The Generations

Harman has a post up on the three best books of 20th century philosophy. He again makes a case for the Logical Investigations: Logical Investigations is the most underread and underrated of the three today. Husserl looks to some people like a relic, though I doubt he’s either more technical or less readable than Whitehead (who surrounded brilliant aphorisms with pages of blandness). But I would say that the real flaw of the book is reflected in (reflected in, not caused by) its parcelling out into six separate investigations: there are so many brilliant ideas in the book, but after finishing it you have to do a lot of organizational work in your mind to remember what Husserl has just shown you.

I’d have too crowded and esoteric a list to come up with the top three, but I know that one book not crowding the top three would be Logical Investigations. Perhaps it’s because I couldn’t imagine teaching it. It is simply numbing for hundreds of pages at a time, and I find that the people who came through Continental before me like the book mostly for where it points the way to Ideas I. And I guess people talk about the critique of psychologism. But I just couldn’t imagine, unless I was teaching a rabid bunch of Husserlians that I could ever pull off getting students through the sections, say, on color. It takes on so many debates (esoteric to the period and otherwise) that it’s hard to find a thread to hold onto by which to pull students along. (Telling students that it’s important because, as was told to me, it’s a “breakthrough” to the later work is really not enough: then why not just read the later stuff?)

That’s not to say I don’t have a soft spot for under-appreciated, supposedly long and tedious books. (I’ll see your Husserl’s LI and raise you Sartre’s CDR!)


  1. Harman talks quite a bit about the heyday of the 1920s…and, with that in mind, for a Top Three List *History and Class Consciousness* really screams out at me.

  2. This is why I don’t do a top three or ten, because I can never round down a list. I don’t know if History and Class Consciousness would be on mine though. It’s had less of an effect on me than an effect on many people that read it—it doesn’t strike me as that much of a break or a surprise, but that’s coming at it generations later.

  3. It took a while for me to come around to Lukacs. I think what struck me is that a lot of the subject/event philosophers owe something to HCC.

    The funny thing is that in a top n list, I don’t think HCC would make it, but under the restriction of books from the 1920s, it would.

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