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Reviews of The Philosopher's Autobiography: A Qualitative Study

Reviews of The Philosopher's Autobiography: A Qualitative Study

a/b: Auto/Biography Studies, Vol.20, no. 1 Summer 2005, pp. 144- 147.

Reviewed by Susan Tridgell: The Philosopher's Autobiography: A Qualitative Study

[A] solid and scholarly book, sure to arouse both interest and argument. Interest, because despite the many books and articles that have been devoted to the autobiographies of Augustine, Rousseau, and Sartre, they are not generally considered as examples of a sub-genre in autobiography. . . . Schuster's consideration of these works (and others) as a sub-genre, as specifically philosophical autobiography, brings a fresh perspective to bear on them.

One cannot it seems, have the strengths of Schuster's book without its controversial aspects. The reactions of readers are likely to be variable; from gratitude to a work that exposes the condescending stance taken by some critics and biographers towards their subjects to doubt as whether the stories philosophers tell should be so strongly endorsed. Whatever the outcome, the field of philosophical autobiography has undoubtedly found an authoritative cartographer as well as a staunch champion.

Biography - Volume 27, Number 3, Summer 2004, pp. 602-605.

Review by Morehouse, Richard E.: "The Philosopher's Autobiography: A Qualitative Study." MUSE members can access the article at Biography

Shlomit Schuster brings an overwhelming breadth and depth of scholarship in philosophy, philosophical counselling, biographical studies, and qualitative research to her comprehensive and provocative work, The Philosopher's Autobiography: A Qualitative Study.

Her scholarship does not make the book hard to read or inaccessible to the average reader with some background in philosophy, but it does challenge the reviewer to present an overview of the arguments of the book in a way that provides potential readers with a sense of what they will encounter. To address that concern, I will provide a brief overview of the book, but focus on the chapter entitled "Philosophical Psychoanalysis and Qualitative Research."

The Philosopher's Autobiography: A Qualitative Study begins with a chapter entitled "Philosophical Autobiography." Schuster defines philosophical autobiography as a narrative self-questioning of the self. This self-questioning explicates the social context of the autobiographer. Schuster understands philosophical biography to be a critical inquiry into the self and its times. This philosophical self-narrative is a creative way to understand the human inner world....

Journal of Existential Analysis 15.1, pp. 180-181

by Simon Duplock

"It is likely to prove infinitely rewarding for anyone who is interested in learning more about the relationship between autobiography and philosophy -- with all this entails for our understanding as existential psychotherapists of self-constructs"

Filosofie publisher Damon, Jaargang 15, nr. 6, december 2005/januarie 2006, p. 58-60.

Review in Dutch by Will Gerbers.

Schuster trekt de conclusie dat de wijze waarop Augustinus, Rousseau en Sartre zichzelf begrijpen op geen enkele wijze inferieur is aan het Freudiaanse psychoanalytische begrijpen. De belangrijke einduitkomst van haar studie is dan ook: Filosofie was nuttig in het leven van de filosofen die ze in haar werk beschrijft en het is waarschijnlijk dat de filosofie ook nuttig kan zijn voor vele andere mensen. Al concludeert Schuster in de laatste zin van haar boek dat er een verschillende wijsheid is voor elk mens op elk moment.

Ik hoop dat dit boek in het Nederlands zal worden vertaald, zodat er nog meer mensen kennis van kunnen nemen. Maurice Friedman noemt in zijn voorwoord het boek origineel, belangrijk en opwindend, een boek dat een groot lezerspubliek verdient. En daarin kan ik hem alleen maar bijvallen.

Journal of Dharma January-March 2004, Vol.29. No.1, pp. 110-111.

by Joseph Kaipayil

Shlomit C. Schuster is a well-known practitioner of philosophical counseling, based in Jerusalem. Her earlier book, Philosophy Practice: An Alternative to Counseling and Psychotherapy (Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1999), contributed significantly to the solidification of the emergent field of philosophical counseling (also called philosophical practice). The present book is still another contribution to the field, but with a difference.

Though a philosopher's autobiography need not necessarily be a philosophical autobiography, in many an instance it is one. The philosophical autobiography is in fact a philosophical writing of distinct type. Schuster's work is not only a learned study of this genre but also the first book solely dedicated to the subject of philosophical autobiography.

If all philosophy is self-reflection, then it is all the more true of the philosophical autobiography. An autobiographical writing of a philosopher is a window to his or her world of philosophy and the modes of philosophizing. A philosophical autobiography is for the philosopher what Schuster calls a "philosophical psychoanalysis."

The first three chapters of the book clarify the notions of philosophical autobiography and philosophical psychoanalysis. Philosophical psychoanalysis is a philosopher's attempt to understand oneself and others from a philosophical perspective. Chapters 4, 5 and 6 are an in-depth study of Augustine's Confessions, Rousseau's The Confessions of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Sartre's Words. The author has chosen Augustine, Rousseau and Sartre as case studies in philosophical psychoanalysis, because their life-narratives are rich in philosophical self-understanding. They made use of philosophical self-analysis to make their lives worth-while and to become persons they wanted to be, contends the author. She has successfully brought out the philosophical dynamics of these philosophers' living, thinking and writing and shows how they accomplished a successful philosophical psychoanalysis. Chapter 7 is an epilogue that further substantiates the author's project, drawing on the autobiographies of J.S. Mill, S. Kierkegaard and B. Russell.
Schuster's book is marked by originality, scholarship, clarity of thought and an engaging style. The book invites its readers to a philosophical-autobiographical reading of their lives and become more self-aware in the path of making their lives worth-living. As Maurice Friedman rightly notes in the foreword, this exciting book "deserves and hopefully will find a wide readership." Apr 22nd 2003

Online review by Paola Teresa Grassi of The Philosopher's Autobiography

The author proposes some ideas for an alternative form of psychoanalysis that she calls 'philosophical psychoanalysis'. The purpose of the new approach she advocates is not therapeutic, but rather a 'suggestion for how to understand persons as subjects'. The premise of the investigation is radically anti-freudian and practically rooted.

Schuster asserts: "Among the people I spoke within my private philosophy practice are those who have received psychoanalytically oriented psychotherapy and have felt that the Freudian method did not address their specific problems or what they considered the background of their problems. People often feel the need to relate their present problems to their past, but not necessarily through a Freudian or other clinical developmental theory.If one looks for nonclinical development understandings of the self one can find numerous philosophers who aimed at analyzing and describing the development of the self, the soul, the emotions, or memory".

Paradigmatic in this sense are the three autobiographies that Schuster outlines in detail in the following three chapters: Augustine's, Rousseau's and Sartre's. Focusing on the dialectical distinction between the 'slavish mental activity' and the 'free mental activity', appropriated from Dewey, the author argues that philosophers such as the three mentioned above "described their awareness of slavish aspect of mental activity, but also described an autonomous philosophizing and how free philosophical activity changed their very being and life". Schuster's proposition of 'philosophical psychoanalysis' aims also to present itself as a 'qualitative approach' like the qualititative research originated in phenomenology.