Reviews of Moral Conscience through the Ages
'In this fascinating and magisterial study, Richard Sorabji both demonstrates and describes the intense interest philosophers have had in the ethically central phenomenon of conscience ever since the ancients. The book's appearance is much to be welcomed, especially since the topic has been relatively absent from recent ethical philosophy and moral psychology. Readers will find here both excellent history of philosophy and, it may be hoped, a stimulus to contemporary thought.'
Stephen Darwall, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews March 2015
Previews of Moral Conscience through the Ages
‘Moral Conscience through the Ages is a fascinating and remarkable feat of historical scholarship and philosophical reflection. It is a critical history of a familiar but strangely elusive idea, one that makes its first appearance, in Greek drama, as the notion of sharing knowledge with oneself. Sorabji has a fascinating story to tell—a political and religious story—about how this concept evolved and became the locus of competing moral theories and visions of human moral competence. Enormous in its scope and erudition, yet concise and clear in its exposition, this work will enrich the study of the history of ethics and our understanding of the corruptibility of conscience and the value of religious freedom.’
Richard Kraut, Northwestern University
‘Sorabji’s Moral Conscience through the Ages takes us from the earliest Greek tragedies to the life and writings of Mahatma Gandhi. Seldom has the notion of respect for conscience been shown to be capable of so many
fascinating permutations. Seldom have so many great thinkers been shown wrestling throughout the ages with this topic. Their thoughts are brought alive for us by Sorabji with warm insight and with a vivid sense of the historical context of each. The book amounts to a rethinking of a central value in our own culture that remains as relevant today as it was over two millennia ago among the ancient Greeks and Romans.’
Peter R. Brown, Princeton University
‘Few authors have the breadth and depth of knowledge required to write such a history. Richard Sorabji demonstrates in this work an impressive grasp of Western philosophy and an effortless ability to move across
disciplinary boundaries, from moral philosophy to metaphysics, from psychology to politics, and from the history of law to current debates in legal theory. Moral Conscience through the Ages will quickly establish itself among scholars as the standard treatment of its subject. But what is most impressive is that without sacrificing the rigour that academic researchers demand, he has also written a book that is accessible and practical enough to find its way into the hands of policy makers in debates concerning freedom of conscience and conscientious objection.’
Michael Hickson, Trent University, Ontario
‘Moral concepts have a history, and in this immensely learned and yet highly readable book, Sorabji traces the evolution of the idea of conscience from its earliest intimations in classical Greek and Latin down to our own time. Along the way, he raises questions about freedom of conscience, its reliability, its relation to religious beliefs
and penitence, its role in legal systems, and its reemergence in modern psychology in the form of the super-ego. Every page offers insights, and I can in good conscience recommend this book to anyone interested in the
foundations of a moral life.’
David Konstan, New York University
Perception Conscience and Will, Ashgate Variorum Series of reprinted papers, 2013
‘A feast of insightful reflections’,
John Dillon, Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2014.
Preview of Gandhi and the Stoics: Modern Experiments on Ancient Values
This has surely got to be one of the most original and unusual contributions to the vast literature on Gandhi. It is also one of the very few philosophical analyses of the Mahatma’s life and thought. These two factors alone would be sufficient to recommend Richard Sorabji’s manuscript for publication, but there are more reasons still. Much of the academic work on Gandhi has struggled to historicize his thinking in such a way as to subordinate it to the particularities of Gandhi’s caste, upbringing, and the like. And so we end up with analyses that diminish if they do not entirely discount Gandhi’s role as a thinker of great originality and influence. Not only has Sorabji gone against this current of scholarship to demonstrate that the Mahatma was a coherent and consistent thinker, he has in some ways also, and in an entirely positive way, “de-historicized” Gandhi’s thought by linking it with that of the Stoics.
Not that Sorabji is ignorant or even dismissive of the Mahatma’s historical particularity and context—on the contrary he is extraordinarily well aware of this background and the secondary literature that deals with it. Rather he offers us a way to think about Gandhi’s nonviolence in a philosophically complex way that also places the Mahatma in a much broader historical canvas, one that includes not only Stoicism and ancient philosophy in general, but also early Christianity and its “recovery” by the Mahatma’s correspondent Tolstoy. The dialogue that the manuscript creates between these great and otherwise disconnected movements provides one of the immense pleasures that it offers the reader. Suddenly we are able to exit the narrow compass of Indian nationalism, within which Gandhi tends to be squeezed by academics, and consider his career from a number of fresh perspectives.
