One of the most original and mind-opening studies of practical philosophy to have appeared for many years, Why We Drive spells out in vivid detail what is wrong with the prevailing idea of the human subject. Seemingly diverging from Kant’s idea of rational autonomy, a utilitarian account of human action has developed in which reason means the calculation of outcomes. In fact this is another version of the disembodied humanity Kant imagined. Most fully elaborated in economics but pervasive throughout much of today’s political discourse, it is a view in which human beings are preference-satisfying machines. These homunculi attach no intrinsic significance to how they live. The quality of their experience is relevant only insofar as it enables them to gratify their desires as efficiently as possible. It is as if their lives were simply means whereby they get from one satisfaction to another.
Rather than rehearsing philosophical arguments against this position, Crawford reveals its limitations through examples.
Somehow, Matthew Crawford has managed to sneak up on me with a new book that was already released earlier this month. I greatly enjoyed Shop Class as Soulcraft and The World Beyond Your Head, so I’m looking forward to this one. It should be especially interesting because of my conflicted feelings about driving. Many writers and philosophers claim that walking is good for stimulating thought, but for me, driving while listening to music is even better. I had various driving jobs for many years, and many of my scribblings here were actually done in my head while driving down interstates and lonely county roads. On the other hand, those same years spent maneuvering through traffic (or sitting motionless behind a pile-up) have instilled in me a boundless contempt for the careless stupidity with which many people operate their vehicles. I admit I am often tempted by the idea that people are too stupid to be trusted with the responsibility of driving, and that the machines should take over, but if anyone can make me appreciate driving as an arena for exercising freedom, a skill that must be practiced regularly to avoid atrophy, I suppose it would be Crawford.