ADAM SMITH'S HAT...
I am happy to note that David Edmonds and John Eidinow seem to have decided to introduce a new and refreshing style and pattern of writing. A few years ago, they came out with the engaging Wittgenstein's Poker, that talked about a famous argument in 1946 between Ludwig Wittgenstein and Karl Popper. Now they have followed it up with Rousseau's Dog: Two Great Thinkers at War in the Age of Enlightenment, a book about a protracted exchange, intellectual and otherwise, between David Hume and Jean Jacques Rousseau.
But just like Wittgenstein's Poker was hardly about the poker, this new volume is hardly about the dog. In Wittgenstein's Poker, the debate between the two philosophers was merely a pretext (although certainly not a trivial one) for investigating and showcasing the rich milieu of politics, culture, society, and of course philosophy, that the two men and their contemporaries lived in and shaped. It served as but a backdrop for a thoroughly engaging account of the enchantment that was early twentieth century Austria, when Vienna was the seat of intellectual debate and creativity. Music, art, mathematics, philosophy, literature, logic, each of these lofty avenues found their utmost expression and most esteemed patrons in the palaces, cafes, universities, and apartments of the Austrian capital, as it did in many European nations in those days, before the cruel stamp of Nazi, Fascist and Communist boots forever stifled progress. I will never forget the experience of reading that splendid book every evening, with my thoughts warmed by both a hot cup of coffee and the philosophical puzzles explored in the book, along with a salutary exposition on the varied and eccentric personalities of Cambridge university who frolicked in its intellectual landscape in the waning days of the British empire.
A longer review of the book that I have written is here.
Edmonds and Eidinow seem to have begun a trend and a pattern in their writing- find a tryst between two great intellectuals, and let that serve as a backdrop for narrating an entire era of world intellectual history and culture. Sounds delightfully endearing!
Some titles I can envisage:
1. Einstein's Clock: An exploration of epistemological problems in physics and human existence through the words of two great physicists- an account of the classic Bohr-Einstein debate (although that title turned out to be too long I think...)
2. Pasteur's Broth- A tale of jealousy, discovery, and the death of vitalism- the Pasteur-many other scientists debate about vitalism.
3. Dreyfus's Chessboard- The unremitting battle to define intelligence- refering to the battle between the pro and anti AI lobbies. Dreyfus is Hubert Dreyfus of Berkeley.
In case one of these titles actually materialises, I quite humbly ask for a share of the royalties so that I can finally get out of the time consuming graduate school fiasco and start reviewing movies.
I look forward to another bout of history, philosophy, culture, and the exploits of enlightened, eccentric aristocrats in Rousseau's Dog. I expect the book to be in my mail shortly, as Wittgenstein was a couple of days ago. Such joy to see your name on the board and your package in the tray.