Addressing the major ethical and philosophical themes of Gandhi’s thought in a series of concise chapters, Sorabji is able to bring to light the transnational and indeed universal aspect of the Mahatma’s ideas, though in a way that never degenerates into special pleading or hagiography, both very common in the literature on Gandhi. Remarkable about his exposition is the fact that, much like Gandhi’s own writing, it manages to engage with complex ideas in a deceptively simple and straightforward way. This is not what one would expect from a work by an important classicist devoted to Gandhi’s philosophical thought as compared with that of the Stoics. The result is sometimes unexpected and always engaging. There is a new interest in Gandhi the world over, and, correspondingly, a new set of approaches to his work. Richard Sorabji’s book should establish itself as one of the first examples of this new scholarship.
This will be a book that appeals to a wide audience, both general and specialist, one to be enjoyed for its own sake as much as for any new light it throws on the Mahatma. It should be marketed not just to philosophers, classicists or South Asianists, but also to those interested in ethics and political thought.
Faisal Devji, Reader in Indian History at Oxford University
Necessity, Cause and Blame
‘It is difficult to convey the extraordinary richness of this book. It could even be read, in part at any rate, by those without a particular interest in Aristotelian texts, if one did not mind very frequent reference to them. It isn’t written partly in Greek, so a Greekless philosopher could read it with pleasure for its lively discussion of matters of concern to him. At the same time its learning and scholarship are enormous, and the student of the ancient texts will probably read it with constant recourse to the passages cited simply by their reference numbers. The footnotes, which, thank heaven, are just that, are extremely rich in their references to secondary sources. It is remarkable to produce a book that can be read in bed or pursued in a library with constant application to a vast range of materials.’
G.E.M. Anscombe, TLS
Time, Creation and the Continuum
‘Professor Sorabji’s book is one of the most important works in the history of metaphysics to appear in English for a considerable time. No one concerned with the problems with which it deals either as historian of ideas or as philosopher can afford to neglect it, and the theologian for whom the relations of time to eternity, of creation to creator, must inevitably be central, will be wise to put himself to school with Professor Sorabji, as his enquiry ranges from the pre-Socratics to the middle ages and beyond.’
Donald MacKinnon, Scottish Journal of Theology
‘Splendid. . . . The canvas is vast, the picture animated, the painter nonpareil. . . . Sorabji’s work will encourage more adventurers to follow him to this fascinating new-found land.’
Jonathan Barnes, Times Literary Supplement
Matter, Space and Motion
‘Matter, Space and Motion is the third in Sorabji’s trilogy on Aristotle’s theories about the physical world, and the continuing philosophical criticism of these theories that began as early a the first generation of his students...
One remarkable feature of this splendid trilogy is what might be called its dramatic momentum. There is great depth of learning here, well represented by an appropriate battery of footnotes; much of the subject-matter, too, might have appeared esoteric, tangled and unappealing. Yet Sorabji has managed to present it in such a way that one is simply caught up in the excitement of debate. This is a triumph of form and scale... The publication of these volumes, all within a decade, is a major event in the historiography of Natural Philosophy’
D.J. Furley, TLS
Animal Minds and Human Morals: The Origins of the Western Debate
‘Animal Minds and Human Morals is a work of impeccable classical scholarship, which will come as no surprise to those at all familiar with Richard Sorabji’s work. But it is more. It is a work of philosophical and ethical power.’
Dan Robinson, in the Journal of the History of Behavioural Sciences
‘In my opinion, Animals is a tour de force: it is a brilliant contribution to the literature, and will have many readers beyond the community of ancient philosopher. It will be an essential reference work for anyone interested in the history of philosophical debates about the cognitive and moral status of animals.’
Dale Jamieson, University of Colorado
‘With the authority of one of our greatest classical scholars, he brings us an array of Greek and Latin texts in translation, from the Presocratics to Thomas Aquinas, bearing on the relations between human beings and animals. His reading of those texts are precise, detailed and always illuminating. He gives weight to Jewish and Islamic writes, and then carries the historical narrative through to modern times through such writes as Montaigne, Descartes and Hobbes, down to Bentham and Darwin.’
