Human Experience: Philosophy, Neurosis and the Elements of Everyday Life
“…Human Experience is a genuine and original work of philosophy … It is exemplary in its clarity and rigor of expression.” — Continental Philosophy Review

John Russon’s Human Experience draws on central concepts of contemporary European philosophy to develop a novel analysis of the human psyche. Beginning with a study of the nature of perception, embodiment, and memory, Russon investigates the formation of personality through family and social experience. He focuses on the importance of the feedback we receive from others regarding our fundamental worth as persons, and on the way this interpersonal process embeds meaning into our most basic bodily practices: eating, sleeping, sex, and so on. Russon concludes with an original interpretation of neurosis as the habits of bodily practice developed in family interactions that have become the foundation for developed interpersonal life, and proposes a theory of psychological therapy as the development of philosophical insight that responds to these neurotic compulsions.

Bearing Witness to Epiphany: Persons, Things, and the Nature of Erotic Life
“Bearing Witness to Epiphany is another beautifully written book by John Russon, a companion to his excellent Human Experience. While continental philosophy has relentlessly deconstructed the classical form of the philosophy book, Russon has revived this form in a most compelling way. Russon’s writing is so lucid, that the book seems to read itself. More importantly, like Human Experience, Bearing Witness to Epiphany is the expression of profound thinking. This book should make it clear to everyone that John Russon is one of the few original voices working in continental philosophy today.” — Leonard Lawlor, coeditor of The Merleau-Ponty Reader

In this probing sequel to the popular and award-winning Human Experience, John Russon asks, “What is it to be a person?” The answer: the key to our humanity lies in our sexuality, where we experience the freedom to shape identities creatively in cooperation with another. With grace and philosophical rigor, Russon shows that an exploration of sexuality not only illuminates the psychological dimensions of our interpersonal lives but also provides the basis for a new approach to ethics and politics. Responsibilities toward others, he contends, develop alongside our personal growth. Bearing Witness to Epiphany brings to light the essential relationship between ethical and political bonds and the development of our powers of expression, leading to a substantial study of the nature and role of art in human life.

Reading Hegel’s Phenomenology
“The 15 chapters each focus on a section of Hegel’s book, making this an excellent resource in a course on Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-level undergraduates through faculty/researchers.” —Choice

In Reading Hegel’s Phenomenology, John Russon uses the theme of reading to clarify the methods, premises, evidence, reasoning, and conclusions developed in Hegel’s seminal text. Russon’s approach facilitates comparing major sections and movements of the text, and demonstrates that each section of Phenomenology of Spirit stands independently in its focus on the themes of human experience. Along the way, Russon considers the rich relevance of Hegel’s philosophy to understanding other key Western philosophers, such as Aristotle, Descartes, Kant, Husserl, Heidegger, and Derrida. Major themes include language, embodiment, desire, conscience, forgiveness, skepticism, law, ritual, multiculturalism, existentialism, deconstruction, and absolute knowing. An important companion to contemporary Hegel studies, this book will be of interest to all students of Hegel’s philosophy.

The Self and Its Body in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit
“This treatise makes an outstandingly important contribution to the interpretation of the Phenomenology.” –H.S. Harris, The Owl of Minerva

A major criticism of Hegel’s philosophy is that it fails to comprehend the experience of the body. In this book, John Russon shows that there is in fact a philosophy of embodiment implicit in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. Russon argues that Hegel has not only taken account of the body, but has done so in a way that integrates both modern work on embodiment and the approach to the body found in ancient Greek philosophy.

Although Russon approaches Hegel’s Phenomenology from a contemporary standpoint, he places both this standpoint and Hegel’s work within a classical tradition. Using the Aristotelian terms of ‘nature’ and ‘habit,’ Russon refers to the classical distinction between biological nature and a cultural ‘second nature.’ It is this second nature that constitutes, in Russon’s reading of Hegel, the true embodiment of human intersubjectivity. The development of spirit, as mapped out by Hegel, is interpreted here as a process by which the self establishes for itself an embodiment in a set of social and political institutions in which it can recognize and satisfy its rational needs. Russon concludes by arguing that self-expression and self-interpretation are the ultimate needs of the human spirit, and that it is the degree to which these needs are satisfied that is the ultimate measure of the adequacy of the institutions that embody human life.

This link with classicism – in itself a serious contribution to the history of philosophy -provides an excellent point of access into the Hegelian system. Russon’s work, which will prove interesting reading for any Hegel scholar, provides a solid and reliable introduction to the study of Hegel.

