Review From User :
Who am I What is the world Does god exist Do I have a free will These are questions every single one of us has asked himself in the course of his life: some only to consider them as unimportant and forget about them, others countless times, dwelling on possible answers and becoming more and more fascinated with them. If you are one of the latter - and I certainly am - this is a book for you.
Though slightly arrogant, the sub-title of the book is the best description of its contents: 'A compelling introduction to philosophy'. Blackburn uses his experience and education as a philosopher to give a basic overview of the central arguments in each popular field of philosophy. While evaluating these arguments, he conveys his fascination with philosophy to the reader.
Before continuing with a more detailed description of the book's contents, let me warn those of you who want to read this book passively, consuming its contents like the superficial plot of a bad work of fiction: This will simply not do. There is a reason the book's title is "Think". You really have to!
Blackburn groups the philosophical arguments into different categories of reasoning, allowing the reader to grasp the chains of reasoning in one particular field before understanding the relations between different philosophists and their cultural/religious background.
In the first chapter "Knowledge", he describes Descartes famous 'proof' of the existence of the world, in which Descartes reasons that god exists (both the trademark argument and the ontological argument are given for his existence) and is not evil - so he would not deceive mankind and therefore the world exists. Blackburn points out the possibility of the "Cartesian circle", namely assuming god's existence in order to prove his existence. This chapter introduced me to the concept of coherentism, i.e. the belief that we do not need one single foundation for all our reasoning.
The following chapter deals with the mind: When I see the colour blue, do others see it the same way as I do Is the relation between events and the feeling I feel totally random Or might there only be one option for this relation, all other options being made impossible by physical facts such as is the case with our perception of colour
The chapter on free will discusses the possibility of a predetermined fate like voiced in countless religious texts: Do we have a choice in what we do or is it only the result of cultural conditioning Can we really blame a murderer for killing someone if he had a depression In this chapter I first encountered the belief that reducing people to predetermined and conditioned factors objectivies them, taking away their humanity.
What is the self Do we have a soul (and is it immortal) These and other questions are discussed in the next chapter. The traditional argument for the immortality of the soul is that only composite things can decay - but the soul is not composite. As all the molecules our body are made out of change every few years (except the brain's I believe), the question must be asked: Am I the same person as I was when I was 5 years old Locke answers this by saying that I am if and only if I have the same memories as the five-year old had: That allows for the possibility of person A being the same as person B and person B being the same as person C without person A being the same as person C, which seems to be a contradiction. But acutally, it is not, exactly because the soul/mind/consciousness/whatever is composite and not simple - being the same therefore only implies satisfactory resemblance.
The existence of god is the topic of the next chapter, in which all the standard arguments for god are shown and evaluated: ontological, cosmological, first cause and design. The issue of god - being all-caring - not being compatible with a world full of suffering is raised. Hume's most ingenious argument rejecting testimony of miracles is presented: He simply says that it is always more probably that someone made up the story than that the miracle happened. Problem solved. Pascal's argument for believing in god is described, namely that the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages.
Now comes my favourite chapter: Reasoning. In this chapter, Blackburn introduces the reader to symbolic logic and truth-tables. He shows how Frege overcame the ambiguity of language by introducing mathematic symbols (existential and universal quantifiers). He introduces the reader to the philosophy of language and how there are implications hidden in words like 'but'. He shows that there is no reason to believe the sky will continue to be blue or that any law of nature will exist in the next second. He gives the example of a test for a rare disease to explain the fallacy of ignoring the base rate and explains Baye's theorem.
Do things actually exist Is something blue or do I only perceive it as blue The chapter "The World" tries to point out traditional answers to questions like these. Some people say we should reduce matter to forces because forces are the only way we can study the world - our experience of matter is only deduced from forces acting upon it and therefore we don't really have any knowledge about matter. Does anything exist without somebody being conceiving it
I am sorry to say that I was disappointed by the last chapter ("What to do"). This chapter does not even touch upon the most basic problems of ethics (such as Kant vs. Utilitarianism) and me having learnt basically only ethics in school this was quite heavy. Actually, Blackburn has written a whole other book on ethics later ("Being good"), so maybe it was too much of a topic to deal with in one chapter.
All in all this is a great book, introducing the reader to most of the important concepts of philosophy (minus ethics) and presenting the information and chains of reasoning in a way that makes the reader enjoy dwelling on philosophical problems. Nevertheless, this is not a perfectly easy read (quite natural, because the subject matter is not easy), but it still is worth the effort for everyone interested in philosophy.
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