2014; 240 pages. Full Title: Philosophy: A Beginner’s Guide. New Author? : No. Genre : Non-Fiction; Philosophy; Reference. Overall Rating : 7*/10.
Ah, Philosophy! Wikipedia, the source of all knowledge and wisdom IMO, defines it as “the study of general and fundamental problems concerning matters such as existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language”.
Well that’s just fine and dandy. But if you find yourself trapped in an elevator with a philosopher, just how do you talk the talk with him/her? “Yo, bro! To be or not to be”, perhaps? Or how about, “I think therefore I am.” Maybe the more metaphysical, “Can God make a stone so heavy that even He/She can’t lift it?”
Hmm. Perhaps we should read a book about Philosophy. Preferably one aimed at newbies to the subject. You never know when you'll find yourself stuck in an elevator with a philosopher.
What’s To Like...
Philosophy: A Beginner’s Guide has 10 Chapters (12, if you add in the Prologue and the Epilogue). Briefly, they are :
P. Take Your Time. What is philosophy?
1. What is it to be human? I think, therefore I am.
2. Are we responsible for what we do? Free will, determinism.
3. Surviving. Does the “I” change as we age? Who are “you”?
4. What – morally – ought we to do? Situational ethics.
5. Political philosophy: what justifies the state? What is legally/rightfully mine?
6. Mind, brain and body. Is pain psychological or physical?
7. What, then, is knowledge? How do we “know” something?
8. How sceptical should we be? Science and skepticism.
9. God: For and against. Big Bang vs. Intelligent Design.
10. The arts: what is the point? Aesthetics and “the message”. How do we judge art?
E. Mortality, immortality and the meaning of life. What is the meaning of life? What is immortality worth?
My favorites were Chapters 4, 5, 8, and the Epilogue. Yours will probably be different.
The book is written in English, not American, so you encounter words like scepticism, defence, programmes, and skilful. MS-Word’s spellcheck program just went crazy over that sentence. The author points out that it isn’t necessary to read the chapters in order, but I did anyway.
This is also a book to read in “small bites”, as my brain rapidly got weary trying to keep straight all the “isms” that Peter Cave examines. Really. Here’s a fairly complete list: Utilitarianism, Deontology, Virtue Theory, Particularism, Dualism, Free Will, Determinism, Rationalism, Empiricism, Voluntarism, Egalitarianism, Libertarianism, Logical Behaviorism, Materialism, Cartesian Dualism, Epiphenomenalism, Functionalism, Skepticism, Fallibilism, Phenomenalism, Naturalism, and Instrumentalism. Whew! And I may have missed a couple that appeared before I started to make a list of them.
Peter Cave presents lots of muse-worthy scenarios and examines the various ways to judge them. I often started out with a first-thought conclusion, then had to reexamine it in the face of Cave’s arguments. The “two lobes of the brain” one was especially fascinating.
I also encountered some neat people and things that I was already familiar with, such as the Turing Test, Novalis, Nietzsche, Ockham’s Razor, and Kafka’s “Metamorphosis”. Cave includes “mini bios” of almost every philosopher he cites in the book, often with some ironic and little-known “twist” in their life. Way kewl.
What is it like to be a bat?
However much we may learn about the bat’s echo system, however much we may examine the bat’s neural structures – whatever flights of fancy we may engage, when hanging upside down from the chapel’s rafters flapping our arms – we may still feel that there is something forever elusive; the bat’s consciousness, its perspective on the world.
What, indeed, is it like to be a bat?
Even if bats could talk, we could not understand them. (loc. 1792)
Scepticism can be traced to the ancient Greek Pyrrho of Elis. Some sceptics would claim nothing can be known – not even that nothing can be known. Ancient anecdotes abound of Pyrrho ignoring precipices, dangerous dogs and other hazards for he had no good reason to trust his senses. Fortunately, he had good friends who were not so sceptical; they steered him away from disasters in waiting. (loc. 2089)
Philosophy:A Beginner’s Guide sells for $6.15 at Amazon. Peter Cave has written at least two other books for the Beginner’s Guide series, Humanism (which is on my Kindle, waiting to be read) and Ethics (which I have not yet purchased). The former is also priced at $6.15. The latter goes for $9.99. The author also has several of his own books on Philosophical Puzzles, which are more light-hearted, and which are in the $8.49-$11.50 range.
‘Tis better to be a dissatisfied Socrates than a satisfied pig. (loc. 1004)
Full disclosure #1: I am not a big fan of Philosophy. I find it mostly a bunch of gobblety-gook, and those who expound upon it to be filled with themselves and hot air. Philosophy: A Beginner’s Guide did not change my views on this. The book poses lots of great questions and issues, and offers the reader no conclusions. But hey, that’s philosophy for you.
Full disclosure #2: I am a big fan of Peter Cave. I’ve read two of his other books on Philosophy, namely: Do Llamas Fall In Love? and Can A Robot be Human? They are reviewed here and here, and I enjoyed both those books. P:ABG was still a good read, it's just that the constraints of writing a worthwhile reference means that it isn't the author's best stuff. If you want to see Peter Cave at his best, pick up DLFIL?
7 Stars. FYI, there apparently are a slew of books, on all sorts of different subjects, in the Beginner’s Guide series. They are listed in the back of this e-book, albeit without links, and are published by Oneworld Publications. I suspect they are meant to be a rival of the “(Such and such) For Dummies” series.