BOOK REVIEW: The Transcendentalist by Ralph Waldo Emerson

The TranscendentalistThe Transcendentalist by Ralph Waldo Emerson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars Page

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In this short essay (about ten pages,) Emerson lays out an argument for Idealism over Materialism, and then contends that it’s reasonable to excuse oneself from the economic and civic aspects of society in favor of a simple life of introspection. [e.g. As Thoreau did in his years at Walden Pond.]

Emerson opens by suggesting that Transcendentalism is just Idealism by a different name. Idealism being a philosophical stance which puts consciousness at the fore while proposing that there is something beyond [that transcends] our experience of sensory information. The arguments put forth in favor of Idealism include the fact that sensory illusions exist and the Kantian critique of Locke’s view that there’s no more to the intellect than that which is or was sensory experience; Kant argues that there’s intuition. Kant’s influence is considerable, and Emerson explains that even the term “Transcendentalism” is derived from Kant’s use of the term “transcendental.”

The latter part of the essay echoes Emerson’s masterwork, the essay “Self-Reliance.” It proposes that it’s perfectly laudable to take advantage of the greatest gift one has, one’s consciousness, to introspect and indulge one’s need to better understand.

I may have mixed views on Emerson’s ideas, but one can’t say he doesn’t use language and reason and passion to make compelling claims. I found this brief essay to be both thought-provoking and inspirational, and I’d highly recommend it.

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BOOK REVIEW: Introducing Kant: A Graphic Guide by Christopher Kul-Want

Introducing Kant: A Graphic Guide (Introducing...)Introducing Kant: A Graphic Guide by Christopher Kul-Want
My rating: 4 of 5 stars page


This volume is part of a large series of guides that are put out by Icon Books with the goal of providing concise overviews on various topics. In this case, said topic is the philosophy of Immanuel Kant. Kant was an eighteenth-century Prussian philosopher who greatly influenced modern and post-modern philosophy. Among the ideas that Kant shaped and influenced were skepticism, morality based in reason, and the need for an understanding of knowledge that was neither purely empiricist nor purely rationalist (but which acknowledged the strengths and limitations of each.)

The book largely follows a chronological approach in presenting Kant’s ideas as he came up with, and published, them. Along the way, there are sections that are biographical rather than being focused on the philosophical ideas. These sections are largely in the beginning, middle, and end as they discuss the philosopher’s entry into the field, the changes in the midst of his career, and the end of his life. I thought it was useful to gain a bit of insight into the man as a man (rather than just as a philosopher) because it helps one understand the nature of the mind that came up with those ideas. That said, if there were space constraints, I would have preferred more examples and narrative explanation of the ideas – which are intensely definitional and abstract, making them both dry and less effective than they could be – over that biographical information (much of which boils down to Kant being quirky and peculiar.) The bulk of the book follows the flow of ideas contained in the three publications that were the colonnade that undergirded Kant’s philosophy (“Critique of Pure Reason,” “Critique of Practical Reason,” and “Critique of Judgement.”)

Between the last biographical section and the book’s conclusion, there is a nice section that discusses Kant’s influence on other philosophers, including: Hegel, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Foucault, Lyotard, and Derrida. When I say “influence” I’m not just talking about those who paid homage to Kant, but also those who critiqued his work and advanced the discipline by way of critiquing Kant.

As the subtitle suggests, graphics are used throughout. The graphics are black-and-white and are a mix of diagrams and cartoon drawings. I thought the drawings were well-rendered, but weren’t necessarily arranged to gain the most explanatory power. As with other books in the series, many of these are cartoons that merely restate ideas from the text. Other graphics are diagrams that arrange ideas in a way that I’m sure made sense to whomever was putting them together, but whose immediate explanatory value (if any) was not always readily apparent to me. I have no way of knowing whether this was purely the illustrator, or (more likely) a collaboration between author, illustrator, and editor.

This is an okay overview of the philosophy of Immanuel Kant. I’d describe it as accurate but not as clear or interesting as I’d wish it to be. I will admit that if it hadn’t been available without extra cost via Amazon Prime, I probably would have obtained a different guide. There is loads of competition in this concise guide market (e.g. “Kant: A Very Short Introduction” by Oxford University Press.) You might benefit from shopping around a bit.

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