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Minerva's Owl: The Tradition of Western Political Thought

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Overview

Informal in tone yet serious in content, this book serves as a lively and accessible guide for readers discovering the tradition of political thought that dates back to Socrates and Plato. Because the arguments of the great philosophers are nearly eternal, even those long schooled on politics will find that this book calls on recurring questions about morality and power, justice and war, the risk of democracy, the necessity for evil, the perils of tolerance, and the meaning of happiness. Jeffrey Abramson argues politics with the classic writers and draws the reader into a spirited conversation with contemporary examples that illustrate the enduring nature of political dilemmas. As the discussions deepen, the voices of Abramson’s own teachers, and of the students he has taught, enter into the mix, and the book becomes a tribute not just to the great philosophers but also to the special bond between teacher and student.

As Hegel famously noted, referring to the Roman goddess Minerva, her owl brought back wisdom only at dusk, when it was too late to shine light on actual politics. Abramson reminds us that there are real political problems to confront, and in a book filled with grace and passion, he captures just how exciting serious learning can be.

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Editorial Reviews

Austin American-Statesman

[Abramson] gives us a wonderfully accessible survey of the entire field of Western political philosophy. His book is not only a fine introduction for beginners, but also an erudite, nonpartisan consideration for those who may be more conversant with the literature. There is something to think about on every page.
— Roger Gathman

Michael Walzer
A splendid book. I can't imagine a better way to introduce general readers and students to the study of politics.
Tamara Metz
Unusual in its grace, Minerva's Owl offers an important alternative to introductory texts that are usually dry, superficial, and stilted. I can hardly imagine a more elegant, engaging, and accessible introduction to the traditional canon of Western political thought.
Russell Muirhead
Minerva's Owl is a beautiful and insightful interpretation of the history of political thought. In polished and unpretentious prose, Abramson makes difficult points about difficult authors with such clarity that the difficulty recedes and you believe, after reading the book, that you really understand the thinkers under discussion. Yet the book also shows how political philosophy unsettles our ordinary opinions as it interrupts our premature complacency and uncritical views. Abramson invites the reader to join him in developing not only a sophisticated understanding of our own politics, but in entertaining radical alternatives to our own politics.
Austin American-Statesman - Roger Gathman
[Abramson] gives us a wonderfully accessible survey of the entire field of Western political philosophy. His book is not only a fine introduction for beginners, but also an erudite, nonpartisan consideration for those who may be more conversant with the literature. There is something to think about on every page.
Austin American-Statesman
[Abramson] gives us a wonderfully accessible survey of the entire field of Western political philosophy. His book is not only a fine introduction for beginners, but also an erudite, nonpartisan consideration for those who may be more conversant with the literature. There is something to think about on every page.
— Roger Gathman
Library Journal

Abramson (government & law, Univ. of Texas at Austin; We, the Jury) bestows upon readers the benefit of his decades of teaching political philosophy. Useful as an accompaniment to, or a replacement for, an introductory course in political theory, this book consists of straightforward and lucid explorations of the canonical thinkers and their works. From Plato and Aristotle through Hobbes and Locke to Marx and Rawls, Abramson peppers his readings with historical examples, anecdotes from his experience as a student and professor, and insights gained from his students. Although all the thinkers address the question of justice, Abramson does not take the opportunity to go beyond mere explication to give us some of his own answers, but this is a minor drawback. While this ground has been covered before, Abramson is right to turn our attention to these eternal questions, and his goal of luring students to the Socratic questioning of the good and the just is a noble one. This approachable introduction to political theory is highly recommended for academic libraries.
—Steven Chabot

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674057029
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 9/30/2010
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 310,544
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Jeffrey Abramson is Professor of Government and Law and Fellow of the Frank C. Erwin, Jr. Centennial Chair in Government, The University of Texas at Austin.
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Table of Contents

  • Introduction: The Canon of Political Thought

  1. Plato’s Republic: The Debate over Justice Begins
  2. The Students Revolt against Utopia
  3. Out of the Cave and into the Light—and Back Again?
  4. Beyond Plato’s Tragic Republic
  5. Aristotle’s Ethics: The Habits of Virtue
  6. Aristotle’s Politics: Severed Hands and Political Animals
  7. Augustine and the Problem of Evil
  8. Machiavelli’s Dirty Hands
  9. Hobbes and the Kingdom of Means
  10. Locke, Liberalism, and the Possessive Life
  11. Rousseau and the Rustic
  12. Rousseau and the Political
  13. Kant’s Crooked Timber
  14. John Stuart Mill and the Demands of Individuality
  15. Hegel, Marx, and the Owl of Minerva
  16. The Revival of Political Theory

  • Conclusion: The Passion for Politics

  • Notes
  • Acknowledgments
  • Index

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