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Lust: The Seven Deadly Sins (New York Public Library Lectures in Humanities) [Hardcover]

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Item Specifications...

Pages   144
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 0.75" Width: 5.25" Height: 7.25"
Weight:   0.65 lbs.
Binding  Hardcover
Release Date   Dec 1, 2003
Publisher   Oxford University Press
ISBN  0195162005  
EAN  9780195162004  

Availability  0 units.

Item Description...
Lust, says Simon Blackburn, is furtive, headlong, always sizing up opportunities. It is a trail of clothing in the hallway, the trashy cousin of love. But be that as it may, the aim of this delightful book is to rescue lust "from the denunciations of old men of the deserts, to deliver it from the pallid and envious confessor and the stocks and pillories of the Puritans, to drag it from the category of sin to that of virtue." Blackburn, author of such popular philosophy books as Think and Being Good, here offers a sharp-edged probe into the heart of lust, blending together insight from some of the world's greatest thinkers on sex, human nature, and our common cultural foibles. Blackburn takes a wide ranging, historical approach, discussing lust as viewed by Aristophanes and Plato, lust in the light of the Stoic mistrust of emotion, and the Christian fear of the flesh that catapulted lust to the level of deadly sin. He describes how philosophical pessimists like Schopenhauer and Sartre contributed to our thinking about lust and explores the false starts in understanding lust represented by Freud, Kinsey, and modern "evolutionary psychology." But most important, Blackburn reminds us that lust is also life-affirming, invigorating, fun. He points to the work of David Hume (Blackburn's favorite philosopher) who saw lust not only as a sensual delight but also "a joy of the mind." Written by one of the most eminent living philosophers, attractively illustrated and colorfully packaged, Lust is a book that anyone would lust over.

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More About Simon Blackburn

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Simon Blackburn is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Cambridge. Until recently he was Edna J. Koury Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the University of North Carolina, and from 1969 to 1999 a Fellow and Tutor at Pembroke College, Oxford. His books include Spreading the Word (1984), Essays in Quasi-Realism (1993), The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy (1994), Ruling Passions (1998), Truth (co-edited with Keith Simmons, 1999), and the best-selling Think (1999). He edited the journal Mind from 1984 to 1990.

Simon Blackburn currently resides in Hapel Hill, in the state of North Carolina. Simon Blackburn was born in 1944 and has an academic affiliation as follows - Specialty Registrar in Paediatric Surgery Chelsea & Westminster Hospit.

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Reviews - What do our customers think?
A flawed romp, like a one-night stand.  Jun 6, 2006
Simon Blackburn has given us one of the top two of the 7 Deadly Sins series - hugely enjoyable, highly informative and one of those rare things: an intelligent book that neither patronises nor bores the reader to death. (For the record, I think the other one is Envy)

Most philosophy books fall into two deadly and sinful categories. They tend to be either simplistic, so that anyone with a serious interest beyond degree level becomes frustrated and dissatisfied; or they're way too 'academic' and technical, forcing the reader to tear his (or her) hair out by the roots and retreat to the sports channels on television. Blackburn avoids both hellish places here, giving an intelligent overview of his allocated sin while keeping the reader pinned to the pages as though reading a novel.

His amusing and often almost poetic writing style not only grips, but leads you down alleyways of the history of ideas that both entertain and get you thinking. But that's his chief problem, because once you think a little about what you're reading, you realise the flaw in his method of argument. He's simply enjoying himself too much.

This shouldn't hurt, and really it doesn't; on the other hand it leaves you with the feeling that he's missed something along the way. Sin is, after all, quite deadly, and rather than condemning as prudes or psychologically scarred misfits those people who have historically told us that it's bad, it would have been helpful to have been taken along the darker streets of lust for a change.

Hell, it's fashionable these days to defend things like lust. John Portman's In Defense of Sin is a shining example of reader-friendly 'diet academia' which gets the blood flowing and the mind racing, but it's ultimately little more than an excuse to be naughty and dress it up as a "serious examination of why we believe x y or z". For anybody who has experienced lust and got their fingers (or anything else for that matter) burnt, Blackburn just doesn't go far enough.

