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What Is a Person?: Rethinking Humanity, Social Life, and the Moral Good from the Person Up [Englisch] [Taschenbuch]

Christian Smith

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15. September 2010

Christian Smith is the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Sociology, director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Society, and director of the Center for Social Research at the University of Notre Dame. He is the author or coauthor of numerous books, including Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers and Moral, Believing Animals: Human Personhood and Culture.


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"Smith combines a meticulous command of sociological theory, philosophical analysis, and moral passion to argue against reductionist theories of human personhood and agency.... This book will become required reading." (Choice)"

Über den Autor und weitere Mitwirkende

Christian Smith is the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Sociology, director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Society, and director of the Center for Social Research at the University of Notre Dame. He is the author or coauthor of numerous books, including Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers and Moral, Believing Animals: Human Personhood and Culture.

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Amazon.com: 4.2 von 5 Sternen  11 Rezensionen
25 von 26 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen Why sociologists should care 17. Februar 2011
Von Amazon Customer - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
A few years ago, Mary Douglas and Steven Ney brought to our attention the seriousness of the problem of "missing persons" in the social sciences (Missing Persons: A Critique of the Personhood in the Social Sciences (Wildavsky Forum)). In the introduction to their professedly polemical essay, they argued that "[t]he social sciences are an apparatus for seeing, and we must mark the areas that have been occluded by the equipment." While their focus was on the problems posed by impoverished conceptions of personhood such as Homo Economicus, numerous other equally-questionable though unarticulated assumptions about personhood are smuggled into every social-scientific account.

Smith's ambitious project unmasks some of these hidden assumptions about the person that underlie dominant sociological perspectives. Yet it is primarily a constructive project: it attempts to offer a plausible philosophical account of personhood that can sustain the relevance of social scientific endeavor in a way that also accounts for the social scientist as more than merely a social category or node in a network. It is an attempt to overcome the wide disjuncture between what much of our research claims and assumes about the world and what we are, as persons, who undertake such research to begin with.

His approach tackles the "big" and usually-sidestepped question of "what are we as human beings?" and responds with an emergentist account of personhood. The Critical Realist philosophy of science he draws upon for this purpose offers an ontological and epistemological approach that clarifies not only the concept of the person put forward in this book, but also the scientific relevance of sociological inquiry.

Also central to the project of this book is to provide an account of the human good that underpins the humanistic endeavor of sociology, for which Smith relies on a revised Aristotelian Personalism. In doing so, he uncovers the moral projects that are smuggled into sociological accounts that make worthwhile the social-scientific investigation undertaken. We sociologists often love to claim our work as being value-neutral. Yet even the granddaddy of value-neutrality, Weber, clearly recognized in his Objectivity essay that all scientific endeavor presupposes specific value-commitments. Why, after all, should it come as a great surprise to contemporary Social Psychologists to discover their strong moral-political homogeneity that effectively renders them a left-leaning "tribal-moral community"? ([...]).

Despite its pretensions at value-neutrality, sociology (and indeed, every social science) assumes if not implicitly posits some conception of the human good, some conception of justice, some conception of human dignity. And as the philosopher Charles Taylor argues, such theories have a responsibility to articulate their hidden visions of the good, and to "put behind them the deep incoherence and self-delusion which this denial involves." Only authentic articulation will allow us to recognize the hidden aspirations which are concealed in our theories, and to allow them to "come up for debate" (Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity).

Smith's book is a much-needed step in this direction.
14 von 16 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen Just what Sociology and Society Need 3. Juni 2011
Von George Lundskow - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe|Verifizierter Kauf
As a Sociology Professor myself, I plan on teaching this book this coming fall in my religion course. It follows a small, but in my view, correct trend in the social sciences and humanities, to take spiritual questions seriously. Rather than summarize the book or deliver a "peer" review, I would say instead that the book should appeal to anyone who thinks, or suspects, that natural science can offer only limited insight on religion, mind, and emotions. We have far more and different ways of knowing than the logic of the experiment, or as I call it, the slice and dice methodologies. People are more complex and dynamic than that. Similar books, whose authors also see problems in the sciences (both natural and social sciences) when it comes to religion, would be Landscapes of the Soul by Douglas Porpora, To Have or to Be? by Erich Fromm, and several by Huston Smith. This book also challenges the crude reductionism of people like Rodney Stark (a sociologist), who reduces everything past and present, including religion, to rational choice. If you believe that being human involves more than rational choices and genetic compulsion, this book should prove interesting, even compelling. Lastly, I'm not sure what Peter Fuchs really wants to say about the book in his review, because much of it doesn't make sense, whether he read the book or not.
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5.0 von 5 Sternen A magisterial accomplishment 4. November 2011
Von Michael Bess - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format:Taschenbuch|Verifizierter Kauf
This truly extraordinary book will assuredly become an influential classic to which scholars and students in the humanities and social sciences will return again and again over coming decades. It is an extremely ambitious study of human identity, drawing on theoretical and empirical materials from a broad array of disciplines ranging across the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities -- and it succeeds brilliantly in offering a lucid and persuasive synthesis. Smith anchors his concept of human personhood in the phenomenon of emergence, but his argument is ultimately framed in much broader terms, linking personal identity to a sustained analysis of structure and agency in social theory, and to still broader questions about the relation of fact and value, culminating with the concepts of The Good and human dignity.
The book is written extremely clearly, though the topic is unavoidably a complex and demanding one. Its argument is heavily philosophical in nature, while addressing major current debates in social theory and the humanities. Smith's erudition is amazing, but he wears it lightly, writing with verve and conviction. This book will reward the careful reader with a richness and breadth of vision that are downright exhilarating.
It is one of the very best books I have read in the past twenty years.
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5.0 von 5 Sternen Groundbreaking Social Theory 10. August 2011
Von Margarita Mooney - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
What common assumptions about human personhood underlie common concepts in sociology, such as power, structure, culture, and agency? Questions such as these always ran through my head as a graduate student in sociology, and now as a sociology professor, I find myself wanting to challenge students to answer these questions. In "What is a Person", the eminent sociologist Chris Smith has done a great service by forcefully arguing that ontology, not just epistemology, should be at the center of social theory. In other words, sociology should contribute to a better understanding of what it is to be human, and in order to do so, we have to first ask ourselves "What is a Person?"
Chapter 1 is a tour de force of all the theoretical tools later explored in the book and provides many reasons for readers to go on with the rest. The first few sections of Chapter 2 on critical realism and personalism will introduce readers to important concepts that, if applied, would make social theory and practice stronger. I particularly like Chapter 3's discussion of "strong" versus "weak" social constructionism. I re-read that section every time I want to respond to a relativist or post-modernist. I intend to use long sections of this book in an undergraduate social theory course this year, and with time, I hope to understand and be able to explain more fully Chris Smith's numerous groundbreaking arguments found in this book.

By Margarita Mooney
Assistant Professor of Sociology
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
11 von 13 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen Great Book 16. November 2010
Von Daniel J. Quay - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe|Verifizierter Kauf
I will say, this text is not for a casual reader. Dr. Smith details a number of theoretical approaches to the concept of personhood that are relatively unknown to the social sciences. As such, if you have a social science background this book is a must have. Rather than limit his studies to that which is empirically verifiable, Dr. Smith offers logical proofs for why this is an insufficient approach for understanding and interacting with the surrounding world, in an attempt to better grasp the experiential reality of what it means to be human.
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