What is language? What is beauty? Who gets to decide?
Philosophers have grappled with these questions for centuries, and they've generated a pile of long (and often tortured) books in their efforts to answer them.
But for Tom Wartenberg, some of the best books about philosophy are much shorter and a lot more colorful: Frog and Toad Are Friends. Horton Hears a Who! The Paper Bag Princess.
In his latest book, Bowles argues that it is not sufficient to rely on rule of law, property rights and private contracts — the holy trinity of free-market fundamentalism — to ensure pro-social behavior. Those incentives must be reinforced by widely accepted moral codes and norms of social behavior. Drawing on game theory, behavioral and experimental economics, and even neurobiology, he shows that over-relying on the market’s financial incentives will undermine moral values and social norms and cause them to atrophy, like unused muscles.
In 1860, during the Second Opium War, the British and French armies sacked the Chinese Summer Palace (Yuanmingyuan), looting it of what the Chinese government today estimates to have been 150 million objects. The British effort was led by James Bruce, the eighth Earl of Elgin, and with his blessing the Chinese empress’s Pekingese dog was cruelly abducted and given as spoils to Queen Victoria. The dog's portrait—which Tiffany Jenkins includes here—was painted by Friedrich Wilhelm Keyl in 1861. As the painting's title reflects, the poor dog had been renamed: Looty.
Keeping Their Marbles is a full-throated argument against the repatriation of arguably stolen art and artifacts. To say that it is controversial is a severe understatement. Yet, as the anecdote of Looty the Pekingese suggests, Jenkins makes no attempt to sugarcoat the past. Despite her insistence that we not judge the past by present-day ethics and customs, she reveals the fact that, for instance, Victor Hugo was fiercely critical of the "[t]wo robbers" (meaning England and France) "breaking into a museum, devastating, looting and burning, leaving laughing hand-in-hand with their bags full of treasures." Nor does Jenkins fail to mention that James Bruce was the son of Thomas Bruce, the Lord Elgin whose name is synonymous, fairly or not, with plunder.
We aren’t lucky because life is easy or smooth, or because it makes sense or because we are in control. We are lucky because life is fragile and entirely out of our control, but it is ours to live.