Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Book note: Robert Nozick "The examined Life - Philosophical meditations"

After being hidden in my book shelf for quite some time, the book "The examined Life - Philosophical meditations" by Robert Nozick surfaced the other day. This is a book that came out in 1989 and is maybe the most approachable of books by Nozick, even though that is questioned by some. The book has been called an overambitious and almost silly attempt to achieve the impossible.

The book is unusual for a philosophical treatment, since it has a quire personal tone and deals with issues that are way too big for the format. This personal tone and relevance for everyday life reflects the title of the book. The term "the examined life" is a reference to the famous expression by Sokrates "“The unexamined life is not worth living".

Nozick is not known for this particular book. Many reviewers see this as a strange non-philosophical exploration of topics that are less "philosophical" in a traditional sense. Those who do review the book mostly discuss the chapters where Nozick explores ethical or life issues, such as love, happiness, sexuality, and faith.

To me the book, apart from discussing those important subjects also takes on a fascinating experiment in how to analytically approach reality. I frequently use some of Nozick's definitions in my teaching, particularly his wonderfully simple distinction between  value and meaning. Nozick attempts to develop a full "matrix" of qualities that we have to consider if we want to understand reality. He ends up with a matrix consisting of 48 qualities! This is to some extent overwhelming and have by some been labeled as a somewhat crazy endeavor. At the same time, at least for me it is inspiring and a sign of courage. He calls it the "polyhedron of reality" or the "matrix of reality".

In my recent attempts to think about an analytical approach to human computer interaction and what that would entail, I find Nozick's work highly relevant and inspiring. I am convinced that some parts of his matrix can serve as a foundation for such analysis. So, I will definitely come back to this and see what can be done.

I highly recommend this book in general, not only for the "matrix" part but for the way it is written, the tone and style, and the way Nozick see the purpose of philosophy.

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