Reading Group Suggestions

I wanted to put up a post where people could make suggestions for further reading groups, after the conclusion of the marvelous “Democratic Authority” discussion we’ve had. If there are many suggestions, I’ll put up a poll to see which are the most popular and likely to attract broad participation. Also, if there is a lot of interest in two quite different books, then nothing stops people from organising those groups separately.

In a little while, once I’ve figured out the precise technical details, I’d like to see if we can host a series of podcasts on the website, ideally for the Fall semester; a kind of “how to deliver a paper to masses of people working in your field without leaving your office” sort of arrangement. Otherwise, I’d like to encourage people to think creatively about how best to use the site. We now have over one hundred full members working in political philosophy and theory from sixteen different countries around the world. Not to blow our own horn, but I think this probably makes us the largest group philosophy blog on the internet, strictly in terms of membership, although that may be mistaken. As such, I think there is tremendous potential for the blog to be the site for some real innovation in academic conversation on the internet; it will be whatever the members want to make of it. I’m very happy about the start we’ve had over the last few months (and especially grateful to David and Jonathan for their efforts in the reading group).

Thom suggested Martha Nussbaum’s new book, Liberty of Conscience, a while ago.At some point, I’d also like to see what people have to say about Tom Christiano’s forthcoming Constitution of Equality, although that does not seem to be out yet (or, sadly, reasonably priced).

I’ll link to this post on the sidebar, so that it doesn’t get lost. People should also feel free to suggest when they think it best to have a new group, either quite soon, over the summer, or next semester.

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About Simon Cabulea May

Simon Cabulea May is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Florida State University. He received his PhD from Stanford University. His present research project generally concerns conflicts of moral convictions in public deliberation.
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7 Responses to Reading Group Suggestions

  1. Ben Saunders says:

    I would like to read the Christiano book although, as you say, it’s rather expensive so unless I get offered a book review I’ll probably have to wait for the library to get it.

    I don’t have any other suggestions, but one thing that I think has been crucial to the current reading group is David Estlund taking the time to participate and respond. This leads me to suggest we should either look for a book by an existing site member or a book whose author would be willing to get involved in the same way David has.

  2. I think that it would be great if authors could devote even a fraction of the time to the group as David. However, people should not be dissuaded from recommending a book if they don’t know the author or don’t know if that person would be willing to join in the discussion in some way. We can always see if they are interested. One thing I think we have learned so far is that the pace of the group should not be any quicker than it is now. It takes quite some time to write out thoughtful comments — much more time than it takes to simply utter them in conversation. And it is easy to get behind in the reading (*cough*) as the semester gets going. But I think the upshot is a very thorough discussion, more so than I had anticipated.

  3. Oxford University Press say they could offer a 20% discount on the Christiano book for us. That makes it a little bit more manageable, but still expensive. Apparently it is a OUP UK publication and the exchange rate is hurting its price in the US. I would imagine though that £50 is still prohibitive for people in the UK.

  4. Ben Saunders says:

    It’s costing £50 over here is nothing to do with the exchange rate! Be glad you usually get books so cheap… For comparison though, Estlund’s book was only £17.99 (HB), and I managed to grab it one-third off via Amazon.

    Maybe another option is to do something not so new. The trouble with that I suppose is worthwhile texts, whether really classic or modern classics, have probably been discussed to death already. It’d be nice if we could find something people may have had a while but not quite got round to reading though.

    Or we could even set up some kind of regular journal article discussion instead of books – give everyone a week or two to read a pre-agreed article and discuss that, then follow on with others (related or not). It would also reduce commitment and make it easier for people to dip in and out of discussion.

  5. Loren King says:

    I strongly second Ben’s article proposal. I especially approve of an economy of commitment! (the book group has been a pretty serious commitment all term — not complaining, mind you; merely noting my miserable time management skills). I guess we could have both: just start another tag for regular article discussion groups, running alongside book groups?

    Book ideas: some people I (and many of you) know, who have recent books out, and who I believe would be active participants in discussion …

    Corey Brettschneider, Democratic Rights: The Substance of Self-Government (Princeton, 2007)

    Colin Farrelly, Justice, Democracy and Reasonable Agreement (Palgrave MacMillan, 2007)

    Catherine Frost, Morality and Nationalism (Routledge, 2006)

    Sarah Song, Justice, Gender, and the Politics of Multiculturalism (Cambridge, 2007)

    … again with the crazy prices though.

    Just bought Pettit’s recent Made With Words: Hobbes on Language, Mind, and Politics (Princeton, 2008) — looks interesting.

    Older books that may not really fit the group very well (if at all), but that I have lying around and want to force myself to read, or in one case to read properly (i.e. not simply reading the two or three chapters everyone cites and then skimming the rest). Probably not relevant, but I’ll list them anyway …

    Walzer, Interpretation and Social Criticism (Harvard, 1987)
    Anderson, Value in Ethics and Economics (Harvard, 1993)
    Heath, Communicative Action and Rational Choice (MIT, 2001)
    Hollis, Trust within Reason (Cambridge, 1998)
    Searle, Rationality in Action (MIT, 2001)

  6. Having some discussion of important articles would be one of the main benefits of the site, in my opinion. The trick is how to organise it, so that it becomes a regular feature of the site.

    One possibility is that I could ask some brave souls to act as coordinators for specific journals. e.g. if a new edition of the Journal of Political Philosophy comes out, then the JPP coordinator could announce that and see if people were interested in writing up short discussions of each paper (e.g. email Susie about Harry’s paper since she’s worked on the same stuff), or if you were interested in doing that for a specific article in your area you could send a note to the JPP coordinator (there’s no reason why a single paper can’t have multiple people writing about it). The coordinator could also contact the author to see if they have anything to add, or would like to participate, etc. There are a lot of articles being published, and a lot of people reading them. Some of those people must have something to say about those articles even if only in an informal preliminary fashion. Not every article from every major journal has to be discussed, but it would be neat if we reached a point where you read a new paper and were able to talk about it easily with other people who had just read it.

    This would not be a reading group as such, but it could run in parallel with any book reading group that people want to set up, and with any literature reading group that people want to set up about, e.g., the recent literature on global justice. With respect to those, I can only suggest that it work in a somewhat less structured fashion — e.g. you could put up a post suggesting a group looking at a range of papers in a certain area, e.g. Blake, Nagel, Julius, Cohen & Sabel, Sangiovanni etc. over a certain period of time, and see how many others were interested in posting on that area and about the same texts. I would expect such groups to take some time to get sorted, so it may help if you knew people in advance who would be interested and got some commitment from a core group prior to a general announcement.

    In any event, I really hope people will do this sort of thing, in whatever guise, under their own initiative, as I don’t want to be a bottleneck in the process.

  7. I like those book suggestions Loren. The Brettschneider and Song books are both within the realm of reasonableness in terms of price, and both look like very good options. I would especially like the diversification of subject matter with the Song book, personally.

    There is also no in-principle reason why there cannot be two groups running at the same time. If these were two books on the same area, that would be problematic, since people would want to read both books and participate in both groups, and that would not be feasible. But if there were different constituencies for different books, there is no reason whatsoever that they can’t inhabit the same website, esp. as people will at least have a passing interest in books that they are not able to dedicate a chunk of time to discussing.

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