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Mirror, Mirror:
The Uses and Abuses of Self-Love
Simon Blackburn

Paperback | April 2016 | $19.95 | £13.95 | ISBN: 9780691169118
224 pp. | 5 x 8 | 1 table.
Hardcover | 2014 | $24.95 | ($14.97) / £16.95 | (£10.17) | ISBN: 9780691161426
248 pp. | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | 1 halftone.
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"Stories of Desire" debate
at The Institute of Arts and Ideas

Everyone deplores narcissism, especially in others. The vain are by turns annoying or absurd, offending us whether they are blissfully oblivious or proudly aware of their behavior. But are narcissism and vanity really as bad as they seem? Can we avoid them even if we try? In Mirror, Mirror, Simon Blackburn, the author of such best-selling philosophy books as Think, Being Good, and Lust, says that narcissism, vanity, pride, and self-esteem are more complex than they first appear and have innumerable good and bad forms. Drawing on philosophy, psychology, literature, history, and popular culture, Blackburn offers an enlightening and entertaining exploration of self-love, from the myth of Narcissus and the Christian story of the Fall to today’s self-esteem industry.

A sparkling mixture of learning, humor, and style, Mirror, Mirror examines what great thinkers have said about self-love—from Aristotle, Cicero, and Erasmus to Rousseau, Adam Smith, Kant, and Iris Murdoch. It considers today’s “me”-related obsessions, such as the “selfie,” plastic surgery, and cosmetic enhancements, and reflects on connected phenomena such as the fatal commodification of social life and the tragic overconfidence of George W. Bush and Tony Blair. Ultimately, Mirror, Mirror shows why self-regard is a necessary and healthy part of life. But it also suggests that we have lost the ability to distinguish—let alone strike a balance—between good and bad forms of self-concern.

Simon Blackburn taught philosophy for many years at the University of Oxford, the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and the University of Cambridge. He is the author of many notable books, including Think and Being Good.


"Mirror, Mirror is a short, relaxed book, for the educated lay reader. . . . Reading him, we feel as if we were sitting in a comfortable chair, after dinner, listening to our friend Blackburn tell us not so much about politics or social history as about what lies behind them: morals--that is, what we owe to others, as opposed to what we want for ourselves. . . . [H]is prose is clear. It is also unostentatious."--Joan Acocella, New Yorker

"Blackburn writes on vanity, pride and amour proper with deep insight."--Marina Gerner, Times Literary Supplement

"[A] lucid and graceful philosophical probing of self-consciousness. . . . Simon Blackburn's Mirror, Mirror is a very fine and brilliant book, full of the sort of measured analysis and keen insight you might expect from that excellent University of Cambridge philosopher. . . . Blackburn is not just a sure and supremely knowledgeable narrator in whom we can have utmost confidence, but one with a quirky ear, alert to the curious side note and irrefutable detail that can make his sometimes dusty discipline gleam with a new sheen and edge."--Shahidha Bari, Times Higher Education

"[O]ne of the best popularisers of his discipline."--The Economist

"[T]he energy of his prose is generally exhilarating, and often funny. . . . [A]n agile, learned tour of the emotions and attitudes that human beings have towards their own and other selves. Drawing on an eclectic array of texts from literature, psychology and philosophy, Blackburn examines the ways in which a healthy self-respect, and pride in one's real achievements, can tip into vanity, envy and hubris. In doing so he puts the heat not only on the richest 1 per cent, but on us all, and all our follies."--Hannah Dawson, Prospect

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Table of Contents:

Preface ix
Introduction 1
Chapter 1 The Self: Iris Murdoch and Uncle William 12
Chapter 2 Liriope’s Son 35
Chapter 3 Worth It? 44
Chapter 4 Hubris and the Fragile Self 61
Chapter 5 Self-Esteem, Amour Propre, Pride 79
Chapter 6 Respect 109
Chapter 7 Temptation 132
Chapter 8 Integrity, Sincerity, Authenticity 163
Chapter 9 Envoi 187
Notes 191
Index 203

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