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Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values (P.S.)by Robert M. Pirsig
Synopses & Reviews
Winner of the 2015 Hiett Prize in the Humanities.
Sometimes it seems like you need a PhD just to open a book of philosophy. We leave philosophical matters to the philosophers in the same way that we leave science to scientists. Scott Samuelson thinks this is tragic, for our lives as well as for philosophy. In The Deepest Human Life he takes philosophy back from the specialists and restores it to its proper place at the center of our humanity, rediscovering it as our most profound effort toward understanding, as a way of life that anyone can live. Exploring the works of some of history’s most important thinkers in the context of the everyday struggles of his students, he guides us through the most vexing quandaries of our existence—and shows just how enriching the examined life can be.
Samuelson begins at the beginning: with Socrates, working his most famous assertion—that wisdom is knowing that one knows nothing—into a method, a way of approaching our greatest mysteries. From there he springboards into a rich history of philosophy and the ways its journey is encoded in our own quests for meaning. He ruminates on Epicurus against the sonic backdrop of crickets and restaurant goers in Iowa City. He follows the Stoics into the cell where James Stockdale spent seven years as a prisoner of war. He spins with al-Ghazali first in doubt, then in the ecstasy of the divine. And he gets the philosophy education of his life when one of his students, who authorized a risky surgery for her son that inadvertently led to his death, asks with tears in her eyes if Kant was right, if it really is the motive that matters and not the consequences. Through heartbreaking stories, humanizing biographies, accessible theory, and evocative interludes like “On Wine and Bicycles” or “On Zombies and Superheroes ,” he invests philosophy with the personal and vice versa. The result is a book that is at once a primer and a reassurance—that the most important questions endure, coming to life in each of us.
As the title of Scott Samuelson’s manuscript suggests, his project introduces philosophy not as a “special, insular form of thought”—as Stanley Fish recently described philosophy—but rather as the very real and widespread search for meaning. Samuelson frames his “personal” presentation of philosophy with his own story of how he came to a community college as a classically-trained philosopher and rediscovered the true nature and power of philosophy among soldiers and chiropractors, preschool music teachers and aspiring undertakers, ex-cons and cancer patients—real people who surprised him with their need and flair for philosophy. A serious thematic and historical introduction to philosophy as way of life, the book is organized around four questions: What is philosophy? What is happiness? Is knowledge of God possible? And what is the nature of good and evil? Samuelson connects and compares some of the world’s great philosophers to his students, teachers, and himself, revealing that there is a pattern to the search for wisdom, even though it often leads to fascinatingly different places. This is a serious but accessible introduction to philosophy that empowers its readers as philosophers.
One of the most important and influential books of the past half-century, Robert M. Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a powerful, moving, and penetrating examination of how we live and a meditation on how to live better. The narrative of a father on a summer motorcycle trip across America's Northwest with his young son, it becomes a profound personal and philosophical odyssey into life's fundamental questions. A true modern classic, it remains at once touching and transcendent, resonant with the myriad confusions of existence and the small, essential triumphs that propel us forward.
About the Author
Robert M. Pirsig was born in 1928 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He studied chemistry and philosophy (B.A., 1950) and journalism (M.A., 1958) at the University of Minnesota and also attended Benares Hindu University in India, where he studied Oriental philosophy. He is also the author of this book's sequel, entitled Lila.
Table of Contents
Prelude on Light Pollution and the Stars
Part 1 What Is Philosophy?
1 Portrait of You as Odysseus
2 Portrait of Philosophy as Socrates
Interlude on Laughter and Tears
Part 2 What Is Happiness?
3 The Exquisite Materialism of Epicurus
4 The Mysterious Freedom of the Stoic
Interlude on Wine and Bicycles
Part 3 Is Knowledge of God Possible?
5 The Ecstasy without a Name
6 In Nightmares Begins Rationality
7 The Terrifying Distance of the Stars
Interlude on Campfires and the Sun
Part 4 What Is the Nature of Good and Evil?
8 The Moral Worth of a Teardrop
9 The Beast That Is and Is Not
Interlude on Superheroes and Zombies
Conclusion: The Most Beautiful Thing in the World
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