Every one of the Deadly Sins has its friendly brother whom we mistake for the real thing. Envying somebody else's car while we drive down the street in our Skoda may technically be called envy, but it's a barmy thought process that would lead anybody to think that because it only scratches us and doesn't cut us, envy isn't necessarily that bad after all. The same goes for lust. While a 'Hobbesian unity' sounds fantastic, it doesn't account for the darker or more destructive sides of the thing.

We don't need to mention the agonies of rape or other forms of sexual abuse to see this. Imagine simply lusting after other women while your wife waits at home with the dinner, or think of the discomfort you might feel upon seeing a boyfriend looking hungrily at another girl's legs...

Lust can hurt love. Lust can cause us to turn away from more giving feelings. Lust can draw us away from, not always 'Hobbesianly towards', our partners. Why didn't Blackburn discuss this? Why did he do no more than nod once in its direction?

Why didn't Blackburn discuss the husband whose lust is tethered and never actually acted upon, but fairly indiscriminate nonetheless, and whose wife is consequently devalued even when never technically cheated upon? Why didn't he mention the wife who has no indiscriminate lust but forms a lustful attachment to one of her work colleagues, and while never acting upon her basic urges knows full well that her husband would be devastated to find out (and rightly so - this isn't some childish jealousy that he'd be feeling)? Why doesn't he mention the girlfriend who has neither indiscriminate lust nor lust for a colleague, but who suddenly finds herself chomping at the bit on just one occasion? I'm no prude, I feel and will hopefully continue to feel powerful lustful urges, but I recognise that they're not always fun and happy. Lust can damage people beyond recognition. Having lustful dreams about a friend is bad enough, but waking up and being disappointed to find my girlfriend lying next to me was injury to insult; finding my commitment (but happily not my fidelity) to another girlfriend tested and found wanting by an urge I may never lose reminds me, over and over again, that there's more to lust than fun, the fulfilment of love, or pointing a disapproving (although in Blackburn's case eridute) finger at Mediaeval philosophers and theologers.

It's a great book. I don't want to knock it. But it seems to think that lust is a great sin, rather than just a great big dirty one. I just can't help thinking that while Blackburn intelligently defends, explains and even to some extent promotes lust in his book, all those occasions that I've been torn apart by it and all those times where otherwise beautiful relationships have been damaged, sometimes irreperably, by it have been done just a little disrespect by the notion that, well, you'd have to be a puritan or a prude not to see its advantages.

I also don't believe that Blackburn has deliberately led the reader to challenge him and think about the other side of the coin; he spends so much time examining so many of the minutiae of lust that his feels like a book that sets out to inform rather than lay down a gauntlet. Yet I still, after all this, urge you to buy it.

Why? I don't know. Perhaps it's just because while I didn't always agree with him, I don't think that disagreeing with someone means that his book can't be enjoyed and recommended. It IS intelligent; it IS readable; it IS informative. It even prompted me to buy more of his work.

If we could choose when to lust, if we could choose whom we lusted after, if we could choose how much we lust and if we could choose who lusted for us, the world would be a better place, and perhaps more accurately reflected by Blackburn's otherwise excellent little book.
A Book Anyone would Lust Over!!  Nov 1, 2005

This book that contains an essay by philosophy professor Simon Blackburn, analyzes one of the "Seven Deadly Sins," namely lust. (The other six are pride, envy, anger, sloth, greed, and gluttony.) Lust and even more so the "ideas about lust" are examined from an historical, artistic, religious, psychological, and philosophical perspective.

Even though there are different types of lust, Blackburn is concerned with sexual lust. He explains: "Lust is a psychological state with a goal in mind...the desire that infuses the body, for sexual activity and its pleasures for their own sake."

Specifically, some of the topics Blackburn looks into with respect to lust are as follows: desire, excess, suppression, Christian viewpoint, cultural consequences, and evolutionary psychology. Perhaps, the most important concept presented in this essay (at least for me) is the idea of "Hobbesian Unity" developed by seventeenth-century philosopher Thomas Hobbes. Here, there is a "pure mutuality" of lust. That is, "I desire you, and desire your desire for me."

