History Man: The Life of R.G. Collingwood By Fred Inglis (Princeton University Press, 385 pp., $39.50) This is a warm-hearted, affectionate biography of an irascible but brilliant philosopher and historian. It is a model of its kind--warm, supportive, and forgiving; and conceived, as the author says, as a minor riposte to the “moral hypochondria and sanctimonious recrimination” toward everything our ancestors in the twentieth century did.
WHEN BERNARD WILLIAMS died, in 2003, the loss was felt well beyond the refined world of academic philosophy. In a succession ofobituaries and affectionate memorial events at Cambridge, Oxford,and Berkeley, distinguished contemporaries from many fields testified to the inspiration he had given them. All spoke of his terrifying brilliance, his dazzling speed of mind and extraordinary range of understanding, his zest and his glittering wit.
On Truth By Harry Frankfurt (Alfred A. Knopf, 101 pp., $12.50) I. In his prime, and without benefit of a keyboard, Samuel Johnson could write twelve thousand words a day. I doubt that there are many more than half that number in Harry Frankfurt’s diminutive book On Bullshit, which was an unexpected best-seller for Princeton University Press last year, shyly peeking out next to the cash registers in bookshops everywhere.
The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human NatureSteven Pinker (Viking, 509 pp., $27.95) I. When the hoary old question of nature versus nurture comes around, sides form quickly. And as Leavis once remarked, whenever this is so, we can suspect that the differences have little to do with thinking. Still, the question certainly obsesses thinkers, and it crops up in various terminologies and under various rubrics: human essence versus historical accident, intrinsic nature versus social construction, nativism versus empiricism.