Melancholic Joy: On Life Worth Living (Bloombury 2021)

Today, we find ourselves surrounded by numerous reasons to despair, from loneliness, suffering and death at an individual level to societal alienation, oppression, sectarian conflict and war. No honest assessment of life can take place without facing up to these facts and it is not surprising that more and more people are beginning to suspect that the human story will end in tragedy.

However, this focus on despair does not paint a complete and accurate picture of reality, which is also inflected with beauty and goodness. Working with examples from poetry and literature, including Virginia Woolf and Jack Gilbert and the films of Terrence Malick, Melancholic Joy offers an honest assessment of the human condition. It unflinchingly acknowledges the everyday frustrations and extraordinary horrors that generate despair and argues that the appropriate response is to take up joy again, not in an attempt to ignore or dismiss evil, but rather as part of a “melancholic joy” that accepts the mystery of a world both beautiful and brutal.

Melancholic Joy is a superlative contribution to philosophical literature. If, at the core, philosophy is about learning to live well and to live the examined life, then Melancholic Joy is philosophy at its best. Treanor’s prose is highly accessible to a wide audience and should be read by academics and non-academics alike. The book is also a refreshing break from the plethora of popularly written self-help books that present joy as the result of following all the right steps… [so] one can live absolutely free of sorrow, loneliness, anxiety, and the other evils of the world. To the contrary, Treanor’s book compels the reader to come to terms with both oneself ad the darker realities of existence while offering, not a series of “steps,” but a way of being that offers the ability to embrace and dwell on the beautiful realities of life.” —David Utsler, North Central Texas College, Worldviews 25 (2021).

Philosophy in the American West: A Geography of Thought (Routledge 2020)

Philosophy in the American West : A Geography of Thought book coverPhilosophy in the American West explores the physical, ecological, cultural, and narrative environments associated with the western United States, reflecting on the relationship between people and the places that sustain them

The American West has long been recognised as having significance. From Crèvecoeur’s early observations in Letters from an American Farmer (1782), to Thoreau’s reflections in Walden (1854), to twentieth-century thoughts on the legacy of a vanishing frontier, “the West” has played a pivotal role in the American narrative and in the American sense of self. But while the nature of “westernness” has been touched on by historians, sociologists, and, especially, novelists and poets, this collection represents the first attempt to think philosophically about the nature of “the West” and its influence on us. The contributors take up thinkers which have been associated with Continental Philosophy and pair them with writers, poets, and artists of “the West”. And while this collection seeks to loosen the cords that tie philosophy to Europe, the traditions of “continental” philosophy—phenomenology, hermeneutics, deconstruction, and others—offer deep resources for thinking through the particularity of place.

Carnal Hermeneutics (Fordham 2015)

Building on a hermeneutic tradition in which accounts of carnal embodiment are overlooked, misunderstood, or underdeveloped, this work initiates a new field of study and concern.

Carnal Hermeneutics provides a philosophical approach to the body as interpretation. Transcending the traditional dualism of rational understanding and embodied sensibility, the volume argues that our most carnal sensations are already interpretations. Because interpretation truly goes “all the way down,” carnal hermeneutics rejects the opposition of language to sensibility, word to flesh, text to body.

In this volume, an impressive array of today’s preeminent philosophers seek to interpret the surplus of meaning that arises from our carnal embodiment, its role in our experience and understanding, and its engagement with the wider world.

“This book is not only an invaluable resource for scholars interested in new developments in hermeneutics, and, more generally, in continental European philosophy. It is also likely to become an important touchstone of future debate.” —Theodore George, Texas A&M University, in Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

“Certain dualities, spirit vs. body, idea vs. sensation, self vs. the world, etc., have long dominated, often injuriously, much Western thinking. In this remarkable volume, the editors, along with some of the most important voices in the Continental tradition, allow hermeneutics to go ‘all the way down’ and in so doing move beyond these dualities by taking more seriously the ‘surplus of meaning arising from our carnal embodiment.’ What emerges is a reenergized and radically embodied or ‘incarnational’ hermeneutics that opens new vistas for religious, environmental, and artistic thinking. This is an important and consequential collection.”—Jason M. Wirth, Seattle University

“Carnal Hermeneutics brings together essays from some of the most prominent philosophers writing today. These excellent essays challenge us to think through the body in every sense. This collection makes an important contribution to philosophy of embodiment. The very idea of carnal hermeneutics is breath-taking.”—Kelly Oliver, Vanderbilt University

“In response to the apparent ‘non-relevance’ of traditional phenomenological hermeneutics, must those scholars who continue to cling to a more ‘conservative’ perspective capitulate to the various nihilisms, to the critiques of correlationalism, or to the solid reductionism of speculative realism? Richard Kearney and Brian Treanor answer with an insistent ‘No!’ Indeed, they seek to infuse the debate with a dialogical energy that will keep the process moving and flesh renewed. That would not be a bad embodiment of a carnal hermeneutics.”—B. Keith Putt, Samford University

Being-in-Creation (Fordham 2015)

Being in CreationWhat is the proper relationship between human beings and the more-than-human world? This philosophical question, which underlies vast environmental crises, forces us to investigate the tension between our extraordinary powers, which seem to set us apart from nature, even above it, and our thoroughgoing ordinariness, as revealed by the evolutionary history we share with all life.

