New Books in Philosophy
New Books in Philosophy
Marshall Poe
Interview with Philosophers about their New Books
David Chai, "Zhuangzi and the Becoming of Nothingness" (SUNY Press, 2018)
Zhuangzi and the Becoming of Nothingness (SUNY Press, 2018) offers a radical rereading of the Daoist classic Zhuangzi by bringing to light the role of nothingness in grounding the cosmological and metaphysical aspects of its thought. Through a careful analysis of the text and its appended commentaries, David Chai reveals not only how nothingness physically enriches the myriad things of the world, but also why the Zhuangzi prefers nothingness over being as a means to expound the authentic way of Dao. Chai weaves together Dao, nothingness, and being in order to reassess the nature and significance of Daoist philosophy, both within its own historical milieu and for modern readers interested in applying the principles of Daoism to their own lived experiences. Chai concludes that nothingness is neither a nihilistic force nor an existential threat; instead, it is a vital component of Dao's creative power and the life-praxis of the sage. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Nov 20
1 hr 14 min
C. Thi Nguyen, "Games: Agency as Art" (Oxford UP, 2020)
Monopoly, Solitaire, football and Minecraft are all games, but for C. Thi Nyugen they are also an art form – specifically, the art form of agency, our capacity to set goals and pursue them. In Games: Agency as Art (Oxford UP, 2020), Nguyen argues that a game designer sculpts agency by specifying the goals and abilities of the potential player – what the player should care about and what their abilities are in the game environment. The resulting disposable ends and interesting struggles yields valuable aesthetic experiences that enhance our capacities for autonomous agency. Yet Nyugen, an associate professor of philosophy at the University of Utah, also warns of the harmful effects of the gamification of real life, when the simple goals and motivations in games leak into our real- world agency and can lead to social and moral disaster. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Nov 10
1 hr 7 min
Zena Hitz, "Lost in Thought: The Hidden Pleasures of an Intellectual Life" (Princeton UP, 2020)
We live in a culture that tends to view thought with a degree of suspicion. Thinking is frequently associated with uselessness, idleness, laziness. These suspicions can be somewhat allayed when thinking can be directly tied to some kind of purpose or tangible result, of course. Accordingly, we tend to conceptualize thinking in terms of learning. In turn, we think of learning largely as a matter of acquiring marketable skills. However, when overtly attached to products and outcomes, thinking and learning become just another mode of commerce. They thus can become constrained and corrupted by worldly ambitions. The idea that learning can be a mode of release from those ambitions, and thus a kind of liberation from the world, seems to have been lost to us. However, in Lost in Thought: The Hidden Pleasures of an Intellectual Life (Princeton 2020), Zena Hitz provides a vision of how learning is a characteristically human activity that is essential for a fulfilled life. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Nov 2
1 hr
Elisabeth Paquette, "Universal Emancipation: Race Beyond Badiou" (U Minnesota Press, 2020)
What is Badiou’s theory of emancipation? For whom is this emancipation possible? Does emancipation entail an indifference to difference? In Universal Emancipation: Race Beyond Badiou (University of Minnesota Press, 2020) (Minnesota University Press, 2020), Elisabeth Paquette pursues these questions through a sustained conversation with decolonial theory, particularly the work of Sylvia Wynter. Through consideration of Négritude and the Haitian Revolution, Paquette argues for a theory of emancipation that need not subtract particularities, as Badiou theorizes, but rather build a pluri-conceptual framework, as Wynter theorizes, for emancipation based on solidarity. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Oct 20
1 hr
William P. Seeley, "Attentional Engines: A Perceptual Theory of the Arts" (Oxford UP, 2020)
How do we distinguish art from non-art artifacts, and what does cognitive science have to do with it? In Attentional Engines: A Perceptual Theory of the Arts (Oxford University Press, 2020), William Seeley offers a cognitive science-based account of how we engage with art, what it is that artworks do, and what artists do to make sure they do it. In his diagnostic recognition framework for locating art, artworks are communicative devices in which artists embed perceptual cues that enable the perceiver to categorize the work as intended and thereby unlock its meanings. Seeley, an associate professor at the University of Southern Maine, also considers how his framework might handle conceptual art, what goes wrong when a novice about art perceives an artwork, and the relation between the neuroscience of art and neuroaesthetics. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Oct 12
1 hr 4 min
Serena Parekh, "No Refuge: Ethics and the Global Refugee Crisis" (Oxford UP, 2020)
