It is a familiar idea that in learning to do philosophy we have to acquire new habits of thought, a supposition that may help explain why it does not happen quickly and why, especially in retrospect, the process has something of the feeling of an upbringing, of being gradually drawn into a distinctive way of life. Familiar also, to many, will be the instruction to concentrate purely on the arguments of those philosophers we study, ignoring the irrelevancies of character and biography, advice seemingly aimed at a happy coincidence of moral and intellectual virtue, ruling out, as it does, the recourse to personal criticism in philosophical discussion.Yet if philosophy is correctly to be approached as a structure of ideas, detached from the life of its creators, why was it so intriguing, as students, to find, occasionally, a picture of the author on the dust jacket of our set text, and why were we so curious about the characters of the speakers invited to philosophy society? Partly, no doubt, this interest was, and is, no more than a natural curiosity about people from whom we might expect to learn, an entirely understandable attitude, and not necessarily trivial, but one with no essential connection to the subject. Yet reading Alex Voorhoeve’s beautifully produced collection of his conversations with 11 thinkers on ethics does make one wonder whether the personal has some further bearing on philosophy, and if so how this might be and with what significance. Perhaps even the dust jacket reflects this query, with 10 of the interviewees caught by Steve Pyke’s striking photographs, their faces sharply lit, yet not as we would ever meet them, emerging somewhat eerily from an impenetrably black background. All are reproduced in a larger format inside, together with an uncredited photograph of the 11th in an instructively contrasting style.
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