Cities of Words: Pedagogical Letters on a Register of the Moral Life

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Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2004 - 458 pages
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Since Socrates and his circle first tried to frame the Just City in words, discussion of a perfect communal life--a life of justice, reflection, and mutual respect--has had to come to terms with the distance between that idea and reality. Measuring this distance step by practical step is the philosophical project that Stanley Cavell has pursued on his exploratory path. Situated at the intersection of two of his longstanding interests--Emersonian philosophy and the Hollywood comedy of remarriage--Cavell's new work marks a significant advance in this project. The book--which presents a course of lectures Cavell presented several times toward the end of his teaching career at Harvard--links masterpieces of moral philosophy and classic Hollywood comedies to fashion a new way of looking at our lives and learning to live with ourselves.

This book offers philosophy in the key of life. Beginning with a rereading of Emerson's "Self-Reliance," Cavell traces the idea of perfectionism through works by Plato, Aristotle, Locke, Kant, Mill, Nietzsche, and Rawls, and by such artists as Henry James, George Bernard Shaw, and Shakespeare. Cities of Words shows that this ever-evolving idea, brought to dramatic life in movies such as It Happened One Night, The Awful Truth, The Philadelphia Story, and The Lady Eve, has the power to reorient the perception of Western philosophy.

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Cities of words: pedagogical letters on a register of the moral life

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What does it mean to live a moral life? In his typically provocative fashion, Cavell (Walter M. Cabot Professor of Aesthetics & the General Theory of Value Emeritus, Harvard) answers this question by ... Read full review

Contents

Introduction
1
Emerson
19
The Philadelphia Story
35
Copyright

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About the author (2004)

Stanley Cavell was born Stanley Louis Goldstein in Atlanta, Georgia on September 1, 1926. He received a degree in music from the University of California, Berkeley and a Ph.D. in philosophy from Harvard University. From 1953 to 1956, he was a junior fellow in Harvard's Society of Fellows. He then taught for six years at the University of California, Berkeley. He returned to Harvard to teach in 1963, becoming professor emeritus in 1997. His first book, Must We Mean What We Say?, was published in 1969. His other books included The Claim of Reason: Wittgenstein, Skepticism, Morality, and Tragedy; Pursuits of Happiness: The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage; and Themes Out of School: Effects and Causes. He died from heart failure on June 19, 2018 at the age of 91.

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