83 of 84 people found the following review helpful
I picked up this book as i wanted a basic introduction to philosophy and the major ideas: I wasnt disappointed. The book is ordered by theme (knowledge, mind, free will, the self, god, ...etc) and goes through a readable account of the development of ideas in each, with long quotations from major philosophers. Within each section, approaches to addressing the theme are explained and dissected plainly. The style is easy to follow and avoids the twisty wordgames of much philosophical writing. Nevertheless the book demands and rewards attention and should be engaging enough for anyone with a modicum of literacy and interest.
Downsides: lack of a further reading list is irritating. Blackburn also ignores pretty much everything thats happened since 1900 (except Wittgenstein and Russell) and avoids much continental philosophy since Kant. The quotes and works of Hume are given a disproportionate regard, given his influence. This may be seen as conservatism from Blackburn, but it does allow him to give the book a brevity which is excellent. However it should be pointed out that Blackburn is intellectually conservative and this sometimes come through in the writing.
This is best read as an introduction to philosophical thinking (as opposed to the history of philosophy) and at the very least, the reader should be able to ask the right question if not come up with the answer.
Please can we have something similar about modern philosophy?
25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on 21 August 2009
THINK. Simon Blackburn.
A review by Colin Russell Smith.
Whether you are a serious beginner to the study of philosophy or are simply looking for a fascinating read this book is a well thought out introduction to the world of philosophy. Dr.Simon Blackburn is a master of his subject, a first rate communicator with the ability to get to the heart of the matter in a challenging but coherent way.
The book covers the basics of philosophy; areas such as Knowledge,The Mind, Free Will, The Self, God plus others. He introduces the views of many influential philosophers; Descarte, Hume, Wittgensein, Leibnitz and Russell etc.and demonstrates how to analyse and question philosophical statements. He explains what are Empirisists,Realists Cohesionists etc. and how their views add to our understanding of the universe and the traps that we can all fall into with our own reasoning.
Yes, the book is a challenge;it is,after all,a serious academic work designed, as it says, to make you think. This is fair enough. Dr.Blackburns aim is to educate by challenging your accepted beliefs, understandings and conceptions.But he never leaves you standing.He is aware of the difficulties of the subject,and comes to your rescue with clear analogies and explanations making the seemingly impenetrable perfectly clear.
The book itself is clearly and logically laid out. Each chapter is divided into titled,bite size chunks,complete in themselves,but each leading logically and sequentially to the next. This same approach applies to each chapter:Knowledge,the opening chapter leading to the Mind which leads to Free Will and so on.But if you are the type of person who likes to dip in here and there you will still find each chapter or section informative and understandable.
If you are interested in philosophy and looking for a place to start,or simply want an informative and stimulating read,then you will do no better than this facinating and challening book.
It does exactly what it says on the cover.
99 of 102 people found the following review helpful
on 30 December 2004
I read this book some time ago now, whilst flirting with the idea of studying philosophy; I wanted to know what I might be getting in to.
Reviews on this site have often slated the book for its lack of depth, but this loses sight of the books objective. After reading this book, you will not come away with an in-depth knowledge of the workings of philosophical branches, their history, or some such. You will, however, know what these philosophical branches are, who has been of particular importance within them, and which branches interest you enough for further reading. This is an introduction to philosophy, nothing more.
Of all the introductions I have read, and there were a few during the afore-mentioned period, this has been the most useful to me. It provided me with a stand point from which to progress from. If you have only a vague idea of what philosophy is, or if you wish to briefly sweep across its main branches, this book is for you.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 16 February 2009
If you read all the reviews here I think you get a really good sense of who this book is most useful for. I've given it five stars because I think for the right audience this is an excellent choice.
I have struggled previously to find introductory level texts on philosophy for the general reader (ie me). Blackburn's organisation reflects where the thinking can be used rather than its technical philosophical topic. I found each of the first five chapters - Knowledge; Mind; Free Will; The Self; and God - stimulating and enjoyable. The chapter and book titles underline something significant here: the book is about the application of ideas, about what we do, rather than just the ideas themselves.
For some reason, I found the latter chapters - Reasoning; The World; What to do - tailed off. Maybe this just reflects a personal preference, I don't know.
This is a fascinating and readable text which really demonstrates what it is to think clearly. It introduces key philosophical debates in a way that leaves you feeling better able to deal with the world. Others have commented that it is not comprehensive. Good. What it does cover is properly referenced and there is a bibliography. Philosophical writing can be obscure and difficult and this is not. In this respect, Blackburn does us all a great service.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Simon Blackburn describes philosophy as "concept engineering", defining its role as studying "the structure of thought." Those thoughts are about the the "big themes" of life such as" knowledge, reason, truth, mind, freedom, destiny, identity, God, goodness, justice" all of which demonstrate humans' practice of "reflecting on themselves". This is done by thinking but what is meant by thought? Philosophy is good exercise for the mind and necessary in a changing world. Categorising thought - and the assumptions which often underlie thought - are essential if we are to understand the world.
