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Gabble, Twitter and Hoot

Ian Hacking: Language, deafness and the senses, 1 July 1999

I See a Voice: A Philosophical History of Language, Deafness and the Senses 
by Jonathan Rée.
HarperCollins, 399 pp., £19.99, January 1999, 0 00 255793 2
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... Jonathan Rée takes some tomfoolery from Shakespeare for his title and uses it to create his own striking metaphor. The middle part of his book is about sign languages for the deaf: voices that one sees. The same trope served Oliver Sacks in Seeing Voices: A Journey into the World of the Deaf (1989), but there is more to it than that for Rée ...

Exit Cogito

Jonathan Rée: Looking for Spinoza, 22 January 2004

Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow and the Feeling Brain 
by Antonio Damasio.
Heinemann, 355 pp., £20, May 2003, 0 434 00787 0
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... Antonio Damasio’s two previous books, Descartes’s Error and The Feeling of What Happens, appealed not only to scientists. The citations, prizes and honours, not to mention the author’s photograph, reveal that Damasio, one of the world’s leading neuroscientists, is also a person of deep sensitivity and broad cosmopolitan culture. Readers in search of a Renaissance man need look no further ...

Horrible Heresies

Jonathan Rée: Spinoza’s Big Idea, 16 March 2017

The Collected Works of Spinoza Vol. II 
edited and translated by Edwin Curley.
Princeton, 769 pp., £40.95, June 2016, 978 0 691 16763 3
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... and he was soon launched on a posthumous career as the figurehead of the atheistic movements that Jonathan Israel likes to call the ‘radical enlightenment’. Subversive Spinozism was still being championed in plebeian London as late as the 1830s, when – as G.H. Lewes would recall – a poverty-stricken German Jewish watchmaker called Cohn (‘a man of ...

This jellyfish can sting

Jonathan Rée, 13 November 1997

Truth: A History 
by Felipe Fernández-Armesto.
Bantam, 247 pp., £12.99, October 1997, 0 593 04140 2
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... Despite his exotic name, Felipe Fernández-Armesto is an upper-class Englishman of the kind who seem to float on a cloud of contentment, perpetually entertained by the oafish antics of the rest of us down below. His press release describes him as ‘a member of the Modern History Faculty of Oxford University’ and Millennium, his blockbuster on the history of the world, as a ‘highly acclaimed’ bestseller, while translations of his monographs and reference books are ‘pending in twenty languages ...

Life after Life

Jonathan Rée: Collingwood, 20 January 2000

An Essay on Metaphysics 
by R.G. Collingwood, edited by Rex Martin.
Oxford, 439 pp., £48, July 1998, 0 19 823561 5
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The New Leviathan 
by R.G. Collingwood, edited by David Boucher.
Oxford, 525 pp., £17.99, March 1999, 0 19 823880 0
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The Principles of History 
by R.G. Collingwood, edited by W.H. Dray and W.J. van der Dussen.
Oxford, 293 pp., £48, March 1999, 0 19 823703 0
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... The motor vessel Aclinous left Birkenhead on 22 October 1938. It was an ordinary Dutch cargo ship making a routine journey to what was then the Dutch East Indies, and on this occasion it was also carrying a sick and lonely passenger: an experienced amateur sailor who was hoping that a sea voyage and a few months sailing around the Malay Archipelago would help restore his health and peace of mind ...

Francine-Machine

Jonathan Rée: Automata, 9 May 2002

Devices of Wonder: From the World in a Box to Images on a Screen 
by Barbara Maria Stafford and Frances Terpak.
Getty, 416 pp., £30, February 2002, 0 89236 590 0
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The Secret Life of Puppets 
by Victoria Nelson.
Harvard, 350 pp., £20.50, February 2002, 0 674 00630 5
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Living Dolls: A Magical History of the Quest for Mechanical Life 
by Gaby Wood.
Faber, 278 pp., £12.99, March 2002, 0 571 17879 0
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... Descartes’s Meditations tells the story of six days in the life of a rather self-important, busy young man who has granted himself a short sabbatical. Quite a few years have passed, he says, since he decided to take this meditative mini-break, and now at last he has cleared a whole week to spend in an isolated house with only his thoughts and memories for company ...

Y2K = AP2583

Jonathan Rée: 17th-century philosophy, 10 June 1999

TheCambridge History of 17th-Century Philosophy 
edited by Daniel Garber and Michael Ayres.
Cambridge, 1616 pp., £90, April 1998, 0 521 58864 2
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... The earliest systematic history of philosophy, or at least the earliest to survive into the age of print, is Diogenes Laertius’ survey of the Lives, Opinions and Sayings of Famous Philosophers, written in Greek about 250 AD. Diogenes described 82 thinkers, some cursorily, others with copious quotations and stories about their characters and curious habits ...

