Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Dictionary of Untranslatables

Philosophers have the habit of using common terms in unorthodox ways. It can make their utterances sound enigmatic, and that quality is easily mistaken for profundity. But to give them credit, they also occasionally turn their attention to those basic concepts—virtue, love, understanding, time, value, and many others—out of which we weave both our self-image and our view of the world without examining overmuch what they really mean.

I have begun to wonder of late whether life's abiding truths are largely to be found in the titles of the popular songs of the 1930s—“Out of Nowhere,” “All the Things You Are,” “My Ideal,” “Body and Soul.”

Yet philosophy has its music, too, and now we have an anthology of its greatest hits, in the very thick book Dictionary of Untranslatables: a Philosophical Lexicon. I would say a few more words in defense of this impressive and readable work of scholarship, but I’ve said it all already in a review that appeared recently in Rain Taxi Magazine. I’m legally bound (and also honor bound) not to reprint it myself, until next Halloween, but if you’re interested you can read it here.

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