Barbarous Philosophers: Reflections on the Nature of War From Heraclitus to Heisenberg

Barbarous Philosophers: Reflections on the Nature of War From Heraclitus to Heisenberg

by Christopher Coker
     
 

From Heraclitus in the sixth century B.C.E. to the twentieth-century philosopher-physicist Werner Heisenberg, intellectuals have struggled to make sense of war and its presence in human society. Yet Christopher Coker contends that philosophers are the ones who created the concept of war, largely by defining its rules and establishing an oppositional dialectic of

Overview

From Heraclitus in the sixth century B.C.E. to the twentieth-century philosopher-physicist Werner Heisenberg, intellectuals have struggled to make sense of war and its presence in human society. Yet Christopher Coker contends that philosophers are the ones who created the concept of war, largely by defining its rules and establishing an oppositional dialectic of peace. The Greeks were the first to outline what Blaise Pascal called the "rules of war," and through their description of its "nature," influenced the thinking of contemporary generals and military strategy.

Nevertheless, Coker's book focuses less on the philosophical underpinnings of war and more on the particular problems we face while fighting war today. Guided by the work of sixteen major thinkers, it examines several paradoxes of combat: the belief that war is a continuation, rather than a negation, of politics by other means; the idea that we should respect those who don't respect us; the notion that war can help a soldier reaffirm his humanity; and the odd fact that the concept of peace is still contested. Coker draws on the work of philosophers who have tackled war directly and intensely in their writing. Each chapter begins with an epigram distilling the essence of a chosen philosopher's thinking on war and uses it as a prism through which to analyze aspects of war most relevant to contemporary combat. Barbarous Philosophers entirely reorients our understanding of armed conflict throughout human history.

Editorial Reviews

Times Literary Supplement - Kenneth Payne

Throughout, this book fizzes with ideas. Coker is inventive, imaginative and erudite...a fascinating window on different cultures' understanding of war.

Times Literary Supplement
Throughout, this book fizzes with ideas. Coker is inventive, imaginative and erudite...a fascinating window on different cultures' understanding of war.

— Kenneth Payne

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780231701983
Publisher:
Columbia University Press
Publication date:
09/15/2010
Series:
Columbia/Hurst Series
Pages:
288
Product dimensions:
5.70(w) x 8.80(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

Karl F. Walling

Barbarous Philosophers is a splendid introduction for specialists and nonspecialists. Like Plato synthesizing Parmenides's world of eternal being and Heraclitus's world of constant change, Christopher Coker compels his readers to think through what Clausewitz and Sun called the enduring yet ever-changing character of war.

Meet the Author

Christopher Coker is professor of international relations at the London School of Economics and adjunct professor at the Staff College in Oslo. He is the author of many books on defense and security issues, including The Warrior Ethos: Military Culture and the War on Terror and Human Warfare.

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