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216 × 138 mm
256 pages
05 Feb 2018

A Philosophy of Dirt Olli Lagerspetz

What is dirt? What does it really mean to be dirty? Or clean? Dirt and cleaning are often associated with ideas of guilt, otherness and social control, but also with living responsibly and in harmony with the environment. In this learned, witty and groundbreaking study, Olli Lagerspetz offers a persuasive discussion of dirt and its ramifications in philosophy and culture. He argues that questions of dirt and soiling can neither be reduced to hygiene nor to ritual pollution. Instead, they are part and parcel of almost every human activity. As participants in material culture, we produce things and dispose of them but we also engage with them practically, aesthetically and morally.

The book ranges through subjects and times, from Heraclitus of Ephesus, through the Renaissance, via Ludwig Wittgenstein, Martin Heidegger and Mary Douglas, to the hygienic products of modernity, ending with abject art. Lagerspetz constantly questions current thinking on the subject, and proposes a new view of dirt based on our physical engagement with the world. A Philosophy of Dirt is essential reading for scholars and students of philosophy, as well as all who feel soiled and want to know why.

EXTRACT: to read and download an extract from the book please click here.

‘Lagerspetz’s book is an investigation into what we mean by “dirt” and whether it is an actual quality of the world or, as most current theoretical work would have us believe, a subjective idea projected on to reality. Lagerspetz deconstructs the easy reductionism of theorists for whom “dirt is not really dirt but something else”.’ – The Guardian

‘Lagerspetz traces the ideological links that have existed, at least since the Enlightenment, between cleanliness and self-discipline, and conversely between dirt and the surrender to animal instincts. Human beings may theoretically represent the highest stage of evolution, but if they don’t take care, they turn into beasts. Cleanliness is not just contiguous to godliness, but in some deep-rooted way constitutive of it. You cannot be pure in spirit if you live in a pigsty.’ – Boundless

‘A series of essays opening up a detailed discussion about dirt and how it has played its part in philosophy and culture.’ – Gardens Illustrated

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Olli Lagerspetz is Senior Lecturer of Philosophy at Åbo Akademi University, Finland. His most recent books include Trust, Ethics and Human Reason (2015) and, with Kirsti Suolinna, Edward Westermarck: Intellectual Networks, Philosophy and Social Anthropology (2014).

part i: the philosophical landscape of ‘clean’ and ‘dirty’
1 Dirt in Philosophy and Culture
2 A Brief History of Dirt in Philosophy
3 Dirty and Clean: Main Distinctions
4 Reductionism and the Role of Science

part ii: ‘dirty’ and ‘forbidden’: anthropological reductionism and its limits
5 Ritual, Disorder and Pollution
6 Repressing the ‘Other’: The Myth of Abjection
7 The Civilizing Process
8 Ambiguities of Self-discipline and the Campaign for Civilization

part iii: settling accounts with matter
9 Between Facts and Practices
10 To Dress and to Keep
11 What Is Mine and What Is Someone Else’s