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The Needs Of Strangers Paperback – 21 Apr 1994

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Paperback, 21 Apr 1994

Product details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; New edition edition (21 April 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099435519
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099435518
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 1.2 x 20 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 410,687 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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0 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Mr. Timothy P. Smith on 23 Dec. 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a respectable piece of scholarship but I bought it because I was persuaded that it had something fresh regarding the death of David Hume, the great Scottish philosopher and sceptic. However, it merely repeated what I have read elsewhere. So, I was disappointed.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4 reviews
32 of 32 people found the following review helpful
A brilliant essay about modern humanism 28 Jun. 2002
By Boris Bangemann - Published on
Format: Paperback
"Being human is an accomplishment like playing an instrument. It takes practice. The keys must be mastered. The old score must be committed to memory. It is a skill we can forget. A little noise can make us forget the notes. The best of us is historical; the best of us is fragile. Being human is a second nature which history taught us, and which terror and deprivation can batter us into forgetting."
In this slender volume, Michael Ignatieff argues beautifully and eloquently for a modern humanism based on the awareness of what makes us human: our ability to express our needs and our ability to remember and reflect our history. It is also a short history of ideas in the field of political philosophy, ranging from the Stoics to Rousseau.
The "needs of strangers" refer to "fraternity," the most difficult of the ideals on the banner of the French Revolution of 1789. "Liberty, equality, fraternity" still determine to a large extent our modern political discussion. Michael Ignatieff asks to what extent have we achieved "fraternity" (solidarity, that is), to what extent can we achieve it, at what cost do we achieve it? On his stroll through the history of ideas he discusses the key issues of our social existence against the backdrop of political philosophy: what is our social identity? Is there a natural human identity? What happened to our metaphysical needs in the modern secular society?
Ignatieff is not a mystic or a dreamer, however. His views are firmly grounded in the Western philosophical tradition. For him, "political utopias are a form of nostalgia for an imagined past projected onto the future as a wish." He is for the most part a realist who thinks we need justice (i.e. equality before the law), we need liberty, and "we need as much solidarity as can be reconciled with justice and liberty."
Ignatieff's book is not light reading, in particular because the term "need" is not part of our familiar political vocabulary. Another reason is that Ignatieff is writing against the grain of our times. He speaks about our silences: our "silence about the meaning of death," meaning our having shelved the ultimate questions; our silence about human solidarity and dignity, meaning our having relegated all responsibility for the needs of strangers to the welfare system. In our silences, he fears, we risk becoming strangers to our better selves: "Our needs are made of words: they come to us in speech, and they can die for lack of expression. Without a public language to help find us our own words, our needs will dry up in silence. It is words only, the common meanings they bear, which give me the right to speak in the name of the strangers at my door. Without a language adequate to this moment we risk losing ourselves in resignation towards the portion of life which has been allotted to us." Or put more bluntly: if we speak only the language of profit and consumption, we will never learn to speak of what we can be as individuals and human beings.
For once, I fully agree with the blurb on the cover of a book: Incisive and moving, "The Needs of Strangers" returns philosophy to its proper place, as a guide to the art of being human.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Very Good but Incomplete 14 Oct. 2005
By R. Albin - Published on
Format: Paperback
This interesting essay is modeled on the provocative essays of Ignatieff's mentor, the great Isaiah Berlin. In this work, Ignatieff explores the idea of need and its consequences for how we think about the political and social organization of our societies. Ignatieff's point of departure is the fact that the modern welfare states provide, as a matter of right, support for a few narrowly defined physical needs but that this leaves a large range of important needs untouched. Satisfaction of these needs has left not only other important needs unsatisfied but has resulted in an erosion of social solidarity essential to certain aspects of needs. Ignatieff sets out to explore historic conceptions of need and how they relate to influential political and economic theories. Having defined the problem, Ignatieff proceeds to a series of interesting essays examining conceptions of need and various analyses of society. These include a sensitive reading of King Lear as a study of natural versus social man, a relevant analysis of Augustine, and particularly good study of the implications of Hume's philosophy using Hume's death as it fulcrum, and a nice comparison of Adam Smith and Rousseau. Ignatieff demonstrates that conceptions of need are variable, often contradictory, and that different conceptions have markedly different consdequences for how we think society should be organized. These sections are insightful and Ignatieff is a very good and often eloquent writer. The deficiency of this book is that having exposed these difficulties, Ignatieff makes no effort to show a way forward except to say that we need to develop a "language of needs." Presumably, this means some kind of common vocabulary that would allow us to address the problems of defining and addressing many human needs. Aside from the ambiguity of his statements, he makes no effort to suggest how such a vocabulary could be constructed. What kind of definitions could be used? Is there a typology of needs possible? Is there a hierarchy of needs? How does this impact on thinking about organizing society. These are difficult questions but having set the stage for addressing these issues, Ignatieff abruptly rings down the curtain.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
This requires reading and study 15 Feb. 2014
By Ronald F. - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Ignatieff has written a challenging, spiritual book that invites the reader to actually think above the norm. I want to know more about how he thinks.
Five Stars 30 April 2015
By J. Clark - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Excellent foundation for understanding welfare.
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