Thursday, September 16, 2010

Procrastination: The Thief of Time

I was asked by The Philosopher's Magazine to write a review of The Thief of Time: Philosophical Essays on Procrastination (OUP, 2010), edited by Chrisoula Andreou and Mark D. White.

I did pen the review, but I put it off one evening to watch Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Was I procrastinating?  Not quite.  A sample from the review, which is now online here:
Procrastination is not simply “putting something off”. Nor is it just failing to do something: to write a masterpiece or knock out a Karate opponent. Lack of talent or bad luck is enough to frustrate these endeavours. And procrastination can’t simply be weakness of will, as this requires an unrealised judgement or intention, and sometimes we procrastinate by never really judging or intending at all. After a cringe-worthy party, we say we’re going to tell our friend her lover’s a pretentious whiner, but we don't really mean to tell her. The plan was vague, weak or just no plan at all. Procrastination is hard to define, despite its familiarity. What is this chronic bugbear? How can we to avoid it?
These are the central questions of The Thief of Time: Philosophical Essays on Procrastination, edited by Chrisoula Andreou and Mark D. White. Divided into three parts – the nature and causes of procrastination; its relationship to vice; and ways of overcoming it – the volume is the first to give a dedicated philosophical treatment of the problem. The contributors are chiefly philosophers, though essays like George Ainslie’s “Procrastination: The Basic Impulse” and Don Ross’ “Economic Models of Procrastination” give economic analyses.
What does The Thief of Time offer the general reader? A few essays are highly technical, and general readers may be unfamiliar with the terminology and scholarly background. When Don Ross writes of modelling “picoeconomic accounts of molar-scale intertemporal preference,” I admit to bafflement – but my ignorance is to blame, not his vocabulary.
Nonetheless, The Thief of Time is an interesting and important book. It deals in fresh ways with well-known philosophical problems: will and rationality and their weaknesses, vice and virtue, identity, the nature of lived time. And more importantly, Andreou and White’s collection often weds these questions to ordinary struggles and anxieties – lucidly and sometimes enjoyably.
Those of you in the UK can read the full review in issue 51, now in newsagents and bookshops. You can also purchase a subscription online here.


Miscellaneous-Mum said...

I've seen all of DS9 - I think its quite underrated (even if some of the actors aren't up to chop some episodes). I must pull them out again. And I like the Kira character...that's a nice name ;)

Damon Young said...

I agree. I spent the first couple of seasons waiting for Sisko's emotion chip to be switched on. I actually think the ensemble in DS9 was better than that of Voyager. And it had more involving arcs (rather than implausible one-offs).

Rachel Power said...

That's so interesting, as I often think about that concept: sparing a thought for my "future self"--or more to the point, the struggle to properly care for that future self, who is going to be dealing with the impact of today's decisions. In fact it's an argument I use with my kids all the time, mostly when forcing them to brush their teeth--and unfortunately it doesn't seem to make any sense to them at all. And why should it? It's not until we get a bit older that we become aware of the cumulative consequences of previous choices!