Who are some of the people you will encounter in this book? There is mention of Aristotle, Plato, Aristophanes, Shakespeare, Saint Augustine, Bill Clinton, Dante, Richard Dawkins, Freud, Thomas Hobbes, David Hume, Immanuel Kant, and Bertrand Russell. If you're not familiar with some of these names, don't worry. Blackburn tells us who these people are. In fact, Blackburn's entire essay is clearly and precisely written.

Finally, there are two sets of artistic photographs or plates in this book (eight pictures per set). The first eight are in black and white while the final eight are in color. These are used to highlight points that Blackburn makes throughout his essay.

In conclusion, I found this slim book to be very insightful. It cleared up the many, many wrong and contradictory ideas regarding the most misunderstood and interesting "deadly sin," namely lust!!!

(first published 2004; preface; introduction; 15 chapters; main narrative 135 pages; notes; index)

Best of the series  Jul 24, 2004
Blackburne's book is the best of the series, yet they all tend to be of a high calibre. It is highly readable yet carefully researched. As with all the books in the series, it is quite short and can be read in a sitting or two. The book has a wonderful dustjacket and nice tight binding, although for such a slender little book it does fetch a bit of a high price--worth it though!
Come on, give in, the book won't bite unless you ask...  Apr 12, 2004
Lust is a topic about which it is very easy to accuse someone of having had too much to think. Being an inherently and inevitably illogical and rationally evasive subject, it provides mounds of frustration for intellectuals and psychologsts, who, more often than not, seem to be helplessly pounding on the head of a gargantuan behemoth. Lust's reputation, both historic and current, does not help. There is a long tradition in the West of rigid control, of not giving in and becoming a slobbering porn shop denizen. In this sense, lust has become another bad habit, like smoking or gambling, and the term "sexual addiction", with its implied hopes of convalescence, has entered the public discourse. Lust thus has been put on the naughty shelf with the nudie mags and skin flicks. To some extent, because of the inevitable correlations, sex has been put there as well, and, along with religion and politics, it has become the third most important thing that one should not discuss with others in public. Of course we do talk about it nonetheless, because lust has a power to overcome both morality and propriety. Two thousand years of Christian shame have not subverted its powers. Legal restrictions and sodomy laws seem like squealing moralzing rodents next to its lumbering bulk. The West seems incapable of acceptance on an intellectual and moral basis that lust, and what it leads to, is inexplicable from human nature. The only peace seems to come from acceptance, which of course suggests anything but peace (those who have been entangled by lust likely know this). Various reviews of this book promised a saving of lust from intolerant traditions, or what implies an intellectual acceptance of the West's most maligned pleasure. Given that, how could one not pick up and read this tiny book?

This book focuses on lust from a Western perspective. The space limitations (about 130 pages) most likely precluded a detailed discussion of lust from other cultural traditions, which is too bad, because there is a lot to chew on when comparing different cultures' views on the subject. Still, there is a brief mention of eastern thoughts on lust, which only provides a teaser for what could be learned from a more detailed comparison, but that must be left to other books.

Starting off, the author says he is taking a "philosophical stroll in the park" of the subject. That is an accurate assessment. The fifteen chapters each take on a different aspect of the topic. There is a flow of information from one to the other, but it is a casual flow, not an Aristotelian logical analysis based on predicate logic or Venn diagrams. This is a good thing.

Each chapter provides a glimpse into the multifarious worlds that open up when the rusty door of lust is forced from its hinges. For example, how do we know exactly what we desire when we desire something or someone? Is it simply a person's sensual body or is it something less direct, such as revenge, the fulfillment of a past sexual shafting or emotional issue? It's not always clear; there is a discussion on the nature of excess, or "what is too much?" with the inevitable mention of President Clinton (the Monica Lewinsky scandal had a decidedely medieval tone to it). The book deals with technical issues such as this.

