Monday, June 23, 2008

McBride, William L. "Review of Katherine Morris' SARTRE." NDPR June 30, 2008.

Morris, Katherine J. Sartre. Oxford: Blackwell, 2008. The book is well-written, generally careful and accurate in its philosophical claims, and skillful at showing, in a number of places, ways in which Sartre's critics have gotten him wrong, while still taking a distance from him on some issues. (Morris likes to use the word "nuance" as a verb -- as, e.g., on p. 99: she is not, she says, contradicting his claim about the relation between bodies and instruments, but "nuancing" it.) The book is also an exercise in challenging both those self-styled "analytic" philosophers who find no value in Continental European thought and those post-modernists and others who take Sartre to be passé, as the author explicitly says at one point in her introduction (p. xiii). In fact, I regard this aspect of the work -- that is, its probing and bridging of the Analytic-Continental "gap" -- as perhaps its greatest single contribution to ongoing philosophical discussion, since in fulfilling its designated function of presenting the basic ideas of the early Sartre, especially the Sartre of Being and Nothingness, it must perforce go over many points that are already rather well known to Sartre scholars. The book's structure is as follows: Following the introduction, there is a twenty-page summary of Sartre's life, and then there are two major sub-divisions and an exceedingly brief "postscript" about ethics. Both sub-divisions are divided into four sections. The first of the two begins with a useful treatment of Sartre's background in the method of Husserlian phenomenology, including a rebuttal to Daniel Dennett's claim that phenomenologists are really just doing anthropology; then interestingly explores the role of Sartrean phenomenology as a "therapy for intellectual prejudices" (p. 51), such as what Morris calls most philosophers' prejudice in favour of knowing over living; and concludes with a clear, standard account of Sartre on the nature of consciousness and then a section on bad faith. The titles of the four sections of the second sub-division are, simply, "The Body," "Life-space," "Others," and "Freedom." The author makes abundant use of Sartre's contemporary Maurice Merleau-Ponty, while (rightly, in my view) arguing that Merleau-Ponty actually built on Sartre's treatment of the lived body (p. xii), contrary to what many Merleau-Pontyans claim, and exhibiting skepticism over Merleau-Ponty's criticism that Sartre is too conceptual (p. 63). In fact, she makes good use of a number of diverse figures, from Kurt Lewin (in the section on life-space) to Ludwig Wittgenstein and Martin Heidegger (the two most frequently cited authors besides Merleau-Ponty and Sartre himself), without ever losing sight of her principal aim of explicating the main points of Sartre's early thought. . . . Read the rest here:

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