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Stanley Cavell

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Stanley Cavell (born 1926) is an American philosopher. Cavell is a philosopher trained in the anglo-american analytic tradition, who usually engages in dialogue with the continental tradition, and has come to be very well known for his inclusion of film and literary study into philosophical inquiry. He is the Walter M. Cabot Professor Emeritus of Aesthetics and the General Theory of Value at Harvard University.

He is perhaps best known for his book The Claim of Reason: Wittgenstein, Skepticism, Morality, and Tragedy (1979) which forms the centerpiece of his work, and which has its origins in his Ph.D. dissertation. Cavell is known as a reader of the German philosophers Ludwig Wittgenstein and Martin Heidegger, and for his work on the American Transcendentalists, especially Henry Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. His other works include:

  • Must We Mean What We Say? (1969)
  • The World Viewed: Reflections on the Ontology of Film (1971)
  • The Senses of Walden (1972)
  • Pursuits of Happiness: The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage (1981)
  • Themes Out of School: Effects and Causes (1984)
  • Disowning Knowledge: In Six Plays of Shakespeare (1987)
  • In Quest of the Ordinary: Lines of Scepticism and Romanticism (1988)
  • This New Yet Unapproachable America: Lectures after Emerson after Wittgenstein (1988)
  • Conditions Handsome and Unhandsome: The Constitution of Emersonian Perfectionism (1990)
  • A Pitch of Philosophy: Autobiographical Exercises (1994)
  • Philosophical Passages: Wittgenstein, Emerson, Austin, Derrida (1995)
  • Contesting Tears: The Melodrama of the Unknown Woman (1996)
  • Emerson's Transcendental Etudes (2003)
  • Cities of Words: Pedagogical Letters on a Register of the Moral Life (2004)

A recent work is Cities of Words where he traces the history of "moral perfectionism," or what he understands as a mode of philosophical moral thinking embodied in literature spanning the tradition of western philosophy. As he uses Emerson to open the genre for definition in an earlier work, this book suggests ways we might want to examine philosophy as well as film as being preoccupied with features of perfectionism.

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