Reexamining Socrates in the Apology
Co-edited with Patricia Fagan

“This fine collection . . . has a tenacious loyalty to details, reading them with utmost care and sensitivity to the dialogue as a whole, other dialogues, Athenian history, as well as its literary scene (especially Aristophanes and his play The Clouds), and the subtleties of the Greek language. The result is as astonishing as it is illuminating: the Apology is given back to us in its complexity and its profundity.” –Jason Wirth, Penn State University.

“No one is wiser than Socrates.” After hearing these words, the Greek philosopher Socrates made it his life’s work to interpret them. Each of the original essays in this book brings into focus the Socrates of Plato’s Apology, attendind carefully to the work’s dramatic details, its philosophical teaching, and its complexity as a piece of writing. Overall, the contributors to Reexamining Socrates, distinguished scholars of ancient philosophy, share a conviction that the Platonic text cannot be reached except through a process of reading and thinking that mirrors Socrates’ own hermeneutical practice–the Socratic “examination.” True to the Socratic injunction that the unexamined life is not worth living, editors Patricia Fagan and John Russon continue that practice of examination, uniting the demands of mind and those of the text to offer a reexamination of Socrates in the Apology.

Retracing the Platonic Text
Co-edited with John Sallis, (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2000)
Hegel and the Tradition: Essays in Honour of H.S. Harris
Co-edited with Michael Baur, (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997)A Festschrift for H.S. Harris.
The Toronto Seminar

I am deeply committed to the idea that philosophy is a cooperative activity and an inherently fulfilling one. For this reason, I encourage activities of philosophical study in which, through conversation, a community develops in which each participant experiences her or his thinking to be elevated beyond the level she or he could achieve alone, and in which study and social life are closely interwoven.

Since 2003, I have run an annual summer seminar in philosophy. Each year, roughly 25 invited participants-primarily faculty members and Ph.D. students from universities across North America-gather for roughly one week of intense, group study of a major text from the history of philosophy. Participants meet twice daily for sessions of highly focused discussion of the text and the issues it raises. When not studying in preparation for the meetings, seminar participants also socialize together, generally taking advantage of Toronto's outstanding, multicultural dining opportunities, and taking part in Toronto's vibrant and varied live music scene. Participants in these seminars consistently have the experience of growth in their conversation and conceptual abilities, and typically leave with a transformed sense of the nature and possibilities of philosophy.

Throughout the year, I also often lead smaller private seminars, specially oriented to graduate students, on various texts and topics in the history of philosophy.

Music, along with the other creative arts, is one of the most profound ways in which people express and define the distinctive character of human life. Composing, performing, and listening to music are some of the most fulfilling of our experiences. Listening offers us the opportunity for the sensuous pleasure of listening and moving (in dance), for emotional self-expression, and for bonding with others in shared enthusiasm. Performing brings with it the demands and rewards of communication and cooperation-with band-members and with audience-and supports the development and deployment of highly-refined bodily and expressive skills. Composing can be a powerful intellectual and cultural practice, offering one a route into participating in the rich historical and multicultural traditions of musical expression. Engaging with music, like engaging with philosophy, touches us in every dimension-bodily, emotional, intellectual, interpersonal, cultural, spiritual-of our experience.

My own personal path into music has involved me in the study of jazz music in particular, and since 2005 I have performed regularly in Toronto as a guitarist with my own band, the John Russon Quartet. The band (with the outstanding musicians Nick Fraser, Mike Milligan, and Chris Gale on drums, bass, and saxophone respectively, and, on special occasions, with Tom Richards joining us on trombone) performs my original compositions, as well as interpreting the standard tunes of the jazz repertoire and experimenting with free improvisation. We have just (August 2011) gone into the studio to record our first CD, and it should be available in a few months. It has also been, and continues to be, a major project of mine to develop a community of jazz enthusiasts who will carry on the tradition of appreciating live musical performance in general and jazz music in particular in this age in which recording, downloading, and dj-ing have come to define "music" for most people.

I think of both philosophy and music as communal practices first and foremost, and I regularly try to design community activities involving either or both. Currently, I am organizing one series in downtown Toronto.

"Story and Song Night" is a once-a-month event in which a speaker narrates one of the great stories from the world's religious traditions. Stories are among the oldest and most basic of our ways of telling ourselves and each other who we are as people, and the ancient stories that have been handed down for generations remain powerful and provocative resources for thinking about ourselves and our lives. On the fourth Tuesday of each month, a speaker narrates a story she or he has found personally meaningful, and this is followed first by group discussion and then by a set of live music performed by some of the best of Toronto's musicians. The event is hosted by Naco Gallery Cafe (1665 Dundas St. W.).