Published in 1913, Thomas Mann's Death in Venice is one of the most widely read novellas in any language. In the 1970s, Benjamin Britten adapted it into an opera, and Lucchino Visconti turned it into a successful film. Reading these works from a philosophical perspective, Philip Kitcher connects the predicament of the novella's central character to Western thought's most compelling questions.In Mann's story, the author Gustav von Aschenbach becomes captivated by an adolescent boy, first seen on the lido in Venice, the eventual site of Aschenbach's own death. Mann works through central concerns about how to live, explored with equal intensity by his German predecessors, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. Kitcher considers how Mann's, Britten's, and Visconti's treatments illuminate the tension between social and ethical values and an artist's sensitivity to beauty. Each work asks whether a life devoted to self-sacrifice in the pursuit of lasting achievements can be sustained, and whether the breakdown of discipline undercuts its worth. Haunted by the prospect of his death, Aschenbach also helps reflect on whether it is possible to achieve anything in full awareness of our finitude and in knowing our successes are always incomplete.
"It's the animal in us," we often hear when we've been bad. But why not when we're good?Primates and Philosopherstackles this question by exploring the biological foundations of one of humanity's most valued traits: morality. In this provocative book, primatologist Frans de Waal argues that modern-day evolutionary biology takes far too dim a view of the natural world, emphasizing our "selfish" genes. Science has thus exacerbated our reciprocal habits of blaming nature when we act badly and labeling the good things we do as "humane. " Seeking the origin of human morality not in evolution but in human culture, science insists that we are moral by choice, not by nature. Citing remarkable evidence based on his extensive research of primate behavior, de Waal attacks "Veneer Theory," which posits morality as a thin overlay on an otherwise nasty nature. He explains how we evolved from a long line of animals that care for the weak and build cooperation with reciprocal transactions. Drawing on both Darwin and recent scientific advances, de Waal demonstrates a strong continuity between human and animal behavior. In the process, he also probes issues such as anthropomorphism and human responsibilities toward animals. Based on the Tanner Lectures de Waal delivered at Princeton University's Center for Human Values in 2004,Primates and Philosophersincludes responses by the philosophers Peter Singer, Christine M. Korsgaard, and Philip Kitcher and the science writer Robert Wright. They press de Waal to clarify the differences between humans and other animals, yielding a lively debate that will fascinate all those who wonder about the origins and reach of human goodness.
Philosopher of science Philp Kitcher presents this timely and interesting exploration of the role of science in democracy. Addressing the propensity of democratic societies to debate all issues as if factual truth could be arrived at by a vote or debate, the work examines the role of the expert and the ways in which modern political discourse hampers clear applications of scientific works for the public good. The work addresses such topics as the erosion of scientific authority, the evolution of public knowledge and accommodating diversity and dissent. Kitcher is the author of twelve books on the philosophy of science. Annotation ©2011 Book News, Inc. , Portland, OR (booknews. com)
Vaulting Ambitionis the first extensive and detailed evaluation of the controversial claims that sociobiologists have made about human nature and human social behavior. It raises the "sociobiology debate" to a new level, moving beyond arguments about the politics of the various parties involved, the degree to which sociobiology assumes genetic determinism, or the falsifiability of the general theory. Sociobiology has made a great deal of noise in the popular intellectual culture. Vaulting Ambition cuts through the charges and counter-charges to take a hard look at the claims and analyses offered by the sociobiologists. It examines what the claims mean, how they relate to standard evolutionary theory, how the biological models are supposed to work, and what is wrong with the headline-grabbing proclamations of human sociobiology. In particular, it refutes the notions that humans are trapped by their evolutionary biology and history in endlessly repeating patterns of aggression, xenophobia, and deceitfulness, or that the inequities of sex, race, and class are genetically based or culturally determined. And it takes up issues of human altruism, freedom, and ethics as well. Kitcher weighs the evidence for sociobiology, for human sociobiology, and for "the pop sociobiological view" of human nature that has engendered the controversy. He concludes that in the field of nonhuman animal studies, rigorous and methodologically sound work about the social lives of insects, birds, and mammals has been done. But in applying the theories to human beings-where even more exacting standards of evidence are called for because of the potential social disaster inherent in adopting a working hypothesis as a basis for public policy - many of the same scientists become wildly speculative, building grand conclusions from what Kitcher shows to be shoddy analysis and flimsy argument. While it may be possible to develop a genuine science of human behavior based on evolutionary biology, genetics, cognition, and culture, Kitcher points out that the sociobiology that has been loudly advertised in the popular and intellectual press is not it. Pop sociobiology has in fact been felled by its overambitious and overreaching creators.
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