Philosophers Behaving Badly 2005

—written with Mel Thompson.

Cover of Philosophers Behaving Badly

Those seeking in philosophy a guide for the perplexed should be warned. While philosophy can enlighten, it can also mislead. As Descartes observed, ‘The greatest souls are capable of the greatest vices as well as the greatest virtues.’

This book explores the perils of philosophy. It shows that philosophers’ own behaviour, sometimes bad, sometimes sad, occasionally downright mad, is seldom entirely unconnected with their thinking.

Philosophers Behaving Badly examines how the lives of eight major philosophers often startlingly contradicted the tenor of their thought: Rousseau, whose views on education, parenting and the social order seem curiously at odds with his own outrageous life; Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, two giants of the 19th century whose words seem ever more timely today but who led disastrous lives themselves; Russell, who preached benevolent reason and world peace but seethed with inner hatreds; Wittgenstein, so unshakably convinced that he was always right about everything that he lashed out angrily at any who contradicted him; Heidegger, who supported Hitler and the Third Reich, despite having a Jewish mentor and Jewish lover; and Sartre and Foucault, whose complicated lives make for more compulsive reading than their works.

Reviews of Philosophers Behaving Badly

Excellent. The premise is simple, though I am not aware of it having been done before, or at least not so well. The authors do not give us an introduction to philosophy so much as an introduction to philosophers. Their main aim is to show us what they were like as people… Any student or beginner reading this book will want to know more about these extraordinary men. —Times Higher Education Supplement

Boy, do they behave badly, publicly expounding theories left, right and centre and seldom living by their own example. A wise lesson here: while philosophy can enlighten, it can also damage and delude. —Publishing News

Fascinating and revealing . . . should certainly be on any university reading list. —Birmingham Post

Deeply entertaining . . . elevated Schadenfreude —Catholic Herald

A marvellous little book. —Philosophy Now

Judging the lives of the philosophers who were flawed enough to be included in this book is one thing. Judging their work is another. The authors are careful to make this distinction, and rightly so: while their lives elucidate their work, their personalities and choices, however repulsive, cannot be used to falsify their contribution to the history of western thought. Indeed, this volume gives a new perspective for those familiar with ploughing through philosophy texts, in that doing so seems a cinch compared to spending time with their authors’ works. —Herald, Glasgow

Provides thumbnail bios and beliefs of eight great thinkers… their material shocks, entertains and provokes on its own, with no need to attempt grand critical theory… The upshot of Philosophers Behaving Badly is that even lovers of wisdom require strict scrutiny. “I have always thought and still think myself the best of men”, Rousseau once asserted. Hey, even a great philosopher can’t be right all the time! —Philadelphia Enquirer