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Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Things not to do in 'public'....

It has become a ritual of sorts. I land at Logan airport where my spouse awaits and we immediately head off to Cambridge for an inexpensive dinner at Pho Pasteur (best deal in the area) and then directly to Harvard Book Store where I spend at least an hour looking for new and interesting things to read (as if I don't have enough to do).

Last night I immediately stumbled upon the paperback edition of Raymond Geuss' Public Goods, Private Goods, a small volume I have been eyeing since it was published in 2001, but put off buying until it came out in a more affordable paperback edition. (I picked up two other books as well, but more on those another time). This morning I reached for this book as my coffee-time 'read' and I was hooked immediately.

What Geuss is engaged in is a critical genealogy of the public/private sphere distinction that is central to modern liberal thought. His three "cases" for conducting this study involve Diogenes of Sinope, Julius Caeser and Augustine. In the case of Diogenes, the issue is how the public/private distinction emerges in the instance of someone who undertakes offensive conduct in the marketplace -- in this instance, Diogenes' habit of masturbating in 'public'. In just slightly over twenty pages, Geuss provides more insight into the "shamelessness" and the roots of cynicism than I've gotten from a good many other sources.

This should be a quick, entertaining and intriguing read -- and there are few other books I've read on philosophy that can claim that. As usual, more to follow....
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