Lust from a historical perspective juices many of the book's chapters. Lust has a long history as a deadly sin, and many famous philosophers and Saints have had much to say about it (the author relaxes some of the blame too often put on Saint Augustine alone). The Greeks accepted lust as something endowed in human nature, but something to keep in check. "Nothing in excess" more or less sums up the Greek moral view of lust. Then something happened when Christianity became the dominant Western morality. The "cult of the virgin" took hold, and lust was not something merely to control, but to obliterate altogether; it was tantamount to Satanic influence. The book's at a glance view of this transition is fascinating, but sadly all too brief.

There is optimism here as well. What the author calls a "Hobbesian Unity" (after, of course, Thomas Hobbes) may be one of the aims of lust. Could this salicious thing be pointing us towards unity and romantic love of another human being? Obviously not always, but it's a possibility. What successful relationships don't have even a trace of lust in them? It seems hard to imagine a successful union between people "in love" in which sexual desire plays absolutely no role. There are of course dangers, and the book touches on these as well: objectivity, obsession, dominance, etc. There is a brief glimpse at evolutionary psychology's point of view. In the end, the author has an optimistic tone about lust, but is as unavoidably clueless as the rest of us are on the subject. Not that he claims any special knowledge, but the book will manifest no solutions to lust's power, though it will provide new perspectives and avenues down which further research can be taken. Overall a good read that will leave one deep in thought about one's own issues with the very complicated issue of lust. After all, if you're human, you've likely succumbed to some degree.

A Sin Turned Into a Virtue  Mar 11, 2004
There are seven classic deadly sins, and most of them are deadly dull. I couldn't read a book about gluttony, for instance, and pride, envy, anger, sloth, and greed are all either humdrum or so obviously bad for you that there would seem no point in studying on them. Oxford University Press, however, in conjunction with the New York Public Library, has brought out a volume on each of them, none of which I will read. But lust, well, that's another subject altogether. There's a deadly sin that I really like, and refuse to see as sinful. Lust is worth participating in and thinking about, and the Oxford volume _Lust_ by philosopher Simon Blackburn provides an encouraging set of essays that will not please those who insist that lust is just as bad as gluttony or greed. "It might seem, then," writes Blackburn, "quixotic or paradoxical, or even indecent, to try to speak up for lust. But that is what I shall try to do." Try, nay - he succeeds.

Lust has gotten plenty of bad press, a short history of which Blackburn enjoys giving. Plato put a shamefulness upon lust that it has never subsequently shaken. It was an axiom, however, that shame was inherently connected to lust, and that although there was no shame in enjoying a good meal, there was in enjoying a good coition. Saint Augustine has the reputation of demonizing lust for all Christians thereafter, but Blackburn points out that by the time he came along, "the cult of virginity was in full swing." Augustine insisted that it was regrettable to feel pleasure when one impregnated one's wife, but coitus just for the sake of pleasure was incomparably naughty. Though Christianity mostly abandoned such extreme views, and though Augustine might be seen as a moderate compared to other writers on the subject, lust has never recovered from the calumny Augustine had thrown on it. Lust, however, is essential; we are all products of it, and even religious moralists today generally allow that it has a place, even though they might define that place as only within sanctified marriage. Blackburn's main philosophical defense of lust is, surprisingly, the seventeenth-century philosopher Thomas Hobbes, who is not usually noted for liberal views. Hobbes wrote of the "delight of the mind" in reciprocal pleasure-giving, a play of imagination as well as of genitals. There was nothing intrinsically immoral about it.

_Lust_ is a little, concentrated book, with color illustrations of various masterpieces depicting humans and gods at sexual play. Blackburn has reinforced his view by quotations of poetry, mostly Shakespeare but also Dorothy Parker and Edna St. Vincent Millay (who in a sonnet admits a lover's proximity made her "feel a certain zest/ To bear your body's weight upon my breast", but adds, "let me make it plain:/ I find this frenzy insufficient reason/ For conversation when we meet again.") Blackburn's optimistic volume places lust quite properly as a central delight in life. Those other deadly sins may still be deadly sins, but even so, let us count only six from now on.


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