Something of His Own

Jonathan Rée: Gotthold Lessing, 6 February 2014

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing: His Life, Works and Thought 
by H.B. Nisbet.
Oxford, 734 pp., £85, September 2013, 978 0 19 967947 8
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... One of the curiosities of German literature is a spirited little pamphlet called Pope ein Metaphysiker!, which appeared anonymously in Berlin bookshops in 1755. The argument is tendentious, convoluted and slightly mad, but the overall purpose is clear: to make fun of the learned members of the Royal Prussian Academy and accuse them of dishonouring the memory of their founding president, Gottfried Leibniz ...

I tooke a bodkine

Jonathan Rée: Esoteric Newton, 9 October 2013

Newton and the Origin of Civilisation 
by Jed Buchwald and Mordechai Feingold.
Princeton, 528 pp., £34.95, October 2012, 978 0 691 15478 7
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... The life of Isaac Newton falls into two halves, and the main problem for Newton studies is how to fit them together. In the first half he was a sulky Cambridge mathematician who, at the age of 44, astonished the world with a work of natural science that was soon recognised as one of the greatest books ever written. In the second he was a sleek London gentleman wallowing in power, wealth and prestige and devoting his intellectual energy to esoteric studies of the Bible ...

Blame it on Darwin

Jonathan Rée, 4 October 2017

Charles Darwin, Victorian Mythmaker 
by A.N. Wilson.
John Murray, 438 pp., £25, September 2017, 978 1 4447 9488 5
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... When​ the 22-year-old Charles Darwin joined HMS Beagle in 1831 he took a copy of Paradise Lost with him, and over the next five years he read it many times, in Brazil, Patagonia, Tahiti, New Zealand, Australia and Mauritius. As the ship’s naturalist he sent commentaries and specimens back to colleagues in London, who soon came to see him not as a dilettante but an extremely acute observer ...

In such a Labyrinth

Jonathan Rée: Hume, 17 December 2015

Hume: An Intellectual Biography 
by James Harris.
Cambridge, 621 pp., £35, September 2015, 978 0 521 83725 5
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... Back​ in 1954, the American critic Ernest Campbell Mossner brought out a Life of David Hume that was not only a pioneering work of scholarship but also a labour of love. Mossner wanted to rescue his hero from the romantic reactionaries who typecast him as a narrow-minded representative of the Age of Reason. In particular, he hoped to challenge the condescension of Thomas Carlyle, who dismissed Hume as an associate of Voltaire and the French philosophes, and a slave to the ‘obscurations of sense, which eclipse this truth within us ...

The Young Man One Hopes For

Jonathan Rée: The Wittgensteins, 19 November 2019

Wittgenstein’s Family Letters: Corresponding with Ludwig 
edited by Brian McGuinness, translated by Peter Winslow.
Bloomsbury, 300 pp., £20, November 2018, 978 1 4742 9813 1
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... In​ November 1910 a Jewish engineer at Victoria University in Manchester obtained a patent for a new kind of aeronautical propeller. He was just 21, and well on the way to achieving his childhood dream of becoming the greatest aviator since Orville and Wilbur Wright. But he hesitated. He had been reading Gottlob Frege and Bertrand Russell in his spare time, and believed that their inquiries into the foundations of logic heralded a revolution even more exciting than the invention of powered flight ...

The Brothers Koerbagh

Jonathan Rée: The Enlightenment, 14 January 2002

Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity 1650-1750 
by Jonathan Israel.
Oxford, 810 pp., £30, February 2001, 0 19 820608 9
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... with scant acknowledgment to her; and if they have all added a few extra pebbles to the cairn, Jonathan Israel now comes along with a massive concrete block. Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity 1650-1750 comprises half a million words of evidence for a systematic underground movement of progressive thought that formed itself ...

Baffled Traveller

Jonathan Rée: Hegel, 30 November 2000

Hegel: An Intellectual Biography 
by Horst Althaus, translated by Michael Tarsh.
Polity, 292 pp., £45, May 2000, 0 7456 1781 6
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Hegel: Biographie 
by Jacques D'Hondt.
Calmann-Lévy, 424 pp., frs 150, October 1998, 2 7021 2919 6
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... aspect of social existence, rooted not so much in ‘mind’ as in ‘normativity’ and, to use Jonathan Lear’s term, ‘mindedness’.) More generally, Pinkard follows Robert Pippin in treating Hegel as a pioneer of ‘philosophical modernism’, or the doctrine that the central phenomena of human existence are autonomous self-creation and ...

Newton reinvents himself

Jonathan Rée, 20 January 2011

Newton and the Counterfeiter: The Unknown Detective Career of the World’s Greatest Scientist 
by Thomas Levenson.
Faber, 318 pp., £9.99, August 2010, 978 0 571 22993 2
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... head and our country repeopled with foreigners’. He did not miss a trick in turning himself, as Jonathan Israel once put it, into an object of ‘national detestation’. The only comfort he could offer his subjects was the exhilaration of war. Within a few days of the coronation, the English fleet engaged the French off the coast of Ireland, and at the end ...

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