The contributors to this volume ask us to consider whether the anxiety of unheimlichkeit, which in one form or another absorbed so much of twentieth-century philosophy, might reveal not our homelessness in the cosmos but a need for a fundamental belongingness and implacement in it.

“Being-in-Creation, edited by Benson, Treanor, and Wirzba is a well-conceived and beautifully-executed collection of essays on a vitally important topic. In a situation of acute ecological crisis, we require the resources of all of our philosophical, theological and religious traditions, including the rich veins opened up for us here by the contributors, to offer us new ways of thinking about and living in the world.”—Clayton Crockett, University of Central Arkansas

“Treanor’s introduction is well worth a read. He frames the issues by characterizing human beings as ‘torn by two different impulses related to their ultimate belonging in nature.’ On one hand, we are pulled away from nature by the idea that we are somehow exceptional. On the other hand, we are pulled back to nature by reflecting on the ‘thoroughgoing ordinariness of our constitution and our fundamental kinship will all other living beings.’ This fascinating tension is reflected in Genesis, which insists that human beings are dependent creatures like any other (the naturalistic pull), while insisting that we alone are created in the image of God (the exceptionalist pull) .”—Derek D. Turner, The Quarterly Review of Biology, vol. 92 (June 2017)

Emplotting Virtue (SUNY 2014)

A rich hermeneutic account of the way virtue is understood and developed.EmplottingVirtueCover
Despite its ancient roots, virtue ethics has only recently been fully appreciated as a resource for environmental philosophy. Other approaches dominated by utilitarian and duty-based appeals for sacrifice and restraint have had little success in changing behavior, even to the extent that ecological concerns have been embraced. Our actions often do not align with our beliefs. Fundamental to virtue ethics is an acknowledgment that neither good ethical rules nor good intentions are effective absent the character required to bring them to fulfillment. Brian Treanor builds on recent work on virtue ethics in environmental philosophy, finding an important grounding in the narrative theory of philosophers like Paul Ricoeur and Richard Kearney. Character and ethical formation, Treanor argues, are intimately tied to our relationship with the narratives through which we view the human place in the natural world. By reframing environmental questions in terms of individual, social, and environmental narratives about flourishing, Emplotting Virtue offers a powerful vision of how we might remake our character so as to live more happily, more sustainably, and more virtuously in a diverse, beautiful, wondrous, and fragile world

“[Treanor] outlines the role of narrative in moral education—the way it can motivate us, the way it can transmit virtues from one generation to the next, and the way it can form who we are as persons and the picture of the good life that we pursue. Treanor’s account is powerful and wide-ranging. He highlights the use of narrative in the development of both understanding and in the development of right habits. Developing environmental virtues requires cultivating, much like an apprentice, the mastery of a certain way of acting in the world—one which is sensitive to contextual features of situations that may be entirely passed over by those who have not reached similar mastery. Narrative itself motivates us to cultivate such mastery, and it provides us both the blueprint for understanding ourselves now, and also for cultivating ourselves into something we are not—or at least are not yet.” — Jeremy Wisnewski, Environmental Philosophy, volume 12, issue 1 (Spring 2015)

“As a whole, the book attempts and I believe succeeds at spelling out in a good deal of detail what a narrative-based, environmental virtue ethics might look like. For this reason, Treanor’ s book can be seen as filling an important lacuna in environmental ethics…. Treanor’s book does just what it claims to do and does it well. Treanor’s account of environmental virtue ethics is not only a plausible one but one that is genuinely comprehensive and could be used as the basis of further exploration and research.” — John R. White, International Journal of Philosophical Studies, volume 23, issue 2 (2015)

“Treanor’s unification of environmental, virtue, and narrative ethics ultimately presents a persuasive case for environmental thinkers to embrace the offerings of virtue ethics and to remember the wealth of environmental narratives from which we can already draw inspiring and edifying lessons about the good life. Further, Treanor shows how environmental mindedness, commonly associated with doom and gloom, guilt, and self-deprivation, does not have to be at odds with human flourishing, and this reconceptualization of environmental ethics is likely to attract greater support.” — Andrea GammonEnvironmental Ethics, volume 38, issue 3 (2017)

Interpreting Nature: The Emerging Field of Environmental Hermeneutics (Fordham 2013)

Modern environmentalism has come to realize that many of its key concerns—“wilderness” and “nature” among them—are contested territory, viewed differently by different people. Interpreting NatureUnderstanding nature requires science and ecology, to be sure, but it also requires a sensitivity to history, culture, and narrative. Thus, understanding nature is a fundamentally hermeneutic task.

