Sunday, September 11, 2011

Roger Scruton — A Deep Philosopher for the General Reader

Our friend Eric Hester, a retired Head Master in England, especially recommends Roger Scruton's books on beauty and wine in the following guest post:
Writing from England, I must say how much I delight in the Tea at Trianon blog.  I never miss a day and always find it vivifying and edifying. Therefore, I am very pleased to be able to share with readers of the blog my good news about the English philosopher, Roger Scruton. He graduated from Cambridge University, Peterhouse (that home of the most egregious dons) in 1965, then pursued an academic career in philosophy, first at Peterhouse, and then at London University until 1990. He currently holds two academic positions: visiting professor at Oxford University, where he is also a Fellow at Blackfriars Hall a Dominican Hall; and visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington DC, where he is pursuing a project on the cultural impact of neuroscience. He has written for several journals and periodicals in Britain and America and was, for a glorious period, editor of The Salisbury Review. Left wingers in Britain call him right-wing which means he is not a socialist, thinks for himself, and ridicules the politically correct. He combines, unusually, great erudition with the ability to write in a way that is not merely comprehensible but actually enjoyable. He has been called a "popularist" but I think that is wrong: he is popular because he writes well and thinks of the reader. Scruton is not  a Catholic but, as well as being at Blackfriars, writes with insight and sympathy about matters Catholic and has known as friends, inter alios, the late and great Cambridge chaplain, Monsignor Gilbey, and Professor Emeritus of the History of Architecture at Cambridge, David Watkin, a  Catholic convert. I recommend all of his books but am going to write about two relatively-recent ones.
Beauty was published in Britain in 2009 (and obtainable from Amazon for £6.15) -  a bargain.  As a philosopher, Scruton specialises in aesthetics and he knocks on the head the ideas that all things are relative, anything goes and there is no such thing as beauty. He explores the timeless concept of beauty, asking what makes an object - either in art, in nature, or the human form - beautiful.  Scruton insists that beauty is a real and universal value, one anchored in our rational nature, and that the sense of beauty has an indispensable part to play in shaping the human world. The book is pocket-sized but has some 14 illustrations, themselves worth the price of the book. Scruton writes about beauty in the visual arts, painting and sculpture, but also in architecture, film, music and nature as well as what he calls "the aesthetics of everyday life." This is a book on philosophy for those who do not normally read books about philosophy. At a time when so much is nihilistic, here is a book that affirms the beautiful and the sublime. I especially recommend it as a present for young people just going up to university. It is a book to read, re-read, to keep and to treasure.
I Drink Therefore I am – a Philosopher’s Guide to Wine (2009 £9.95)  The witty title of this book gives expectations that are not disappointed.  When one has a leading philosopher, who is also fluent and witty, writing about his love of wine then the book is one for all lovers of wine. It is not a handbook - so there is not too much about vintages and certainly it is not a catalogue.  Scruton tells something of his own encounters with various wines, at Peterhouse and in various other places throughout the world. So some interesting people are also mentioned.  But the focus is always on the wine and its delights. He gives useful dicta such as "Never drink any fluid that has been kept in plastic." In an amusing final section, Scruton makes suggestions about which wines to drink while reading various philosophers. I have picked up from this book much fascinating knowledge about wine, the sort of things that the ordinary wine books do not mention. Best of all, I have tried different wines and had great joy since Scruton’s recommendation are always of the soundest. I have a reasonable library of books on wine and on philosophy and this book has pride of place in both. In fact, I immediately bought a second copy since the first one I gave away to another wine-lover as a present.  It is now my favourite book on wine and is the book I should recommend for all wine lovers except those requiring a very basic guide. Scruton dwells on the terroir,  the land from which the wine springs.  He is concerned not just with the “body” of a wine but also of its soul. 



Violet said...

Elena, i must thank you for your comment on my blog.
It means alot for me:-)

Anonymous said...

Interesting! Elena, do you think you will read and review these books?

elena maria vidal said...

Delighted, Violet. I would like to read them, Susan, although my stack of books to review is already pretty high and with Mr. Hester's reviews anything I could say would be redundant.

Gio said...

These sound very interesting reads, thanks for sharing.