A World without Why

Princeton University Press
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Wishful thinking is a deeply ingrained human trait that has had a long-term distorting effect on ethical thinking. Many influential ethical views depend on the optimistic assumption that, despite appearances to the contrary, the human and natural world in which we live could, eventually, be made to make sense to us. In A World without Why, Raymond Geuss challenges this assumption.

The essays in this collection--several of which are published here for the first time--explore the genesis and historical development of this optimistic configuration in ethical thought and the ways in which it has shown itself to be unfounded and misguided. Discussions of Greco-Roman antiquity and of the philosophies of Socrates, Plato, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, and Adorno play a central role in many of these essays. Geuss also ranges over such topics as the concepts of intelligibility, authority, democracy, and criticism; the role of lying in politics; architecture; the place of theology in ethics; tragedy and comedy; and the struggle between realism and our search for meaning.

Characterized by Geuss's wide-ranging interests in literature, philosophy, and history, and by his political commitment and trenchant style, A World without Why raises fundamental questions about the viability not just of specific ethical concepts and theses, but of our most basic assumptions about what ethics could and must be.

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About the author

Raymond Geuss is professor emeritus of philosophy at the University of Cambridge. His books include Politics and the Imagination and Philosophy and Real Politics (both Princeton).
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Feb 16, 2014
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Pages
288
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ISBN
9781400848485
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Language
English
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Genres
Philosophy / Essays
Philosophy / Ethics & Moral Philosophy
Philosophy / General
Philosophy / Political
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Read Aloud
Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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Raymond Geuss
Much political thinking today, particularly that influenced by liberalism, assumes a clear distinction between the public and the private, and holds that the correct understanding of this should weigh heavily in our attitude to human goods. It is, for instance, widely held that the state may address human action in the ''public'' realm but not in the ''private.'' In Public Goods, Private Goods Raymond Geuss exposes the profound flaws of such thinking and calls for a more nuanced approach. Drawing on a series of colorful examples from the ancient world, he illustrates some of the many ways in which actions can in fact be understood as public or private.

The first chapter discusses Diogenes the Cynic, who flouted conventions about what should be public and what should be private by, among other things, masturbating in the Athenian marketplace. Next comes an analysis of Julius Caesar's decision to defy the Senate by crossing the Rubicon with his army; in doing so, Caesar asserted his dignity as a private person while acting in a public capacity. The third chapter considers St. Augustine's retreat from public life to contemplate his own, private spiritual condition. In the fourth, Geuss goes on to examine recent liberal views, questioning, in particular, common assumptions about the importance of public dialogue and the purportedly unlimited possibilities humans have for reaching consensus. He suggests that the liberal concern to maintain and protect, even at a very high cost, an inviolable ''private sphere'' for each individual is confused.

Geuss concludes that a view of politics and morality derived from Hobbes and Nietzsche is a more realistic and enlightening way than modern liberalism to think about human goods. Ultimately, he cautions, a simplistic understanding of privacy leads to simplistic ideas about what the state is and is not justified in doing.

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