Monday, July 22, 2013

The Philosophy Book

A brief, readable introduction to the thinkers and ideas that have shaped the world.

The profiles are organized by date, bookended by brief intros to each historical era; each person gets 1-3 pages describing major ideas and an abbreviated biography. There are also sidebars with quotations, charts outlining a thinker's logic, "see also" page references to related thinkers in the book, and boxes that put each person into his or her contextual background (telling us who influenced whom).

This book provides a quick and dirty overview of philosophy for those who want nodding acquaintance with the big names and ideas, or those who want to brush up. The ideas are highly simplified but clear enough to be understood, and there are lists of key works for those who want to delve deeper. I like how the book made connections between related thinkers, showing the way knowledge is built and refined by successive generations. The usual suspects from Western philosophy are most represented, but thinkers from all over the world, from various religious and philosophical traditions, are also included.

Provocative statements like "Philosophy and religion are not incompatible", "Imagination decides everything", "Mind has no gender", and "Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom" grabbed my curiosity and led me to read at random. You could definitely absorb a few pages and sit wondering for a long time - which is exactly what an introduction to philosophy should help you do.

For more armchair philosophizing, you could try out some thought experiments from The Pig That Wants to Be Eaten by Julian Baggani or read A Little History of Philosophy by Nigel Warburton for a different overview of a fascinating subject.

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