O'Hear believes we are ill-served by the two philosophies which have dominated the second half of the 20th century and are a threat at the beginning of the 21st: the Anglo-Saxon one descending from Bertrand Russell with its attempt to put philosophy on a scientific basis, and the continental one, culminating with Derrida, which deconstructs everything to the point that we are left, philosophically speaking, totally adrift. Both, moreover, use technical language which nobody except a specialist can understand, so that philosophy has ceased to be any kind of guide to our lives; and even if it is understood, it is counter-intuitive, since our intuition tells us that there is more to life than science and that there are values which are deeply embedded in human nature. Philosophy, O'Hear believes, should not ignore these values, but should make us think more clearly about them.
The philosopher who seems to be most congenial to O'Hear is Edmund Burke, who was so suspicious of so-called rational arrangements of society, such as were proposed by the French philosophes and later by the Utilitarians, and who so eloquently defended the wisdom embedded in tradition. O'Hear believes that many developments in our society, based on rational arguments to promote happiness, endanger these wisdoms. Medical advances like genetic engineering make possible interventions in nature that, though meant to increase human happiness, in fact undermine respect for life. The same, he thinks, is true of the sexual liberation which, so far from releasing us from "unnatural" repression by separating sex from procreation, is dissolving the bond of the natural family, with very damaging results for the whole society.
"Scientism" is another target of the book - the idea that human behaviour is basically mechanical and can be explained in terms of physics and chemistry or is determined by economic forces (Marx) or by unconscious impulses (Freud). Such explanations leave out of account what we all know in our deepest selves: that, though some of our behaviour has ascertainable causes in physics and chemistry, other aspects of it are determined by choices which cannot be reduced to such causes.
When O'Hear considers Aesthetics, he takes Kant as his guide. He comments how little attention modern philosophers pay to it and how little concern many modern artists have with Beauty rather than with some "quasi-philosophical" doctrine or other. The result is that any interest that the works of such artists have (he names Damien Hirst, Rachel Whitehead, Gilbert and George, Jeff Koons, Tracy Emin) usually disappear after one experience of them, and do not lead to any enhancement of life.
Closely related to the aesthetic sense for O'Hear is the religious sense. This has little to do with various proofs for the existence of God, in all of which O'Hear sees problems. We seem to be endowed with an aesthetic instinct, a thirst for knowledge and a sense of moral obligation, all of which, O'Hear argues, go far beyond the explanations of evolutionary theory. Recognition of these feelings does not in itself require adherence to what we normally call a religious faith, although a mature faith will sustain it and make it less likely that its adherents will succumb to the aridities of scientism and materialism.
The suggestion of the whole book is that Philosophy in the New Century should abandon much of the philosophy of the previous century, dominated as it is by scientism and materialism, and go back to Kant and Burke. The book (or is it a tract?) is not particularly original; it will irritate many professional philosophers, some scientists, and people who think of themselves as progressive, let alone as avant-garde; and it will please conservatives and those who think that philosophy has strayed too far from common sense and, above all, from common experience.
Whether you agree with O'Hear or not, his arguments are easy to follow, and the book is eminently readable.