For most of us philosophy has very little to do with real life. Indeed the word conjures up visions of ivory towers where academics debate at length how many angels can dance on a pin head. Philosophy is dry, boring and not something that concerns us because we have more important things to worry about. Granted we are from time to time vaguely concerned with questions like, "What does it all mean?" or "Can a scientist believe in God?", but we quickly put it out of our minds and start thinking about the Budget or little Robert's toothache.
It was therefore a revelation to me to read the "Confessions of a Philosopher" by Bryan Magee. Here is a man who, from childhood has been deeply worried about the meaning of reality, who came to philosophy via a PPE degree at Oxford and who realised that the subject was absolutely central to his own sanity and well-being. The story of his philosophic journey is a fascinating one which I found difficult to put down. There are not many books that will keep me reading into the small hours, but this was one such.
Here is a readable explanation of the contributions made by most of the great philosophers from Plato to Wittgenstein. Here is a crushing attack on the Oxford school of linguistic analysis which dominated English philosophy in the 1950s and 60s. Here for the first time I found a convincing, logical argument that science has nothing to say about what is outside the experience of our senses and that there is therefore no contradiction between science and religion. This was particularly topical for me because I had just been listening to an engineer friend expressing his disappointment that his son, also an engineer, was a sincere Christian.
Clearly a man of exceptional intelligence, Mr Magee also has the common touch with a gift for communicating difficult concepts to a wide audience. The book is full of personal reminiscences of the great names in philosophy. Thus, for example, he counted Karl Popper as a personal friend and was waited on at tea by Bertrand Russell.
Bryan Magee made something of a name for himself as the presenter of a series of discussion programmes which brought philosophy to the general public via television. In this he was quite successful though one wonders if the general "dumbing down" of the media which we are experiencing would allow such programmes to be broadcast now. He tells us that television was an enjoyable way of making money while he studied something that interested him. Lucky man! But the story of his lifelong search for meaning (which still continues) is not only fascinating it is also instructive. I can recommend it to anyone who has been put off philosophy in the past but would like to give it a second chance.