New book: update #1

A couple of months ago I sketched out the rationale and basic structure of what I hope to be my next book. Since then I’ve continued to research and even made a start with writing, so I wanted to put down a brief record here of what I’ve achieved so far.

The working title of the book is unchanged (Finding Meaning in a Purposeless World: 8 Philosophies for Life), although I may well alter it at some point. I like the subtitle, but my worry is that the main title is a bit too gloomy to entice many readers. After all, most people don’t want to leave a book more depressed than when they found it, and the book itself will not, I hope, be a depressing one. It would be a shame if anyone was deterred from reading it for that reason, so I think something a little more positive might be needed. What currently troubles me most is that ‘finding meaning’ is too weak to counterbalance the darkly amusing ‘purposeless world’ – I think the latter could be kept, but if only I find something that offsets it nicely… I’ll have to give this a little more thought, clearly.

Anyway, more productively, I’ve changed the sequence of chapters, updated their full titles (not given here), and replaced a prospective chapter on Emmanuel Lévinas with one on Albert Schweitzer. The final(?) order is therefore:

  1. Friedrich Nietzsche 
  2. Martin Heidegger 
  3. Jean-Paul Sartre 
  4. Albert Camus 
  5. Hannah Arendt 
  6. Hans Jonas 
  7. Keiji Nishitani 
  8. Albert Schweitzer 

The reasons for dropping Lévinas in favour of Schweitzer are threefold. Firstly, while I have a great admiration and respect for Lévinas’ ideas, reading him is a chore rather a pleasure. His prose is treacle-thick and the arguments difficult to follow. Secondly, there is a degree of name recognition with Schweitzer that Lévinas lacks (partly, no doubt, as a result of the impenetrability of his work). And thirdly, Schweitzer’s core ideas and biography are simply a better fit for a book of this kind. Between his person and his body of work there are several echoes of earlier themes (the value of organismic being; the exemplary individual life; the overcoming of Western decadence), all of which he takes up in his own way, and – less crucially, but still interestingly – he was even related to Sartre, being first cousins with the latter’s mother.

This last point indicates that concluding the book with Schweitzer throws any chronological order of the window. He really should appear between Nietzsche and Heidegger, but – to be perfectly frank – I don’t give a shit about that. The book is not meant to be a historical-scholarly account of these philosophers, but rather an exploration of their thinking and lives with a view to mining them for guidance on how to live. As such, what matters most is that it flows, thematically and aesthetically, and ending with Schweitzer should best allow for that.

Lastly, in terms of actual writing I’ve begun to draft the Introduction. Through it I hope to set the stage with my personal motivations for writing the book, and indeed my reasons for developing an interest in philosophy in the first place. In addition to this, as the first chapter proper will be on Nietzsche I’m continuing my dive into his life and work. I’ve just finished reading Julian Young’s excellent philosophical biography, and have ordered The Joyous Science (1882) (more commonly known as The Gay Science, but a new translation has eschewed that title because of the drastically changed meaning of the word ‘gay’!). This is the only one of Nietzsche’s great works that I’ve not read, and once I have done, the drafting of a concrete plan for that chapter can begin. With that, the project will be properly underway…

2 thoughts on “New book: update #1

  1. Dropping Levinas for Schweitzer is probably the right decision. Levinas is indeed dense and obscure. Schweitzer is much clearer and fully deserves being recognised as a philosopher who has a lot to say about the nature of morel responsibility and how to live.

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    1. Glad to hear you agree, Michael – when I get to the chapter on Schweitzer I’ll consult your book on him. Not only is he a great man and an appealing thinker, but he also deserves a revival, it seems to me.

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