Even if this is one of the easier translation of Kant's infamously difficult prose, which is well known to have sapped the spirit of even the most for...moreEven if this is one of the easier translation of Kant's infamously difficult prose, which is well known to have sapped the spirit of even the most formidable reader, this book is by no means an easy read.
Like many of Kant's works that often systematically dissect inquires into the nature and foundations of philosophical knowledge, Kant constructs his theory likewise in this book. Here, he attempts to formulate the rational basis of morality, so as to find out what rationality can do regarding a subject that often slides into skepticism and despair.
Many others for instance, often think morality as acculturated by one's surroundings, or that there are limitless possibilities if only one can alter one's definitions. Kant turns this idea on its head by saying that this is not true, and that it is indeed possible, in fact desirable, that one should pursue a more concrete answer to what morality is.
He builds his idea upon the epistemological foundations of his monumental masterpiece, The Critique of Pure Reason, and uses it as the his basis of understanding. First, he demarcates the limits of knowledge, then he tries to mesh them together, between what he calls, 'a priori' knowledge and 'a posteriori' knowledge.
The former are facts that are true of all possible worlds (like mathematical and logical truths such as 2+3=5); the latter, a posteriori knowledge, are known only through experience. Kant tries to fuse them together by what he calls a 'synthetic a priori' attempt in laying out what he feels is a necessary first step in order to discover what reason can do. It is 'synthetic' because he thinks that morality, just like our knowledge of the laws of the natural sciences, consists of both an empirical and a priori content.
By all means, Kant uses many examples in his argument. He starts off slowly, then builds his momentum by illustrating examples and thought experiments that he says, are necessary for synthetic knowledge to work. This is because we cannot simply experience all that is out there to give us certitude in morals, yet morals cannot do without the quality of experience that we have. Thus he says thought experiments are crucial to understanding morality.
But what is this basis in the first place? Kant says that there is nothing more important, indeed superior, to what is called the 'good will'. He goes at length to elaborate this abstract concept, using though experiments and analysis, and then in the 2nd chapeter, extends it out into a general principle - the 'formula of universal law and 'formula of humanity'. It is on this level, from the starting point of an individual, that he says: Treat others so that you can will your maxim as a universal law. (A maxim is a moral rule)
This is a radical and totally new thought. People used to think, from the Bible that, treat not others what you want not others to treat yourself. This law, postulated by Kant, raises the bar even higher. He says that you must be able to apply your moral rule that you apply yourself so that every single being on earth can see, if they use their faculty of reason, that they should follow it, without being able to see it not possible.
This then, will be the first step of morality.
There are many other detailed analysis that Kant goes to, and the Groundwork is certainly a very dense book. But no other philosopher (perhaps since Spinoza) before have managed to capture with such great insight the limits as well as possibilities of morality so clearly. Philosophers before have always thought that the basis of morality should come from god, which have given a lot of deep thinkers (even theologians) much uncertainty. Kant radically alters this by finding a human basis to morality.
It is impossible to understate the immensity and importance of this work. For the first time, morality could overcome the skepticism that is so often an accusation of those who doubt that it has any objective quality. For the first time again, one can have faith in human reason. The groundwork is often ranked alongside Plato's Republic and Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics as the most important philosophical works in Philosophy. This is certainly not a breezy or comfortable read. But if one has the patience and puts in the effort, just like Kant did in his thoughts, laying it systematically down, one is led into the realm of the greatness of human ability, where the capabilities of our minds can surpass the mortal, and lead to an unyielding and infinite revelation.(less)
The Sociological Imagination is perhaps the best introductory book to Sociology out there.
In this book that is part theory, part commentary and part...moreThe Sociological Imagination is perhaps the best introductory book to Sociology out there.
In this book that is part theory, part commentary and part appraisal, Mill appeals to readers to reconsider the positions and places of everyone in society.
Like a true sociologist, he asks the reader to see one's condition - the possibilities, aspirations and limitations - from another person's point of view. Through the light and lens of history, Mill urges anyone who reads his book to use his imagination to unfetter oneself from one's own prejudices and past and be generous. That history's role is not just to describe and judge the history of the past, but to illuminate the lives of others as well, is one of the most beautiful insights of sociological thought.
