Academics can be too fond of talking about endless ‘ism’s and their intricate differences. The public are too prone to dismiss ‘ism’s as confirmation that there can be no agreement about any fundamental issue in life. But from the large variety of ‘ism’s on offer, we can draw out complementary insights and instructive perspectives that would together enrich our understanding of how we should live.
From my own reading and reflections over the years, I have picked out ten expositions of classic ‘ism’s to share with others. In most cases, the ‘ism’ in question forms the title of the book. Where this is not so, the name of the book is given in brackets. In my experience, the ideas presented by these ten works contribute to an evolving progressive philosophy of life, and are valuable in guiding our moral behaviour and political stance.
Feminism (A Vindication of the Rights of Woman): Mary Wollstonecraft (1792)
Utilitarianism: J. S. Mill (1863)
Pragmatism: William James (1907)
Liberalism: L. T. Hobhosue (1911)
Existentialism (An Existentialist Ethics): Hazel E. Barnes (1967)
Stoicism (Stoic Philosophy): J. M. Rist (1969)
Humanism and Moral Theory: Reuben Osborne (1970)
Scepticism & Naturalism: P. F. Strawson (1985)
English Ethical Socialism: N. Dennis & A. H. Halsey (1988)
Communitarianism: Henry Tam (1998)
(For a short piece on what communitarianism should mean in the face of the current political challenges, see ‘Communitarianism Revisited’.)