Timothy O’Hagan, University of East Anglia, The Philosophical Quarterly
Emotion and Peace of Mind: From Stoic Agitation to Christian Temptation
'Another brilliant, astounding production, exciting in the breadth of its coverage, terrifying in the scope of its learning ... rich, provocative, varied, and entertaining.'
Tad Brennan, Philosophical Books
'It is a joy to read so clear and fair-minded an exposition of the basic principles of Stoic philosophy and of the Hellenistic and Roman periods... It is a joy also to be invited to share with Sorabji in his transparent enthusiasm for the continued relevance of Stoic thought'.
Peter Brown, Philosophical Books
Then Emotion and Peace of Mind appeared. Here was a treasure beyond expectation: a deeply thoughtful work, direct and contemporary in tone introducing virtually everything that is known about ancient psychotherapy from Democritus to Porphyry, and many later texts as well.
Margaret Graver, Ancient Philosophy
Preview of Self: Ancient and Modern Insights About Individuality, Life and Death
‘Richard Sorabji’s books typically display a remarkable combination of virtues: meticulous scholarship, amazing historical range, philosophical insight and precision, and a vivid sense of the issues that a nonphilosophical reader will find interesting and engaging. Self may be his best, displaying all those virtues at a very high level. Sorabji has mastered not only the obvious texts of Plato, Aristotle, and Hellenistic philosophy, but also later texts that many philosophers ignore. Sorabji has a missionary enthusiasm for these texts, and writes about them with the sort of élan that will captivate readers.’ Martha Nussbaum
‘Richard Sorabji has accomplished what Vico envisioned and what Foucault, Taylor, and other philosophical anthropologists have variously attempted—namely, to provide a road map to the self. While others have explored the archaeology of the self with highly-selective demonstration excavations, Sorabji has taken up this same project with an astonishing breadth of systematic scholarship encompassing much of literate human history, ranging from the ancient Greco-Roman invention of the persona, Hindu and Buddhist explorations of personal identity to Christian, Islamic, and contemporary variants of the question, ‘what is it to be myself.’ With astonishing erudition and deep thinking, this is a rare work that captures the mystery of philosophy, its wondrously multi-faceted ineffability, as each of us looks into the mirror of the soul and wonders who we are exactly.’
David Glidden, University of California, Riverside
‘This is an extraordinarily rich, learned, thoughtful and personal study of a fascinating subject. While exploring a remarkably wide range of subjects—embracing Eastern religion as well as classical Antiquity, the classical tradition and modern Western philosophy—the book maintains a clear focus on a specific set of issues and concepts. Overall, a distinctive vision of the complex, many-layered subject of the self emerges, as well as an exceptionally informative and perceptive review of philosophical perspectives.’
Christopher Gill, University of Exeter
'In some sense, this book displays the best of Sorabji’s way of treating a philosophical them: he draws from a wide variety of historical periods and authors, all with astonishing scholarship and erudition, thereby giving the reader an illuminating and refreshing perspective on the much-debated topics of individuality and self-awareness. … My final remark must be one of frank praise. This book offers the reader an invaluable guide to the depths of the notions of self, person, agency, individuality, life, death. It provides a highly stimulating view of how all these topics are connected in ancient and modern writings on questions central to our lives.'
Marcus Zingano, Notre Dame Philosophical Review
'The range of Sorabji’s knowledge is breath-taking. He weaves together substantive philosophical argument , textual exegesis and comparative work in the history of philosophy and illuminates the relevance of all.'
Mark R. Wheeler, Bryn Mawr Classical Review
'Overflowing with detailed exegesis of entrancing yet difficult passages from texts both familiar and obscure. Especially effective is Sorabji’s strategy of offering insightful and incisive philosophical analysis first and ending with extensive quotations of the relevant passages. … Brings to life and makes compelling complex philosophical debates that have been pursued for millennia. There is truly something for everyone in this magnificent study, and it represents a precious resource for those interested not only in questions of self, but more generally in the evolution of human thought.'
Marya Schectman, Review of Metaphysics