In this tender and sublime work, Mill eschews grand theory. He says grand theory, as is found in the Functionalist school, and some aspects of Marxism, is too limited. He particularly appeals to the reader to turn from the Functionalist school led by Talcott Parsons, that seeks to explain something as a role in the larger system served to fit its ends.
Rather, he says, the study of people and societies should be led by their local histories that will reveal more about the condition of others. Histories tells us multitudes more because they reveal the hidden nuances and deeper experiences of others, which allows us to empathize and think within their shoes as they relate to us more satisfyingly and insightfully, that large theories cannot.
In presenting to us others as how we see them, we find a connection with the people with observe, talk and interact to in a way that brings forth their humanity and humanness, rather than reduce to a larger whole, as was common to social studies at that time.
He urges sociologists and any person interested in studying society to use history as a tool of uncovering other subjectivities, rather than a weapon of our subjectivity, to reach out to a more comprehensive account of society.
Given that this book was published in the 1950s, before the Civil Rights movement, where women, Blacks, gays, lesbians, immigrants, and non-White races were treated as second class persons in the middle of the Cold War, The Sociological Imagination is all the more remarkable for how it reaches out to the divide, and argues for why it is never beyond our purview to try to know other people from the heart, if we really try to, because our imaginations are expansive enough to encompass the wilderness of others that are not as remote as they seem.(less)
Our notions of sexuality are often conditioned to be a rigid Black or White (Straight or Gay) perspective. Fausto-Sterling takes this by the throat (o...moreOur notions of sexuality are often conditioned to be a rigid Black or White (Straight or Gay) perspective. Fausto-Sterling takes this by the throat (or groin?) and questions it to the core. She uses extensive notes and scientific material to back up her claims. In particular, the complicated issues surrounding sexuality which she says has been greatly politicized and simplified.
Relating a great deal of research to real life techniques of those with 'mixed', nuanced genders, such as those born with sex organs from both sexes or hermaphrodites, she looks at the medical processes that are often, she accuses, a result of social unacceptability.
Even within the medical establishment, which is supposed to be more scientifically 'informed' about the complexities regarding sexuality, she says it is rarely as enlightened as such, and oftentimes when doctors deal with babies with reproductive organs from both sexes, they have to make a decision, based on hospital (social) procedures, to choose one.
That is not all, she also deals with such biological issues as hormones, genes, and brain/psychological attributes that are key determinants of sexuality.
Fernando Pessoa is one of the most delightful and unknown gems in world literature that, once you discover him, you are revealed a wondrous world of m...moreFernando Pessoa is one of the most delightful and unknown gems in world literature that, once you discover him, you are revealed a wondrous world of magical phrases and words.
In this myriad collection of somewhat neurotic poems, he writes about the life of a man in the universe - himself - alone and searching, relating to what is often a mystery beyond the reach of any physical person, but not the imagination. He writes about smallness, in light of largeness, and muses about the collective consciousness of people under the stars.
The poems are formed with exactitude in structure. However, Pessoa's imaginative flair exudes beyond the limited stanzas that he doesn't try very hard to play with, like other modernist poets that take liberties with structure (one comes to mind the extreme T.S. Eliot), which makes it all the more intriguing.
Together with his better known novel, 'The Book of Disquiet', one is invited to another side of Pessoa's restless mind.
This book traces Barack Obama's personal journey as a young man.
How he, as a young adult, searched for his identity, identified himself as a Black ma...moreThis book traces Barack Obama's personal journey as a young man.
How he, as a young adult, searched for his identity, identified himself as a Black man, and how it influenced his outlook in life; his years in Hawaii as a high school student and his encounters with his Uncle and friends that shaped his views about the human condition.
Particularly resonating is his own search for his father that he has met only once, that had left a deep impression on him, that he remembers trying to envision while he was growing up.
Perhaps if Obama could tell his tale today it would be different. This book captures some of his early idealism as a Senator.