Friday, February 05, 2010

Hagengruber, Ruth. Review of Ulrich Steinvorth, RETHINKING THE WESTERN UNDERSTANDING OF SELF. NDPR (February 2010).

Steinvorth, Ulrich. Rethinking the Western Understanding of the Self. Cambridge: CUP, 2009. This book presents a courageous analysis of the philosophical concept of the self and its marked influence on Western history and civilisation. According to Steinvorth, the Cartesian concept of the self is a decisive kernel from which the ideas of freedom of the individual, free will and human rights originate. His argumentation unfolds well and traces the understanding of the self back to the beginnings of Western philosophy, citing some of its most influential representatives on the way. While discussing Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Locke, Kant, Hegel, Freud, Wittgenstein and Hannah Arendt, Steinvorth presents several important concepts of Western reasoning, including individualism, subjectivism, freedom, collectivism and utilitarianism. The book could well be seen as a short introduction to the history of Western philosophy. However, Steinvorth's analysis does not only look back. While in the first three Parts of the book the concept of the self and its history are discussed in some detail, Parts IV and V extend the discussion to the future and to a global view on values. Although the thesis that the self is the crucial concept of Western civilisation is clearly presented in Steinvorth's study, it is much more than a comprehensive analysis of the self and its conceptual efficacy in history. Instead of providing a one-dimensional introduction, the book provides a history of opposing concepts, argues along differing viewpoints and discusses several opponents and criticisms. It underlines why the philosophical concepts presented are not only limited to Western culture -- an important point to which too little attention is usually paid in contemporary discussion. Culture is a mishmash of elements and influences, be they intellectual, national, or traditional; the philosophical argument presented in this book is consequently not constrained to cultural borders. Not everyone born in the West clings to these values, and not all non-Westerners completely deny them. . . . Read the whole review here:

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