Mirror, Mirror by Simon Blackburn

One of my favourite contemporary philosophers is Simon Blackburn (http://www2.phil.cam.ac.uk/~swb24/). A lot of this is to do with his willingness to address his books to a popular audience. He is never less than lucid and informative. I feel a wry but honest smile behind much of his commentary. His is a cool, powerful, analytical mind. All very Cambridge. His latest outing for a popular audience is Mirror, Mirror (2014). The subject is narcissism.

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 behaviour. But are narcissism and vanity really as bad as they seem? Can we avoid them even if we try? In Mirror, Mirror, Blackburn 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, he 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.

It’s a sparkling mixture of learning, humour, and style, examining 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.

To get a flavour of this topic and Blackburn’s ideas do listen to the ‘Philosophy Bites’ podcast at http://philosophybites.com/2014/05/simon-blackburn-on-narcissism.html. This is a wonderfully succinct summary of his views in about 15 minutes. I do hope you go on to the book.

248 pages in Princeton University Press

ISBN 978-0691161426

Simon Blackburn

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