CC Associate Professor of Philosophy Rick Anthony Furtak has co-edited a newly published book, “Thoreau’s Importance for Philosophy,” which argues that the philosophical significance of Henry David Thoreau's life and writings is far from settled.
“Thoreau is widely read but often misunderstood, and we think he deserves to be more widely appreciated as a great American philosopher,” Furtak said. Although his best-known book, “Walden,” is admired as an American classic, it has not been widely recognized as an important philosophical text. In fact, many members of the academic philosophical community in America would be reluctant to classify Thoreau as a philosopher at all.
“Thoreau’s Importance for Philosophy” started as a conversation among the co-editors and began to take shape as they reached out to other like-minded authors and scholars, organizing a small conference where ideas for the book were shared. The book’s contributors believe that the potential of Thoreau's writings has only been partly brought to light, even though it has been 150 years since his death.
The book argues that Thoreau had a polemical vision of philosophy, as an intensely personal and transformative way of life, and also as an urgently relevant cultural project. Thoreau sought to establish philosophy as a way of life, and to root philosophical, conceptual affairs in more practical or existential concerns. His work provides a sustained meditation on the appropriate conduct of life and the importance of leading one’s life with integrity, avoiding what he calls "quiet desperation."
The contributors to this volume approach Thoreau's writings from different angles, collectively bringing to light what, in his own distinctive and idiosyncratic way, this major American thinker has meant to multiple areas of philosophical inquiry, and why he is still relevant. They show how the imagination, according to Thoreau, might be related to the disclosure of truth; they illuminate the nuances of embodied consciousness and explore the links between moral character and scientific knowledge. They clarify Thoreau's project by locating it in relation to earlier philosophical authors and traditions, noting the ways in which he either anticipated or influenced a host of later thinkers. They explore his aesthetic views, his naturalism, his theory of self, his ethical principles, and his political stances. Most importantly, they show how Thoreau returns philosophy to its roots as the love of wisdom.
“By illuminating Thoreau's work from various different perspectives, we hope to open up paths for future philosophical work in the legacy of Thoreau. His poetic, existential, Socratic, naturalistic, and perennially inspiring writings are invaluable resources that remain pertinent to our time, challenging us to live deliberately and not to compromise ourselves,” Furtak said.
“Thoreau’s Importance for Philosophy” is co-edited with Jonathan Ellsworth and James D. Reid and published by Fordham University Press.