Saturday, May 20, 2017

Review of "What Does it All Mean: A Very Short Introduction to Philosophy"

After reading Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction by Edward Craig and feeling not all that impressed or introduced to the subject properly, I looked at the suggested readings at the end of the book. The first book listed was What Does it All Mean?: A Very Short Introduction to Philosophy by eminent philosopher Thomas Nagel. Since I was still looking for the best introduction book to philosophy to recommend to friends and students, I bought it.

True to its title, the book is very short, only slightly over 100 pages, so it can be read in a day or two. However, the book is not so much an introduction to philosophy as it is an intro to Nagel's opinions about various philosophical problems. For example, a good introduction to philosophy would talk about the five main branches of philosophy (aesthetics, epistemology, ethics, logic, metaphysics) and give a definition of each, but Nagel fails to do so. Instead, he starts off with the question of whether or not we exist, similar to Rene Descartes in Meditations on First Philosophy. While that question is of course an important one, it is too advanced for a person who has no idea what philosophy is about. It would not be a shock if a novice to philosophy closed the book after the first few pages and thought that philosophers were strange people who asked ridiculous questions.

Also, Nagel has a very annoying habit of only criticizing views that he is against, but not the view he stands for. For example, when he talks about ethics, he criticizes divine command theory, but deontology, the view that Nagel espouses, gets no criticism at all. Likewise, on the mind-body problem, Nagel disagrees with materialism (the belief that everything is composed of matter, so the mind is as well), so he criticizes it. But again, he offers no criticism of his own belief. This is not philosophy, it is special pleading.

I had begun this book with high hopes, but was left disappointed. As I said before, The Problems of Philosophy by Bertrand Russell remains at this point the best introductory text to philosophy. But, I will keep looking at others and evaluating them.

1 comment:

  1. I haven't read a lot of philosophy books. But one I enjoyed quite a bit was The Big Questions: Philosophy For Everyone. You can get it at HPB for a buck: