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Biography 27.3 (2004) 602-605

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Shlomit C. Schuster. The Philosopher's Autobiography: A Qualitative Study. Westport: Praeger, 2003. 256 pp. ISBN 0-275-97789-7, $64.95.

Shlomit Schuster brings an overwhelming breadth and depth of scholarship in philosophy, philosophical counselling, biographical studies, and qualitative [End Page 602] 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. The goal of understanding the human inner world through philosophical autobiography is one of the larger goals of the book, and will be discussed in some detail in my presentation of chapter three.

In Chapter Two, "Philosophy, Self-reflection, and Life-writing," Schuster presents her reading of ten philosophical autobiographies in order to "show how differently the threads of philosophy, self-reflection and self-narrative can be knotted together" (23). Schuster presents the autobiographer's own description of the role of philosophy within his or her life. She picks a wide and eclectic variety of philosophers, including Peter Abélard, Kahlil Gibran, and Simone Weil. Her selection of philosophers not only helps to make her point about different ways to knot together philosophy, self-reflection, and self-narrative, but also introduced me to at least one new philosopher (Al-Ghazali) and one person that I did not think of as a philosopher (Dante Alighieri).

The heart of the book is Chapter Three, "Philosophical Psychoanalysis and Qualitative Research," as this chapter sets out the methods that Schuster uses to conduct her study. In the first of four sections, entitled "Philosophic Psychoanalysis," Schuster presents a new form of psychoanalysis. She explores different approaches to psychoanalysis, including the perspectives of R. D. Laing, John Cottingham, Elizabeth Wright, and Jonathan Lear among others, as well as her own philosophical psychoanalysis approach. She defines the purpose of philosophical psychoanalysis as a method for understanding "persons as subject," and not a form of therapy.

In the next section, "The Macintre-Wolleim Narrative-Self and Philosophical Psychoanalysis," Schuster sees philosophical autobiography as using one's own philosophy and philosophizing as an approach to healing. She [End Page 603] understands this as different from the Macintre-Wolleim narrative-self, which conducts a search for unity through due influence of the past over the present:

It seems to me that therapeutic delving into the past as a "phantasy" or as a genuine memory was not the aim of Augustine, Rousseau, and Sartre. Though there were issues in their lives for which they sought healing, change, reconditioning, or transcendence, self-narrative was not considered the elementary tool to these transformations, but their philosophizing. Each of these philosophers remembered his childhood and recognized influences of that childhood on his life, but by philosophizing each radically transformed or even eradicated the influence of the past over the present.

Key to philosophizing about one's life is the ability to differentiate two types of mental activity: slavish and free. Schuster takes these concepts from John Dewey, but she states that she does not use anything else of Dewey's in her understanding of philosophical psychoanalysis. Slavish mental activity is that activity of which one is not capable of becoming fully aware. Free mental activity, on the other hand, can be used consciously in an instrumental manner to change thought...


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