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)