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Civic Reflection and Ted Cohen’s Book, “Thinking of Others”

Mar 19 2012 Catherine Tufariello
Prof. Ted Cohen's book 'Thinking of Others

I recently read an interesting book by Ted Cohen, a Philosophy professor at the University of Chicago, called, Thinking of Others: On the Talent for Metaphor. In it, Cohen talks about the relationship between what he calls a “talent for metaphor,” by which he means the capacity to identify with others (including characters in fiction), and the development of empathy.  I think the book has implications worth exploring for civic reflection.

Here’s a quote that struck me from Cohen's discussion of the movie Chinatown: “Gittes has been warned by Mrs. Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) that he will be unable to understand Cross, but in his arrogance he has refused to believe her. Perhaps the triumphal assumption that we can easily understand one another is as sinful as the refusal to attempt any human understanding at all, and that would mean that our obligation is to try grasping one another in the full realization that it cannot be done with complete success.”

It seems to me that at their best, civic reflection discussions guard against both dangers at once–the “triumphal assumption” of understanding and the refusal even to attempt it.

You can read the first chapter here.

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