Discourse in wealthy Western countries about refugees tends to follow a familiar script. How many refugees is a country morally required to accept? What kinds of care and support are host countries required to provide? Who is responsible to maintaining the resulting infrastructure? What, ultimately, is to be done with refugees? Many of these questions assume that states are morally required to rescue refugees. Rarely does the discourse consider the role of wealthy Western countries in creating the conditions under which a refugee crisis emerges. More importantly, we often overlook the role of wealthy Western countries in designing the systems that refugees must navigate in order to access support and assistance; as it turns out, these systems are often complex, inefficient, unfair, and haphazard. In No Refuge: Ethics and the Global Refugee Crisis (Oxford UP, 2020), Serena Parekh argues that the refugee crisis needs to be understood as two crises: one crisis focused on the moral responsibilities of wealthy Western countries in hosting refugees, and another having to do with the obstacles and impediments that refugees confront in accessing assistance.   Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Oct 1
1 hr 13 min
Ann-Sophie Barwich, "Smellosophy: What the Nose Tells the Mind" (Harvard UP, 2020)
Smells repel and attract; they bring emotionally charged memories to mind; they guide behavior and thought nonconsciously; they give food much of its taste; and the loss of sense of smell can help diagnose disease. But what features of the world do smells pick out? What is the olfactory code? In her new book, Smellosophy: What the Nose Tells the Mind (Harvard UP, 2020), Ann-Sophie Barwich delves into the mysteries of smell and the difficulties of scientific attempts to explain how it works. The science of smell is still quite young – it was as recently as 1991 that olfactory receptor genes were discovered, earning discoverers Linda Buck and Richard Axel a Nobel Prize in 2004. What smell researchers have found is an enormously complex system of 400 kinds of olfactory receptors responding to 5000 different features of molecules: compare that to our visual system’s 3 color receptors responding to specific wavelengths of light. Barwich, who is assistant professor of cognitive science and history and philosophy of science at Indiana University Bloomington, also interweaves excerpts from interviews with contemporary researchers – including Buck and Axel -- into her discussion, providing an oral history of how smell is being investigated as it is happening now. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Sep 10
1 hr 9 min
Lisa Bortolotti, "The Epistemic Innocence of Irrational Beliefs" (Oxford UP, 2020)
There is something intuitive about the idea that when we believe, we ought to follow our evidence. This entails that beliefs that are the products of garden varieties of irrationality, such as delusion, confabulation, false memory, and excessive optimism, are for that reason epistemically derelict. Many philosophers would go so far as to say that people ought not to hold such beliefs; some would go further and say that it’s our duty to challenge those who hold beliefs of this kind. However, in The Epistemic Innocence of Irrational Beliefs (Oxford University Press, 2020), Lisa Bortolotti argues that the full story about irrational beliefs is far more complicated and philosophically interesting. She identifies circumstances under which irrational beliefs are nonetheless beneficial, and thus, as she says, “epistemically innocent.” Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Sep 1
1 hr 9 min
Beata Stawarska, "Saussure’s Linguistics, Structuralism, and Phenomenology: 'The Course in General Linguistics' after a Century (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020)
In Saussure’s Linguistics, Structuralism, and Phenomenology: The Course in General Linguistics after a Century (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020), Beata Stawarska guides us to consider Ferdinand de Saussure’s Course in General Linguistics anew. By delving into Saussure’s autograph notes, letters, and student lecture notes Stawarska reframes all of the hierarchical pairs promoted as part of his doctrine—the signifier and the signified, la langue and la parole, synchrony and diachrony. The book performs reading and writing without borders that it also argues Saussure thought necessary to think about language. Along the way, it questions sedimented ideas about structuralism, post-structuralism, phenomenology, and the object of linguistics, which is to say, language Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Aug 20
1 hr 2 min
David Livingstone Smith, "On Inhumanity: Dehumanization and How to Resist It" (Oxford UP 2020)
The phenomenon of dehumanization is associated with such atrocities as the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and the Holocaust in World War II. In these and other cases, people are described in ways that imply that they are less than fully human as a prelude to committing extreme forms of violence against them. In On Inhumanity: Dehumanization and How to Resist It (Oxford University Press, 2020), David Livingstone Smith analyzes what dehumanization is, why are we prone to dehumanize, and how we might resist dehumanizing others. On his view, dehumanizing others is a cultural technology that functions to disinhibit us from extreme aggression. It stems from our psychological tendencies to essentialist thinking and to hierarchical thinking, and is sparked by authority figures who rely on these features to characterize other groups as monstrous and dangerous. Livingstone Smith builds on and revises his previous work on this subject and presents it in a form that is both rigorous and accessible to a wide audience. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Aug 10
1 hr 7 min
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