Book Review: Great Philosophers Who Failed At Love

Great Philosophers Who Failed At Love, by Andrew Shaffer

Perhaps the most embarrassing and Nathanish thing about this book is that it is one that I could see (in a worst-case scenario) being expanded to include my own disastrous love life, as my own experiences mirror the general level of success found by cerebral and philosophical people (mostly men, but some women) in this particularly painful volume that ought to inspire a great deal of humility on the part of philosophical types in general.  There is a widespread tendency for people to generalize from the particular brilliance of philosophical writers to a belief that their lives were exemplary in general, but this author makes it plain that a lot of people can write well or be thought to have been philosophically brilliant but basically be disasters as human beings and dealing with human relationships.  The author seeks to encourage readers to avoid the example of the lives of these writers, but perhaps unknowingly he undercuts the claims of these thinkers to be worthy of emulation and adoption, which is perhaps unintentional in that he demonstrates the failure of human philosophers to live good lives and even to preach, much less practice, the right way to live.

Beginning with Peter Abelard and continuing through such names as Louis Althusser, Thomas Aquinas, Aristotle, Saint Augustine, Simone de Beauvior, Henry Ward Beecher, John Calvin, Albert Camus, Nicholas Chamfort, Auguste Comte, René Descartes, John Dewey, Denis Diderot, Diogenes, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Friedrich Engles, Johann von Goethe, George Hegel, Martin Heidegger, David Hume, Immanuel Kant, Søren Kierkegaard, John Locke, Titus Lucretius, Friedrich Nietzsche, Plato, Ayn Rand, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Bertrand Russell, Jean-Paul Sartre, Arthur Schopenhauer, Seneca the Younger, Socrates, Emanuel Swedenborg, Henry David Thoreau, and Leo Tosltoy, the author manages to to explode the incompetence of their personal lives and point out the relationship between their lives and their thought in painful ways.  Many of the thinkers in question were terrible hypocrites, many of them struggled to relate to others and all too easily withdrew from the problems of interpersonal relationship in the face of their awkwardness and timidity.  Some were quite frankly immoral people to the extreme, and one of the people he wrote about even “accidentally” killed his wife, while many died alone in virginal or nearly virginal frustration because of their inability to love and be loved.  One almost pities some of these people even as many of them live lives that are quite worthy of condemnation.

In reading this book, which relentless pursues the hypocrisy at the basis of even the supposedly wisest of people, and the ways in which a professed love of God and love for humanity does not always mean that one can find loving and intimate relationships successfully, it is easy to wonder what the author was trying to accomplish.  It is quite possible that the author was simply trying to score points by pointing out what awkward people philosophers were when it came to love and relationships, coming to a populist conclusion that philosophical and intellectual achievements are highly overrated in historical memory.  Perhaps unintentionally, though, the author brings out some of the more problematic natures of philosophy in that the rejection of God and of His ways (and of His clear desire for godly offspring) tends to make human life more complicated, and that those who fancy themselves wise are often all too dangerously foolish.  Quite simply, many of the people included here as being great thinkers were simply not very nice people at all and simply could not relate to them in a loving and kind way, which takes a great deal of the worth out of their thinking, it must be candidly admitted.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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