Book Advice from a Nonexistent Bookstore

Now that Newman Books is closed, DC doesn’t have a really good philosophy/theology bookshop. Okay, granted, Newman’s selection could be pretty spotty at times,* and Kramerbooks can be surprisingly good,** but that’s beside the point for those of us who want our critical Latin editions of Ockham and Scotus, 5 different translations of Augustine, more stuff on the Reformation than most stores devote to religion, or a whole section on Aquinas. We want our bookstore, complete with people who know a critical edition from a public domain Latin version. It’s something you just can’t get from Amazon—well, along with the feeling you get from not sending money to Satan’s minions—and will be sorely missed.

But. But! I’m gonna give you the next best thing: a series of lists (what is this, Buzzfeed?) of books worth reading on any number of philosophical*** topics, complete with caveats, explanations, and my own opinions, which are completely right and you should never question ever because they’re right. Some of these are syllabi for imagined courses I’ll never get to teach, but have always wanted to—a few of them I’ve been developing since reading Plato’s Republic, scarily enough—while others are just “look, don’t read bad translations like I did, try these instead.” It’s advice I’d give to hypothetical customers or students, written up in a big ol’ binder at the front of the store that you could whack me over the head with when you disagreed with something I said.

You don’t get the binder, but you do get my opinions. Sorry ’bout that. Continue reading

What Should Aesthetics Do?

“Explain beauty,” obviously. Why thank you, that wasn’t entirely obvious.

The problem here is that “beauty” is a pretty complicated notion, with a lot of intertwined ideas wrapped up into it. Do you have to have a certain approach to metaphysics, anthropology, or ethics to explain beauty, or can it be explained without reference to a particular concept of being, human nature, or morality? Can it be applied to all things that are called “beautiful,” which would be ideal, or only certain classes of these things? Finally, what exactly is the beautiful (assuming it even exists!), and how can it be distinguished from similar, related, or easily confused things?

This would cover the concept’s intension (what is its definition, how is it distinguished from other concepts); its extension (to what things does this concept apply); and its connected presuppositions and implications (what concepts do you need to understand before you get to “beauty,” and what do you need it to understand). Once you have these three, I’d say you have a pretty good working theory.

So simple, it seems, and then you try to actually figure it out. Continue reading

Book Design and Philosophy

Last week, our press kinda cleaned up at the Washington Book Publishers’ annual design and effectiveness awards.  Three of our books won prizes,* two of which were first place awards.  Seeing as we compete in the most competitive category here in DC,** that’s no small feat.

Kudos to our people.  They do good schtuff.

We’ve already dealt with good/bad/ugly covers, but what makes the body and text of a philosophy book well-designed—or, more to the point, what are the unique challenges that philosophy books pose to designers, and what are the best ways to address them? Continue reading

A Guide to Philosophical Book Covers, Abridged

Lots of people worth reading have posted about what book covers mean for our society, its views on race, and what exactly happens when a cover gets picked to sell books, forget what the book itself says.  Yes, it’s important stuff—really now, if the author says the main character isn’t white but you put a Nordic-looking blonde on the cover, summin’ ain’t right—but I like to lurk in the dark underworld of academic humanities publishing.  Thus, how to judge books by their covers, or make your Dusty Tome look like something worth reading.

Continue reading