Time for another Book Recommendation. And this time it’s a very dear book, as it’s one of the first books, if not THE first I read on philosophy.
If you have read almost any blog post here that deals with any philosophy, like Pascal’s wager, cosmological argument or ontological argument, you had a chance to notice that in each of those posts, I recommended this book. It’s just that good. In fact, it is so good that this will be a second post about it.
The title of this book is very appropriate. „Think: A Compelling Introduction to Philosophy“ is a book for people who are at least on some level aware that there are great mysteries and big questions about various topics and wish to move at least a bit beyond that awareness. If you have the desire to know, this is a book for you.
You might have wondered how we know we exist, how we know we’re not in a simulation if our mind is separate from our body, separate from our soul. You might have wondered how we know other people are just like us and not zombies. If we exist – do we have free will? What are the arguments for God and what are the criticisms of those arguments? How do we know what is really true? What is just? What is knowledge?
Philosophy deals with these kinds of big questions that give us plenty of food for thought and can go ever so deep. The bad thing is that people tend to think it’s too complicated to even bother to start, it should be the domain of geeks with no friends or perhaps of the bearded dudes who speak in riddles, do not care about self-appearance spend their time thinking about and talking with similar characters about what the world will be like with them dead.
Not only that, but people tend to also think that it’s mostly useless nowadays and even if it’s not entirely like the paragraph above it should be avoided as it cannot provide us with anything useful – to put it simply, some people think that their questions about God or truth or objectivity or themselves – can only be answered by science or not answered at all.
So, philosophy gets a lot of bad reputation. Well, this book sets to change all that. First, it’s going to teach you that the mere act of thinking or reflecting means you’re doing philosophy. The same applies to scientists who stop to think about what it would mean for time to be circular, for example. And if you’re doing something, you should do it well.
After that brief but very inspiring introduction, the book takes us on a tour of the questions mentioned above – and more, tells us what some of the thinkers through history have thought about these questions, where they might have been right and where they might have been wrong. We learn what is at the heart of each of these problems and what philosophers generally agree on and where is still contention.
These questions are divided into chapters and each is taken in turn. This makes the chapters flow from one topic into another – for example, it is appropriate that the first chapter is about knowledge – this is the very foundation of anything really. In this chapter the author looks at the very familiar question – how do we know anything, really? Then he raises the question about our minds – is ‘MY’ mind special? When do I see red do others see that as well?
In some chapters after that, he deals with free will and the ‘SELF‘ – do we have a soul? Are we immortal? After that, he comes to the topics of logic and the world and closes with a brief discussion on ethics – but for a much better treatment of that subject I highly, once more recommend his other book – „Being Good: A Short Introduction to Ethics“.
Next, he discusses God and religion in general. I feel that I should warn you, however, that the author describes himself as having no faith (Wikipedia /via PhilosophyNow), which would naturally mean that his conclusions in this book on the topic of god and religion might not coincide with your own.
But that should not be a deal breaker, especially if you’re really open-minded to different ideas and can handle criticisms of arguments you thought were solid. He’s not like Dawkins or other „new Atheists“, though. He acknowledges that religion can serve a purpose and that to some people might not be all that different from any other tradition – simply a way to promote communal bonds, so don’t worry.
When writing about god and religion he stays focused on the arguments themselves and does not go as far as Dawkins or Hitchens to criticise the effects of religion – he is only concerned with whether is something on philosophically solid ground or not – living honestly and rationally is his goal, and so should be ours. If that means we have to face a few uncomfortable criticisms – so be it.
Towards the end, he introduces us to some ways to use when we think about reasoning – formal logic, inductive reasoning and scientific reasoning. I feel this is the part where the author really delivers what he promises – he introduces us very gently to logic and arguments, explains the premises, and gives us a general direction on how we would go about trying to see where an argument might be weak, for example, we might not agree with the premises or we might not agree with the way the conclusion is derived from those premises.
The next two chapters are about the world around us and how we are to live.
It’s really a nice progression and you will enjoy the ride because the book is very clearly written, without any unnecessary language – when he can describe something without using philosophical lingo, he does just that, so the book is very unpretentious, written just for beginners. It is really kind of like Hawking’s „A brief history of time“, but in philosophy – it stands fine on its own, no other knowledge about the topic is required and it only requires that you have an open mind, a desire to know and some free time.
This book will give you an introduction and if you’re anything like me – it will start you off on a path of wanting to know about other problems in philosophy, what other smart people thought about them and what if any were their conclusions. The next book about philosophy I read after this one, was a similar introduction-type book „The Problems of Philosophy“ by Bertrand Russell, which I will touch upon as well in some future blog posts.
From the moment I bought it in 2015 until today I was thoroughly impressed with the handling of the big questions and accessible writing style in this book. The book is, of course, not a completely casual summertime read, like a romantic novel or Harry Potter or what have you. You cannot breeze through it – you have to really stop and think for a moment before you continue. But that is good. It awakes your mind from its slumber, it forces your brain muscles to do some stretching – and it does all that without being pretentious about it. It is really a perfect introduction. If you’re convinced, you can find it on Amazon for as low as 11$/€, what have you?
Trust me, that is a bargain.