Occasionally, albeit, much too occasionally, philosophers illuminate the great challenges of the age, conceptually and critically, opening up genuinely new pathways for thinking about and responding to these challenges. In his latest book Akeel Bilgrami does this superbly, brilliantly, and very carefully. Carefully, in the sense of taking great care to get things right, and treating those things as themselves worthy objects of care and concern (and not simply as instrumental to the purposes of his arguments). Bilgrami describes his book undramatically as speaking to the issues of
the relation between religion and politics . . . governed by a philosopher’s interest in . . . practical reason; and in particular, to broaden that interest by studying the extent to which practical reason is or is not efficacious in navigating the prima facie conflicts that secularism is confronted with. (x)
I find this description excessively, if commendably, sober, for the book, and the larger project which it announces, is much richer and much broader in scope than is reflected in this statement of its purpose, and, much more radical, both philosophically and politically. One would expect nothing less from a book dedicated to Noam Chomsky and Prabhat Patnaik. Having read it a couple of times — it takes at least a couple of readings to appreciate just how much more is at stake, especially in its four longest chapters — I do not think its primary contribution is to our understanding of practical reason, whether to its limits or to its efficacy. At least not to practical reason as it is conventionally understood in the discipline.