“Interpreting Nature is an excellent collection of essays. This collection is a very welcome addition to the literature and helps to move forward philosophical reflection on the idea of ‘nature’ and charts new and important ways to think about the task of an environmental ethics.”—Charles Brown, Emporia State University

“This is a superb book, written with clarity, precision, and deep feeling for a better understanding of differing approaches to interpreting the wider natural world.”—Mark Wallace, Swarthmore College

“The essays…reveal and explicated myriad ways in which, narratives and interpretations mediate experience and action, and inform one’s responses to, and interactions with, various environments. . .Recommended.”Choice Magazine

Audiences interested in nature as a basic yet contentious concept will find this volume helpful—not because it offers any final answers—but because it lays grounds for productive dialogue on the subject. More broadly speaking, those dedicated to hermeneutics as more than just ontological mapping will find resources for its practice as a robustly ethical initiative.Paul Guernsey, Environmental Philosophy, volume 12, issue 1 (Spring 2015)

A Passion for the Possible: Thinking with Paul Ricoeur (Fordham 2010)

A Passion for the Possible

Paul Ricoeur’s entire philosophical project narrates a “passion for the possible” expressed in the hope that in spite of death, closure, and sedimentation, life is opened by superabundance, by how the world gives us much more than is possible. Ricoeur’s philosophical anthropology is a phenomenology of human capacity, which gives onto the groundless ground of human being, namely, God. Thus the story of the capable man, beginning with original goodness held captive by a servile will and ending with the possibility of liberation and regeneration of the heart, underpins his passion for the more than possible.

The essays in this volume trace the fluid movement between phenomenological and religious descriptions of the capable self that emerges across Ricoeur’s oeuvre and establish points of connection for future developments that might draw inspiration from this body of thought.

“Many scholars from a variety of disciplines will find this an
interesting and enlightening text. It not only broadens our
understanding of Ricoeur’s work but also builds on it, following his
exemplary model on how to do philosophy.”—Christina Gschwandtner, Fordham University

“This is the first collection of essays to self-consciously address itself retrospectively to Paul Ricoeur’s philosophical oeuvre.”—W. David Hall, Centre College

Aspects of Alterity: Levinas, Marcel, and the Contemporary Debate (Fordham, 2006)

Aspects of Alterity

“Every other is truly other, but no other is wholly other.” This is the claim that Aspects of Alterity defends. Taking up the question of otherness that so fascinates contemporary continental philosophy, this book asks what it means for something or someone to be other than the self.

Levinas and those influenced by him point out that the philosophical tradition of the West has generally favored the self at the expense of the other. Such a self-centered perspective never encounters the other qua other, however. In response, postmodern thought insists on the absolute otherness of the other, epitomized by the deconstructive claim “every other is wholly other.” But absolute otherness generates problems and aporias of its own. This has led some thinkers to reevaluate the notion of relative otherness in light of the postmodern critique, arguing for a chiastic account that does justice to both the alterity and the similitude of the other. These latter two positions—absolute otherness and a rehabilitated account of relative otherness—are the main contenders in the contemporary debate.

The philosophies of Emmanuel Levinas and Gabriel Marcel provide the point of embarkation for coming to understand the two positions on this question. Levinas and Marcel were contemporaries whose philosophies exhibit remarkably similar concern for the other but nevertheless remain fundamentally incompatible. Thus, these two thinkers provide a striking illustration of both the proximity of and the unbridgeable gap between two accounts of otherness.

Aspects of Alterity delves into this debate, first in order understand the issues at stake in these two positions and second to determine which description better accounts for the experience of encountering the other.

After a thorough assessment and critique of otherness in Levinas’s and Marcel’s work, including a discussion of the relationship of ethical alterity to theological assumptions, Aspects of Alterity traces the transmission and development of these two conceptions of otherness. Levinas’s version of otherness can be seen in the work of Jacques Derrida and John D. Caputo, while Marcel’s understanding of otherness influences the work of Paul Ricoeur and Richard Kearney.

Ultimately, Aspects of Alterity makes a case for a hermeneutic account of otherness. Otherness itself is not absolute, but is a chiasm of alterity and similitude. Properly articulated, such an account is capable of addressing the legitimate ethical and epistemological concerns that lead thinkers to construe otherness in absolute terms, but without the “absolute aporias” that accompany such a characterization.

“This important and thought-provoking work successfully reveals the relevance of the underappreciated Marcel for contemporary debates in ethics and the philosophy of religion.”Choice

“Treanor’s exposition of ‘otherness’ in Marcel and Levinas is lucid, thorough and provocative.”—Brendan Sweetman, Rockhurst University

Aspects of Alterity provides a nuanced and wonderfully lucid account of the problem of otherness. By way of a careful reading of Levinas, Marcel, and their inheritors, Treanor compellingly argues that an absolute other can issue no call nor even be understood as other. Instead, Treanor points us to a ‘relative otherness,’ one that is still truly other but with whom relations are actually possible.”Bruce Ellis Benson, Wheaton College

“In this provocative text, Treanor not only offers a fascinating exposition of the competitive and complementary heterologies of Emmanuel Levinas and Gabriel Marcel, but he also sounds out the echoes of their voices in the contemporary debate between absolute and relative alterity.”—B. Keith Putt, Samford University