Who are we? How should we live? Professor James Miller introduces twelve great philosophers who dedicated their lives to answering these questions. From Plato, who risked his reputation to tutor a tyrant, to Seneca, the philosopher of temperance who accumulated one of the greatest fortunes in Rome, to Kant, who privately wrestled with hypochondria while publicly advocating arch-rationality, each had a unique approach to examining life. Here is a fascinating insight into the ideals that have guided us for centuries, and those who have fought passionately to live up to them.
Miller (The Passion of Michel Foucault) profiles 12 thinkers whose philosophies may have been consistent but whose engagements with the social and political mores of their time were far more fraught. From Plato's failure to mold the tyrant Dionysius into a philosopher king through Seneca's murky relationship with the despotic Nero to Kant's capitulation to King Frederick William II, the author casts a welcome light on the flawed, all-too-human aspects of famed moralists. Likewise we are made privy to a Descartes struggling to avoid religious controversy and a contradictory, sometimes paranoid Rousseau determined to publicly justify the abandonment of his own children to orphanages. Miller remains neutral, preferring to juxtapose the behavior of his subjects side by side with their words, even if, as in the cases of Socrates and Diogenes, so much still remains unknown about their lives. Nonetheless, this compelling book elegantly lays bare the distance between the abstract formulation of right action and its achievement in the real world, indicating that the lives of the great philosophers can be exemplary but not always in the ways we might have hoped.