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We Who Are Dark: The Philosophical Foundations of Black Solidarity Paperback – Oct 15 2007

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
excellent in many ways Feb. 3 2014
By A Reader - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a really great book, one that does a great job at a few things that philosophy books rarely do. I'll mention three things in particular. First, it's one of the best examples I can think of what I'd call "mid-level theorizing". This is work that operates "below" so called "ideal theory". Most political philosophy works in ideal theory, where several non-actual assumptions are made, most importantly "full compliance"- the assumption that everyone will act as they should if the theory was right. This is not illegitimate, and often necessary, but the transition from ideal theory to the real world is often very unclear. Similarly, the book works "above" the most common kinds of "applied ethics", where particular moral dilemmas are examined. This is a type of work that philosophers tend to not do very well, but Shelby's book is one of the most successful examples I can think of. It does a really good job of showing how considerations of justice can and should work in non-ideal situations without merely resorting to causistry or ad-hoc judgments. This success is, perhaps, related to the second virtue I want to highlight. The book does an excellent job of integrating "social theory", broadly understood to include history, sociology, psychology, literature, etc. with philosophical reflection. This is hard- it's hard to be able to do good work in several fields- but this book does a great job of it. In some ways this might reflect the inherently interdisciplinary nature of Africana studies, but whether that's so or not, it's a model of the good integration of this sort of material into a philosophical text. This sort of integration is probably going to be necessary for really satisfying mid-level theorizing.

Finally, the book is an excellent example of how one an apply, and make use of, what Rawls called "Political Liberalism". In this way it helps show the power and attractiveness of that approach. In this book Shelby doesn't foreground the connection, though he's done this more in his later, more recent work. That's not a criticism- this isn't a book about political liberalism, but rather, I'd say, and example of it.

This book is obviously most likely to be attractive to people interested in philosophical questions about race and justice. It's very good on that score. But, it should be read more generally by people interested in how to do really top-notch political or social philosophy, especially of the "mid-level theorizing" variety.

Finally, I should note that the writing is consistently clear and enjoyable. It's not overly technical, and no deep background in philosophy is presupposed, but it's not over-simplified, either. This is one more clear virtue of the book. Over all, it's just a really well done job, and highly recommended.