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Paperback Human Experience: Philosophy, Neurosis, and the Elements of Everyday Life Book

ISBN: 0791457540

ISBN13: 9780791457542

Human Experience: Philosophy, Neurosis, and the Elements of Everyday Life

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Co-winner of the 2005 Biennial Book Prize for the best philosophy book published in English presented by the Canadian Philosophical AssociationJohn Russon's Human Experience draws on central concepts of contemporary European philosophy to develop a novel analysis of the human psyche. Beginning with a study of the nature of perception, embodiment, and memory, Russon investigates the formation of personality through family and social experience. He...

Customer Reviews

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Want to improve your life? A rigorous update of the philosophical quest for self-knowledge and exce

Self-help books are usually premised on the idea that we know more or less how we'd like to turn out, and just need some good advice on how to get there. We want to be rich, have people like us, get more done in less time, overcome depression, lose weight, or maximize our pleasure. Even if the practical instruction were sound (usually it just amounts to a series of platitudes like: invest and save your money, try to be more witty, buy a planner, take more time for yourself, don't eat fatty foods, tell your lover what you want....), even if these books offered advice on achieving your goals that really worked, the approach is still problematic because it fails to take into account the question why we want just these outcomes, what is going on in our lives that has so far resisted our achievement of these outcomes, and whether these outcomes will really bring "satisfaction." Before we begin the process of self-improvement, we really have to know who we are. We need to begin the process of rigorous self-examination, that was first proposed by the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates as essential to a life worth living. In that process it would be difficult to find a better guide than John Russon, who has absorbed the pivotal insights on the question to be drawn from the history of philosophy from Plato and Aristotle through Freud and Marx to Heidegger and Sartre and Merleau Ponty, and distilled their essence into the form of a rigorous but readable treatise on the nature of human experience, and especially on what it takes to be healthy and whole in the face of diverse and contradictory demands imposed on us by ourselves, our families and our worlds. Several other reviewers have noted that the book is informed by and works in the philosophical tradition of 20th Century phenomenology, and constitutes an important contribution to contemporary Continental philosophy. What is perhaps most distinctive about the book is that, like Aristotle's ethics, the explicit aim of the book is not merely to help us understand ourselves but to assist in the process of actually becoming better. In fact, the book might be considered as a kind of update (after Descartes, Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, Freud, Marx, Husserl, Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty) of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. Aristotle's ethics amounts to an effort to fulfill the human potential. Notoriously, though, he claimed that this fulfillment was only possible for those who had already been raised well, with roughly the right set of habits or characteristic dispositions to act. The reason for this seemed to be that when we reach the age of reason, and acquire the capacity to reflect on what we do and how to do it better, it is already too late to modify our basic dispositions unless those dispositions are already more or less self consistent and more or less moderate and amenable to change. So, presupposed by his ethics is a good social and familial environment for child rearing: an environment th

A Text for The Study of Philosophy, Ancient and Modern

John Russon's Human Experience is a work that offers a unique pedagogical opportunity. I have used the book in an undergraduate course on Existentialism to great advantage, and again in an Introductory course to draw together diverse threads of a year-long study of the goals and varied expressions of a philosophical education. It was, however, in my repeated references to Russon's arguments in an Ancient Philosophy course that the book's sophistication became most apparent to me.Russon is already recognized, by virtue of a series of shorter studies published in a range of journals, as a careful and persuasive reader of ancient philosophical texts. These works, however, focus primarily on working through the complexity of those texts in an explicit and focused exegetical manner. This book offers something quite different: no less than a detailed and self-determining account of the philosophical project underway in the ancient texts, a setting out of the framework within which they unfold, a reckoning with the 'why' as much as with the 'how' of the Platonic, Aristotelian and Stoic projects.The power of Russon's book in this context is that it shows how ancient philosophy provides what must be called the animating context for the concerns of existential phenomenology, and indeed vice-versa: why it matters, that is, that Charmides blushes, or that Socrates is familiar with Theaetetus' family background (and Theodorus is not); why thinking and ethics depend on having taken an investigative stance toward our experience, and why it is that our expressive behaviour, and especially our conversations, are reflective of our being developed, and the scene and event for our openness to further development - our therapy, our education - and why that possibility for further development is situated in a social and political context that may or may not be favourable to it. Like Aristotle, Russon shows us why a study of life is required of an account of thinking, and why a study of politics is required of an account of ethics. Like Plato, Russon argues that education is a conversion predicated on the community and the presence within it of teachers, whose goal is to have us see our place in the midst of things for ourselves.Russon's achievement would be somehow diminished if it were not to be studied as having argued for the richness of ancient philosophical practice and the urgency of that practice in our lives, and of course (which is to say the same thing) in our classrooms.

