What would the global history of philosophy look like if it were told not as a story of ideas but as a series of job descriptions—ones that might have been used to fill the position of philosopher at different times and places over the past 2,500 years? The Philosopher does just that, providing a new way of looking at the history of philosophy by bringing to life six kinds of figures who have occupied the role of philosopher in a wide range of societies around the world over the millennia—the Natural Philosopher, the Sage, the Gadfly, the Ascetic, the Mandarin, and the Courtier. The result is at once an unconventional introduction to the global history of philosophy and an original exploration of what philosophy has been—and perhaps could be again.
By uncovering forgotten or neglected philosophical job descriptions, the book reveals that philosophy is a universal activity, much broader—and more gender inclusive—than we normally think today. In doing so, The Philosopher challenges us to reconsider our idea of what philosophers can do and what counts as philosophy.
Awards and Recognition
- Winner of the 2017 PROSE Award in Philosophy, Association of American Publishers
Justin E. H. Smith is university professor of the history and philosophy of science at the Université Paris Diderot—Paris VII. He is the author of Nature, Human Nature, and Human Difference: Race in Early Modern Philosophy and Divine Machines: Leibniz and the Sciences of Life (both Princeton). He writes frequently for the New York Times, Harper's Magazine, Cabinet Magazine, and other publications.
"Justin Smith's graceful and lucidly argued history of philosophy asks us to rethink our assumptions about both history and philosophy. More than a survey, full of surprising selections and juxtapositions, Smith's work holds delights for any curious reader and raises important challenges to the dominant categories of philosophy and philosophers in the contemporary university. A much-needed book, both inside and outside the academy."—Marco Roth, editor and cofounder of n+1magazine
"Justin Smith's The Philosopher is erudite, incisive, beautifully written, and often hilarious—a wild and exhilarating examination of the ambitions of philosophers to understand life from more perspectives than even Nietzsche would have dared. Smith is as comfortable and clever discussing Leibniz on Chinese theology as he is Laurence Sterne, T. S. Eliot, or J. M. Coetzee. If you like philosophy, you will be delighted with this book."—Clancy Martin, author of Love and Lies
"Sophisticated and provocative, The Philosopher is an outstanding exploration of possible ways to redefine philosophy today by examining its multifaceted pasts. One of the book's most exciting aspects is the way it revises the Eurocentric view of philosophy by using a very original global framework."—Stéphane van Damme, European University Institute, Florence
"The Philosopher is a terrific, much-needed, and important book that should be read by all philosophers. Smith's thoughtfulness is as illuminating as his erudition is astonishing."—Aaron Garrett, Boston University