Top critical review
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A 'dictionary' without definitions.
on 3 January 2011
I believe I have the 2005 'Second Edition' of this book with the statement "New Edition" posted on it. Hopefully the newer versions have been improved and not just reprinted. I am academically studying philosophy (which is seen as a bit of a joke I know) and need to be able to reference the philosophically based definitions of terms before I can do anything with them. So I was advised to get a dictionary of philosophy to provide very importantly the *accurate* definitions I need (if you cite a term in an exam without saying accurately what it means you can get no or fewer marks), one focused in the area of philosophy as most dictionaries leave out more obscure philosophical terms or do not provide a broad enough definition.
The book only gets two stars because it occasionally provides useful information and has a chronology at the back. Why so low? Because as a dictionary it VERY frequently entirely fails to define its terms, which is supposedly the point of being called a dictionary, or more often than not provides only a partial definition or one that lacks key information.
For example in defining *chance* the 'definition' provided states "Chance is frequently regarded as unreal, a mere reflection of human existence, due to be eroded by the onset of deterministic science." It then proceeds to continue these ramblings and even mentions that it has implications in quantum mechanics without ever defining what in fact is meant by the term. When defining *anguish* we are given, quoted in its entirety, "In the philosophy of Sartre, an inescapable sense of deep and total responsibility for one's own choice and action". No where is it so much as implied that it is so much as a negative emotion. The Collins English Dictionary defines anguish as "extreme pain or misery; mental or physical torture; agony". Thank you Collin.
The book does to a very good job of making entire entries around the statement "the problem is..." without ever defining, or referring to its relation to the term but instead digresses onto various tangents. Which, I confess, is the most philosophical thing about the book. For example with reference to its treatment of defining *free will* its definition begins with "The problem is to reconcile our everyday consciousness of ourselves as agents, with the best view of what science tells us that we are. Determinism is one part of the problem, it may be defined as the doctrine that every event has a cause". Fantastic, it managed to define a term there, but not the one in question!
I know the whole idea of a 'dictionary of philosophy' is a bit ironic and slightly contradictory, but if you are going to create one at least make an attempt to do it properly and do what the cover says. If you are looking for a book with actual useful definitions, this 'dictionary' is severely lacking. I am surprised and disappointed with Oxford University Press, given this is an Oxford dictionary you would expect it to be more accurate and academically useful.