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A Small Treatise on the Great Virtues: The Uses of Philosophy in Everyday Life

Overview

In this graceful, incisive book, writer-philosopher André Comte-Sponville reexamines the classical virtues to help us understand "what we should do, who we should be, and how we should live." In the process, he gives us an entirely new perspective on the value, relevance, and charm of the Western ethical tradition. Drawing on thinkers from Aristotle to Simone Weil, by way of Aquinas, Kant, Rilke, Nietzsche, Spinoza, and Rawls, among others, Comte-Sponville elaborates on the qualities that constitute the essence ...

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A Small Treatise on the Great Virtues: The Uses of Philosophy in Everyday Life

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Overview

In this graceful, incisive book, writer-philosopher André Comte-Sponville reexamines the classical virtues to help us understand "what we should do, who we should be, and how we should live." In the process, he gives us an entirely new perspective on the value, relevance, and charm of the Western ethical tradition. Drawing on thinkers from Aristotle to Simone Weil, by way of Aquinas, Kant, Rilke, Nietzsche, Spinoza, and Rawls, among others, Comte-Sponville elaborates on the qualities that constitute the essence and excellence of humankind. Starting with politeness-almost a virtue-and ending with love-which transcends all morality-A Small Treatise takes us on a tour of the eighteen essential virtues: fidelity, prudence, temperance, courage, justice, generosity, compassion, mercy, gratitude, humility, simplicity, tolerance, purity, gentleness, good faith, and even, surprisingly, humor.

Sophisticated, lucid, and full of wit, this modestly titled yet immensely important work provides an indispensable guide to finding what is right and good in everyday life.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"One could hardly ask for a better book . . . than this masterpiece of nuanced wisdom . . . You'll find enough here to fill every day of your life."

-Carlin Romano, The Philadelphia Inquirer

"Direct and clear . . . This is no ordinary work of philosophy."

-Anthony Gottlieb, The New York Times Book Review

"A magnificent achievement, a volume full of understanding and imagination from which no reader can fail to profit."

-Charles Larmore, The New Republic

Charles Larmore
A magnificent achievement, a volume full of understanding and imagination from which no reader can fail to profit.
The New Republic
Anthony Gottlieb
Direct and clear . . . This is no ordinary work of philosophy.
The New York Times Book Review
Carlin Romano
One could hardly ask for a better book . . . than this masterpiece of nuanced wisdom . . .
The Philadelphia Inquirer
Kirkus Reviews
An energized discussion of essential virtues for everyday living, by a young French philosopher. Comte-Sponville (Sorbonne), author of scholarly philosophy texts, targets a wider contemporary audience with this title, so far translated into 19 languages. His premise is elegant: a linked series of 18 essays on the virtues most consistently explored and advocated in world philosophy. Roughly speaking, he begins with virtues that are exterior and personal (politeness, fidelity, prudence, temperance), moves through necessary "social" virtues (courage, justice, generosity, compassion, mercy), to more ethereal, "Zen"-like qualities (gratitude, humility, simplicity, tolerance), and on to those that permit the previous virtues to enhance society (purity, gentleness, good faith, humor, and love). His exploration of each virtue is detailed and limber, reliant both on the work of his predecessor philosophers (Aristotle and Plato, Thomas Aquinas and Spinoza, Simone Weil) and on his own hypothetical situations to "test" such virtues. For example, he frequently considers the Third Reich as a society that burnished essential values in the context of perverting them, noting that a polite Nazi is arguably crueler than a brutish one. Comte-Sponville relishes challenging the paradoxes inherent in contemporary mores, as in his assertion that "universal tolerance would also be self-contradictory in practical terms and thus not just morally reprehensible but also politically doomed." Elsewhere, he explores the fine distinctions that are obliterated by monolithic conceptions of virtue, William Bennett-style, as regarding "Purity," which he demonstrates does not exclude the range of human sexuality,evident in Lucretius' conception of pura voluptas, "pure pleasure." Throughout, Comte-Sponville captures (and sometimes confounds) our attention with a wry, prickly tone, expanding the understanding of how philosophy addresses human traits, and forcing us to confront our social behavior relative to our highest (and lowest) impulses. An effervescent primer of the morally examined life.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780805045567
  • Publisher: Picador
  • Publication date: 9/28/2002
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 559,694
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.25 (h) x 1.04 (d)

Meet the Author

André Comte-Sponville is a professor at the Sorbonne and the author of five highly acclaimed books on classical philosophy. A Small Treatise on the Great Virtues was a bestseller in France and has been translated into nineteen languages.

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