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Eckardt, M.H. (2015). A Case for Irony, by Jonathan Lear, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 2011, 210 pp., $31.50.. Psychodyn. Psych., 43(1):146-148.

(2015). Psychodynamic Psychiatry, 43(1):146-148

A Case for Irony, by Jonathan Lear, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 2011, 210 pp., $31.50.

Review by:
Marianne Horney Eckardt, M.D.

This book contains the two “Tanner Lectures on Human Values” that Jonathan Lear gave at Harvard University, along with responses by commentators and Lear's responses to these comments. Jonathan Lear, the philosopher (he is also a psychoanalyst), agrees with Kierkegaard and Plato that irony is fundamental to the human condition, but poorly understood. In this book, Lear tries to make clear what irony is and why it matters. One answer is that it matters because Lear conceives of it as an essential aspect of living a distinctively human life.

The title of the first lecture, “To Become Human Does Not Come That Easily,” is a quote of a comment Kierkegaard wrote in his journal in 1854. Becoming human is viewed as a task, following a philosophic tradition since Plato that argues that self-constitution is indeed an achievement.

The importance of irony is best understood when we look at Socrates' life.

According to Kierkegaard, Socrates' life was irony, and he writes about his own existence as really the deepest irony. What is meant by this is that neither Socrates nor Kierkegaard assumes that he knows what is right. They question, but do not know. As mentioned, Lear is interested in the affirming nature of irony. He admires Socrates' ease at blending positive and negative aspects of ironic existence. Socrates examines everyone he meets who has a pretense of knowledge of virtue.

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