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Review of "The Relevance of Philosophy to Life"

By John Lachs
Vanderbilt University Press, 1995
Review by Giuseppina Ronzitti, Ph.D. on Feb 4th 2003
The Relevance of Philosophy to Life

This book is a collections of essays in moral/political philosophy and philosophy of education, written over the years by the American pragmatist philosopher John Lachs.  The main thesis of the book is, as suggested by the title, that philosophers have an obligation to address the problems of daily living. The intended reader is thus the professional philosopher but the language is not always technical and the book might interest a generally educated audience. The book consists of five parts (Premise, Values and Relations, Problems of Social Life, Life and Death, Human Nature) each aiming to treat an aspect of the main concern.

To explain his view on the role philosophy and philosophers ought to play in society, the author compares philosophy to medicine. In contrast with other professions which are compatible "with a minimal reading" of their responsibilities, in philosophy as in medicine "the stakes are too high". In particular "by failing to connect critical thought with the concerns of daily existence in the minds of students, philosophers contribute to the impoverishment of personal life and the persistence of social irrationality" (p. 4). Among the obligations of philosophers is that of acting on their own teaching. The ideal is that of unity of theory and practice in philosophy. Such a unity must be realized in practice by making real actions follow real thoughts, and not in theory, only with the writing of books.   Thus, philosophers might very well stop at this point (Premise) and prepare themselves "for painful action".  They decide to go on with the reading, they will have the occasion to exercise their philosophical training in many debatable subjects such as Moral Relativism, Rationality and Tolerance (where the author argues against Hilary Putnam on Nazism), Human Nature (where he argues against Francis Fukuyama's view of history), Violence, Technology and Mediation, Education, Life and Death (where he dissents from the thought that life by itself is a value), Euthanasia, Nonresuscitation and Mercy Killing (which discussion involves the difficult definition of "being a person"), and Decision Making (treating the extreme case of selling human organs).

The most original contribution of the book is the introduction of the category of "choice-inclusive facts". These are intermediate facts between the objective and the conventional.  For example, according to Lachs, facts about human nature are choice-inclusive rather than objective. The application of such a category leads to interesting readings of some events of social life but also is the cause of a rather regrettable slip in Lachs's analysis who ranks the admittance of women, blacks, members of different religions, persons with disabilities and even "our" enemies as full-fledged human beings as a result of the choice-inclusive intepretation of the facts of real life.


© 2003 Giuseppina Ronzitti


Giuseppina Ronzitti holds a Ph.D in Philosophy of Science (2002). Her research interests inlcude Logic and Philosophy of Mathematics.