Why We Think the Things we Think: Philosophy in a Nutshell by Alain Stephen

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Why We Think the Things we Think: Philosophy in a Nutshell by Alain Stephen

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Category: Popular Science
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A pretty much perfect primer to preponderances of particular perusing.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 192 Date: September 2015
Publisher: Michael O'Mara Books Ltd
ISBN: 9781782434139

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Way back when, when I started back on adult education having finished my university life (I know, it's hard to believe sometimes, but bear with me) I was asked if I was going to do a philosophy A-level. No, I said – there was no point in studying something nobody can agree about. The introduction to this book raises much the same point – the solution to philosophical questions and study is only ever going to be more questions. It says that Kant thought the study of thought, or, more precisely, how ideas are formed was the highest science, although that sounds like the psychology that I did indeed study. Still, study it many people do – and probably a far greater number would wish to read around it and find out what it might be like to sound as if you have studied it – hence books like this.

It starts in a slightly off-putting manner, straight in with the metaphysics of nothingness. And we see another problem with philosophy – so much of it depends on someone's translation, here, that of Heidegger's German. We get a link from there to objectivity, but no – the next chapter is about morals – again digging a hole for itself with talk of meta-ethics, and linking on to matters of rightness and wrongness yet turning instead to the nature of free will and determinism. This scattershot approach did not serve me very well, but it certainly means the book is split up into tiny chapters – five or six pages at times, and concerns outright subjects and themes while never providing a potted history of philosophy (possibly a good thing when talking of the second-century writings of Plutarch in the light of evolution).

There's a snapshot of a key life question such as the subject should cover next, regarding beauty and aesthetics, before we revert to the ideas of subjectivity and objectivity – proving to my mind that a lot of philosophy concerns how philosophy works as opposed to how the world or the human mind works. Similarly, something else you don't get is a guide to working out your own philosophy as such, although I couldn't help but look at Kant's ideas of morals, and Sartre's words on self-expression and 'bad faith' and find myself defined as a utilitarian existentialist.

Still, while the subject didn't endear itself to me, as too much of philosophy seems to be inward-looking debates on semantic issues, the book certainly proved itself a great little read. Concise – although the Kantian moral chapter does expand with the help of box-outs and so on to become a much longer instance than the norm – and done in actually quite large print and with eye-catching quotes, it makes for a very readable and more crucially understandable primer. The author's style is clear (as it has to be when, say, contrasting happiness with pleasure) and uses fine examples to show the interpretations of our world other people came to. Which ultimately means that while philosophy is an eternally open shop, the decision to buy this book is an open-and-shut one.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

File next to The Complete Philosophy Files by Stephen Law. You might also appreciate Deep Thought: 42 Fantastic Quotes that Define Philosophy by Gary Cox.

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Buy Why We Think the Things we Think: Philosophy in a Nutshell by Alain Stephen at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Why We Think the Things we Think: Philosophy in a Nutshell by Alain Stephen at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Why We Think the Things we Think: Philosophy in a Nutshell by Alain Stephen at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Why We Think the Things we Think: Philosophy in a Nutshell by Alain Stephen at Amazon.com.

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