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01-15-2010

Clarkson University Professor Publishes Book on Noted Philosopher Wittgenstein

[A photograph for media use is available at http://www.clarkson.edu/news/photos/chrisrobinson.jpg]

A Clarkson University professor has completed a book on one of the most noted philosophers of the 20th century.

Christopher C. Robinson, assistant professor of political science, recently published "Wittgenstein and Political Theory: The View from Somewhere" with Edinburgh University Press and Columbia University Press.chrisrobinson

Part of what makes a discussion of Wittgenstein and politics interesting is that Ludwig Wittgenstein rarely addressed political theory. "Almost not at all," Robinson says, "despite the fact that Wittgenstein lived through two world wars that affected him directly as a citizen of Austria and as a Jew."

Studying philosophy as it relates to politics is important, Robinson says. "Philosophy is really important for the ordinary citizens. Wittgenstein in a lot of ways wanted it to affect people. He wanted it to do something. I think that’s the link between Wittgenstein and political theory."

Robinson says in today’s fast-paced culture, it’s important to try to slow down and think about "the big questions," like peace and justice. Wittgenstein "recognizes there’s a lot of forces at work that pull you away from who you truly are and he constantly is calling us back to a slower way of existence."

Wittgenstein, Robinson says, "removes all these pretenses where philosophers somehow think they’re wiser than everyone else. Many philosophers define themselves as somehow removed from political life and conceive themselves as exiled. This has been called ’the view from nowhere.’

"Classically, theorizing was about seeing politics clearly. Wittgenstein serves to remind theorists of the perceptual roots of their activity and forces them back into the complexity and excitement of political society, where clear vision is difficult but possible to achieve."

The book, Robinson says, is designed for graduate students and advanced undergraduates. "He’s a philosopher I can’t really put in an undergraduate’s hands without spending a lot of time teaching them the history of philosophy. You have to know an awful lot about what Wittgenstein was responding to and against in order to really understand his work."

Getting back to a philosophical way of life is difficult, Robinson says. "It doesn’t pay off, there’s no great financial remuneration for this type of work." But, he says, "there are certain rewards to a reflective life. If nothing else, it’s more humane."

Robinson says Wittgenstein is famous for the expression "let us be human." "He’s reminding us of what that means."

Robinson received his Ph.D. from SUNY Albany, his M.A. from SUNY Albany and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and his B.A. from Siena College, all in political science. He has been a member of the Clarkson faculty since 1998, and is also co-host of North Country Public Radio’s Readers and Writers on the Air.

Clarkson University launches leaders into the global economy. One in six alumni already leads as a CEO, VP or equivalent senior executive of a company. Located just outside the Adirondack Park in Potsdam, N.Y., Clarkson is a nationally recognized research university for undergraduates with select graduate programs in signature areas of academic excellence directed toward the world’s pressing issues. Through 50 rigorous programs of study in engineering, business, arts, sciences and health sciences, the entire learning-living community spans boundaries across disciplines, nations and cultures to build powers of observation, challenge the status quo, and connect discovery and engineering innovation with enterprise.

[News directors and editors: For more information, contact Michael P. Griffin, director of News & Digital Content Services, at 315-268-6716 or mgriffin@clarkson.edu.]

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