Excellent for Courses in 19th/20th Century Philosophy

John Russon's book is now one that I have used in both my introductory courses and in my upper division course on Heidegger's Being and Time. In each case, students have reacted extremely well and have declared that Russon's is the most concrete and well-argued book in the course.In my introductory course, I have used Russon's book after Descartes and Kant and before Simone de Beauvoir's Ethics of Ambiguity. The problems of embodiment, of time, and of other people that Russon explores stand in stark contrast to Descartes' dualism and Kant's categorical imperative. After reading Russon, students become more attuned to the way in which Descartes and Kant leave something important out of the description of human experience--namely, the experience of unity with others or mutual recognition. Having recognized this, students are then prepared to read de Beauvoir, who challenges the classical notions of ethics and knowing in phenomenological/existential ways.Ordinarily, I would be the first to argue that phenomenology is difficult to present to introductory students because so many of the primary texts are difficult for them to read. Russon's book, however, is short and it covers a great deal of ground easily through his use of some key examples. I am happy to say that I have found that even my less involved or weaker students are able to locate the critical sentences of Russon's argument, and they report that his examples assist them in explicating his argument in their own words.In my course on Heidegger's Being and Time, I used Russon's book first. This allowed students to come to grips with the issues of interpretation, memory, and other persons in ways that mattered to them. Introducing them to the issues and to the type of examples that Heidegger could have in mind then really helped me make Heidegger's language more accessible. Heidegger's introduction, which I find very difficult to teach, seemed to fly by for them, and we soon were able to delve into the concepts of being-in-the-world, etc. What I noticed most about Russon's book in teaching it in the upper division course was that it was a book that easily sustained a variety of student levels. It was concrete and direct enough for an introductory student to get something out of, yet it was sophisticated enough to allow me to assign three-page papers for upper-level students on each chapter.Lest the reader of this review think that Russon's book is only for undergraduates, let me say that I think Russon's book is also a very helpful resource for graduate students in philosophy and for persons looking to get a handle on phenomenology as a whole. It is possible to see within his chapters not only the logical development of Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit but also the descriptive power of Merleau-Ponty's Phenomenology of Perception. Russon's is obviously a book written by someone who has dwelled within the texts of phenomenology and has internalized them to the degree that he is able

Valuable Introductory Text for Philosophy and Psychology

In "Human Experience," John Russon offers engaging and thought provoking interpretations of aspects of our human life that most of us assume we have already come to understand. He provokes readers to reconsider the way they think about the role of family in their lives, about the nature of the mind and the body, about mental health, and about the significance and role of philosophy in everyday life. Remarkably, Russon's book is accessible to the lay community, while also being a challenging and critical text for those studying philosophy and psychology (and especially for those with interests in phenomenology, existentialism, and mental health therapy). My own experiences with this text attest to this: I have profitably studied and discussed Russon's text with professors in the fields of philosophy and psychology, and I also recently taught this book with great success in an introductory philosophy course at the undergraduate level (beside texts by Plato and Descartes). The students in my introductory philosophy course were thrilled by the connections that Russon's book had to their own lives; they frequently claimed and explained how Russon had helped them to understand or recognize something that had previously been opaque to them. I recommend this book to anyone who is looking for an intelligent, compelling, and accessible introduction to some of the most contemporary issues in philosophy, and I especially recommend it for use as a text in a course in Introduction to Philosophy. This book would also be of particular interest to those interested in Salvador Minuchin's family therapy or R.D. Laing's "anti-psychiatry," or contemporary cognitive science.

An outstanding introduction to phenomenology

This is the best introduction to the themes, results and approach of phenomenological philosophy available in the English language. Written so as to be accessible to students or readers with little or no background in philosophy, Russon's book is at once a lucid, compelling and comprehensive account of the problems of human life, and a novel, cogent synthesis of central concepts of contemporary European philosophy. Beginning with a superb discussion of interpretation, embodiment and memory as central to experience, the book then shows how our experience turns on our relations to others, in family and civil society; how such experience leads to dissociations that turn into neuroses; and how therapy, education and philosophy can help us learn to handle neuroses. It is a perfect book in its genre, and its genre is perfect for our time: a book for the general reader that shows how philosophy provides deep insights into human experience and everyday life.I would recommend Human Experience to anyone seeking philosophical or psychological insight into the human situation. I would also recommend it as a text for those teaching or learning introductory philosophy, existentialism, phenomenology, or as an introduction to the themes of Contemporary European philosophy.
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