the realm of power relations while yet giving interpretations and criticisms of that realm. (3) He makes normative judgments but cannot justify the norms he uses. (4) He rejects the enlightenment's emancipation project, and yet he offers genealogy as an intellectual method of resisting domination. (5) His aesthetic characterization of the good life divorces it from his normative indictments of domination and from any need to care for others. (6) Neither his genealogical studies nor his ethics of care for the self provide any concrete help or direction for resisting domination or for political engagement.
In Chapter Two I will present a critical reading of two of the realist novels of Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady and The Princess Casamassima. I choose in this chapter to follow my interpretation of Foucault for two purposes. First, James discusses through the portrait of Isabel Archer the counterproductive aspects of the notion of freedom popular in the nineteenth century U.S.A., and this notion severely frustrates Isabel's pursuit of freedom and an aesthetic life. James's concern in Portrait is also Foucault's. Though written in a different age and social and cultural context, Portrait, read in the light of Foucault's theory, fleshes out Foucault's analysis while also revealing the limitations in James's presentation of personal freedom and beauty. Second, in Princess James places in tension the pursuit of a beautiful life and the pursuit of a just life. He does so by presenting characters who are forced to weigh the cultural cost against the social gains in a revolution. By viewing the world of Princess from a Foucaultian perspective, we can concretize Foucault's concern over the dangers involved in large-scale social reconstructions and we can critique the various calculations of gains and losses being made in the novel and by Foucault.
In Chapter Three I will deal with the issues surrounding Howells's realist project. Through a reading of A Hazard of New Fortunes and The World of Chance, I will show that Howells's efforts in auto-critique result in his interrogation of the liberal demand that art must be free from politics and his revelation of the contradictions within liberal capitalism. I will also lay out his realist project, which takes as its opposition cultural practices and ideologies that legitimate and sustain economic oppression and human suffering, factors such as the "gospel of wealth" and social Darwinism, aesthetic and cognitive political non-engagement in aestheticism, liberalism, and positivistic journalism. Finally, by expanding his concept of sympathy and critically examining, from the perspective of Foucault and Alvin Gouldner, the limitations of Howells's understanding and auto-criticism of realist writers' involvement in the rise of the social group of intellectuals, I will attempt to outline some elements involved in a renewal of literary realism as a form of cultural criticism, political resistance, and caring for oneself as a writer.
I turn to Chinese realism in Chapter Four. There I will sketch the Chinese philosophical background against which Liu Binyan and Zhang Xianliang write in order to point out that neither their literary realism nor their Marxist critical interpretations of their world need to be read in terms of Western philosophical categories of realism and foundationalism. Not attempting anything like a comprehensive history, the materials highlighted in this sketch are only those which I find most helpful in preventing such a reading by Western readers. My reading of "People or Monsters?" and "Sound Is Better Than Silence" will present the case that Liu is an internal critic of the Chinese Communist Party(CCP) and that his exposé of Party corruption intends to remonstrate to the party for rectification. In contrast with U.S. journalism which Howells condemns, Liu's investigative journalism joins the ranks of realism with its specific goal directed at exposing the artifice of Party purity and presenting the human suffering caused by the abuse of power within the Party.
In Chapter Five I turn to the atrocious domination of intellectuals, particularly writers, in the Anti-Rightist Campaign and the Great Cultural Revolution. My reading of Half of Man Is Woman and Getting Used to Dying will present a heroic story of how Zhang combats the official amnesia, organized by Deng's regime, oft he past calamities brought a bout mainly b y ideological mistakes of the Party and Mao. While narrating this heroic story, I will also point out the Chinese phallocentrism given expression by the author in the forms of sexism and gender anxiety. To understand Zhang's generation of writers and their struggle today, I feel it is necessary to present a history of the CCP's relentless persecution of writers. Reflecting on that history, Zhang's writing enacts the drama in which intellectuals are disciplined into near total subjugation so that care for the self can only take the form of surviving psychological and physical torture. The two novels read like a dramatic verification of Foucault's entire story about domination, resistance, the body, disciplinary practices of subjugation, and identity formation. Zhang's insistence on writing about his personal experience as a counter-revolutionary in prisons and labor camps is his practice of freedom and his form of care for the self.
In this book a wide range of rich materials is brought together whose affinity to each other might seem obscure. That these texts have been treated as realist does not suggest their similarity in style or subject. This is why it is crucial for this book to treat literary realism as a cultural movement rather than a literary genre. On the strength of their radically different socio-economic contexts, American and Chinese realism offer us a transcultural understanding of the political significance of literary realism. My methodology is not so much that of comparative literature as that of interpositioning two models of realism with the agenda of affirming their value for resistance to domination. The guiding principle that negotiates cultural differences in this book, a negotiation that is conscious of and cautious about possible epistemic violence, is Foucault's principle of minimizing non-consensuality. This principle allows me to study two sites of realism's political efficacy without reproducing eurocentrism, even though the theoretical framework is Western. It is the attentiveness to the particular voices of these writers, their grappling with their specific worlds, and their individual grievances toward certain forms of domination that prevents this work from sliding toward universalist tendencies masking eurocentrism, and this attentiveness manifests itself through my close reading of the literary texts and my interest in details.
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