Philosophy for Life
This revised edition of my original introduction to Philosophy, has a new emphasis. It explores 'thinking to enhance your life.'
While providing an brief overview of the history of Western thought, and giving an outline of the main branches of philosophy, it also asks about the relevance and value of philosophy as a life skill.
Here's why you might want to read this book...
To philosophise involves thinking clearly and accurately, considering evidence, reflecting on experience, sorting out arguments and testing out claims. Philosophy also probes the meaning of life; it examines morality, politics and religion; it challenges our assumptions and invites us to think again about our opinions.
Some overall sense of who we are and what life is for may enhance our appreciation of life in general. Where do we stand on the big issues that face us? How can we find contentment in a world that includes so much suffering and evil? How do we come to terms with our own fragility and mortality? What does it mean to be an individual, and how does that affect the way we treat others? What, if anything, can we know for certain? These universal and personal questions are not exclusively philosophical, nor are they necessarily issues with which professional philosophers wrestle on a day-to-day basis, but I want to suggest that most of the topics covered in courses in philosophy can be related to them, so that some knowledge of philosophy can yield immediate, personal benefits, quite apart from the intellectual stimulus that doing philosophy offers.
In order to enjoy and benefit from philosophy, it is important to remember that it is both an activity and a body of knowledge:
- As an activity, it is a matter of asking questions, challenging assumptions, re-examining traditionally held views, unpacking the meaning of words, weighing up the value of evidence and examining the logic of arguments. It cultivates an enquiring and critical mind, even if it sometimes infuriates those who want an easy intellectual life. Philosophy clarifies your thinking, your way of expressing yourself, of examining arguments and sharpens up your ability to make reasoned decisions. Philosophy is a tool with which to expose nonsense, and express ideas in a way that is as unambiguous as possible.
- As a body of knowledge, it is the cumulative wisdom of some of the world’s greatest thinkers. It offers you a chance to explore fundamental questions and to see what philosophers in different periods of history have had to say about them. You can examine the philosophy of a particular period. The philosophy of ancient Greece, for example, is particularly important for understanding the origins of much Western thought and culture. You might look at the philosophy of the European Enlightenment, or of the twentieth century, each giving an insight into ideas that developed out of and shaped that particular period of history. This historical perspective on ideas is valuable, because it frees you from being limited by the unquestioned assumptions of those around you. To be able to think through issues from first principles is helped by having looked at the way in which philosophers have gone about their work in the past, so this second aspect of philosophy reinforces the first.
So we can see philosophy as a life-tool, a set of skills for engaging with any subject, but also as a body of wisdom that can serve as a guide and help inform our decisions and moral judgments.
(an extract from the Introduction)
If you're reading this on a phone, turn it sideways to see the contents list in the left column and links to buy the book, along with other suggesetions, in the right column.
On the internet...
There is so much material available on-line that it is difficult to know where to start, and easy to be overwhelmed. Personally, my advice would be that, If you need to look up anything from 'Anselm, Saint' and 'Animals, moral status of' to 'Zeno's paradoxes and 'Zombies', start by looking at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. It really is an amazing resource for anyone interested in philosophy. Just click...
On this website...
The general subject pages of this website contain information and links to material which may be of interest to those who want to follow up on issues raised by individual chapters in the book, as well as links to my books on the particular branches of philosophy.
For chapters 1 and 4, start by looking at material on this page:
and for extra ideas on Chapter 6 (Art and Creativity) this same page has links to Nigel Warburton's website, with his superb introductions to the Philosophy of Art.
If you are interested in more on Existentialism, there is a book in this series dedicated to exactly that, co-authored by Nigel Rodgers. To see details of what it cover, link to it here.
For chapter 3 (The Philosophy of Science) there is a generic page available here, as well as anothe book in the series:
For Chapter 5 (Mind) there is both a book on the Philosophy of Mind and other material on the generic page:
For Chapter 7 (Philosophy of Religion) there is the generic page, a book in this series, and also ideas explored in the 'Notes for Students' page:
The same applies to Chapter 8 (Ethics). There are links to both notes and books from the generic page:
And for Chapter 9 (Political Philosophy) there is a book in the series and also a generic page:
The range of book of and on philosophy is so massive, it's difficult to know where to start. Here are some of the books that you might find interesting...
Always to hand on my bookshelf for checking details of philosophers and issues are two books that really do cover far more than most people will ever need, albeit in brief - the Oxford Campanion, edited by Ted Honderich (2005) and the Routledge Concise Encyclopedia (2000). Neither is a book to even think about reading cover to cover, but both are useful for quick reference. Also hugely valuable for reference is Simon Blackburn's Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy.
I know it's old, and stopped short of all the interesting developments in the 20th century, but I still have a soft spot for Bertrand Russell's History of Western Philosophy. Massive in scope, and sometimes unmerciful in criticism of ideas with which he had no sympathy, it is a good read for those who want to get a sense of the whole development of philosophy through until the 19th century. I'm not surprised that it continues to be in print after all these decades, it was very much the book that got me started back in the 1960s.
Nigel Warburton writes with the utmost clarity. His Philosophy the Basics, Philosophy the Classics, continue to be hugely popular.
The Oxford Very Short Introduction books are reliably good, delivering what they promise at a depth that belies their length.
Sometimes philosophy comes alive and displays its relevance. Two book spring to mind here: Massimo Pigluucci's How to be a Stoic (2018) and Altruism by Matthieu Ricard, the latter exploring the way in which ideas (presented without reliance upon, but deeply informed by his Buddhism) can shape life and morality.
And if you're into the Philosophy of Religion, Karen Armstrong can be relied on to give a balanced and clearly argued point of view - as, for example in The Case for God.