Darcartes' dualism distinguished between body and soul (the existence of physical and mental substances) arguing "Cogito, ergo sum" - I think, therefore I am. Blackburn believes a better translation would be "I am thinking, therefore I am" inasmuch thinking per se is evidence of oneself. Evidence of oneself is more secure than evidence of the rest of the world which is perceived rather than known. Descartes used reason to deny scepticism but did not solve the problem of knowledge because reason cannot be taken in isolation from its environment. Similarly our physical senses may deceive us. For example, dreaming may convince us we are experiencing reality when we are experiencing the subconscious representation of things which may exist only in one's mind. Reason does not act in a vacuum. A ship can never be rebuilt from the bottom while it is actually sailing and once the toothpaste is out of the tube it cannot be returned to it in its original form.
For Descartes, dualism provided a doorway to non physical existence. For Gilbert Ryle mind is the ghost in the machine. The question of the relationship between mind and matter has not yet been solved and, according to the new mysterians, never will be. Logical behaviourism argues that if mental ascriptions can be analysed in physical terms this supports Leibniz's contention that there is an a priori way of seeing how the physical gives rise to the mental. Behaviourism has its limitations as Blackburn shows by repeating the joke about two behaviourists in bed - "that was great for you, how was it for me?" According to Wittgenstein "there could be no significant thought about the nature of one's past (or future) mental life if that mental life is divorced from from the physical world in the way that Cartesian dualism proposes." However, the precise nature of the relationship of the physical to the mental, remains a mystery.
The concept of free will arises naturally from thinking about the nature of being. Free will can be considered from one's own position when making a choice or from the third person perspective. "The problem lies in reconciling the two stances". While the first includes causation, the latter does not. "Theorists and gurus like to make a pattern" but, on many occasions, no pattern emerges or, if there is a pattern, it is unknown, unknowable, or simply a stereotype which becomes self-fulfilling. Hence it is important to follow the evidence rather than imposing an interpretation on it. Blackburn claims "flexibility rules" which allows concept engineering to provide a variety of thought structures for explanatory purposes. So too with the idea of self. Blackburn believes questions of identity are essential to an understanding of the human condition. Others consider identity is the adjustment of the self to the real world. The extent to which this adjustment is based on an evaluation of the self and an interpretation of the external world can only be asserted by assessing the evidence from clearly stated assumptions.
The chapter on God provides a broad survey of the subject and questions arising from it, in particular the problem of evil. While it appears to be the one chapter where Blackburn's own views interrupt the narrative he makes the important point that in the conflict between reason and faith, reason often depends on faith in humanity. Human history suggests that people coming "down the mountain carrying their own practical certainties" are a continuing phenomenon but provides no insight into human nature itself, the condition of which lies at the heart, for example, of the Christian worldview. It remains a perpetual problem created by the boundaries of thought within the paradigms to which we adhere. Similarly with formal logic where ultimately we are reliant on "brute faith in the uniformity of nature." Approaches to an understanding of whatever constitutes reality are all subject to objection. Hume's unmitigated scepticism is not confined to the philosophy of religion but applies to all thought. If it did not then thought would never change and we would all be trapped in a time warp.
The book works as summer reading for prospective undergraduates. It explains the importance of thinking i.e. looking at philosophical problems, asking the right questions and coming up with answers which may result in different theoretical constructs. Its thematic approach provides a link between the various branches of philosophy although studying philosophers individually still has its attractions. Blackburn only calls on a handful of philosophers to illustrate his points and shows a lack of interest in contemporary continental philosophy but who can blame him for that?. Interesting but not compelling. Four stars.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 9 March 2011
As a student considering philosophy as a degree at university I found this book a brilliant read especially because I had no background knowledge. However, be warned that you may spend a lot of time reading over and over certain parts as it isn't an easy read. The book gives you an introduction to the important ideas in philosophy from all angles. I would most definitely recommend it to anyone.
23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on 9 August 2000
'Think' makes for an enlightening read. However, I couldn't help wondering whether the newcomer to philosophy would not be better served by reading the actual texts (or at least excerpts of them) of the philosophers mentioned throughout, and making up their own mind. While Simon Blackburn infuses his enthusiastic 'introduction' with much humor and some laudable attempts at making the mazy, stifling world of philosophy clear and alluring (and succeeds in the main), the fact that his personal opinions and conclusions are so often introduced in a book intended for 'beginners' is not helpful. And the section on logic gave me a pain behind my eyes. But that's just me...
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 6 March 2001
The last few years have seen an increase in these introductory publications, but few as gripping and lucid as Blackburn's. It is a welcome addition to the subject
22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on 11 December 2001
This is a good accessible introduction. I would recommend it to anyone approaching the subject for the first time. Unfortunately I was looking for a bit more depth but this is not the fault of the book.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 5 March 2001
"Think" introduces mainstream, modern, western philosophical thinking on some key issues in a simple but not simplistic way. In fact ease of use belies its complexity; it definitely rewards re-reading. I found Simon Blackburn's style easier than, for example, Roger Scruton's in his introduction to modern philosophy; although both are great books, Blackburn's is definitely the more accessible.