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on 10 April 2010
Much scholarly work can be dry and difficult (Kant, Heidegger). Many recent works of scholarship are much lighter without losing the quality of intent or seriousness of the work - Diarmaid MacCulloch's recent History of Christianity comes to mind, as beautiful to read as it is interesting despite my complete rejection of the faith. Professor Grayling's Thinking of Answers is not such a singly focused work. Reading it feels, for all intents and purposes, rather like listening to the poetically infused and erudite thoughts of a great scholar working through a set of interesting 'problems'. I found myself being entertained, seduced and enriched.

The quality of these 101 brief essays is difficult for me to capture in a review, so eloquently written are they. Furthermore, they are equally difficult to pick excerpts from to present examples. The aptness of a particular turn of phrase may fit perfectly within a given essay, but loses it's punctiliousness when removed from it's intended environment.

Grayling convincingly articulates his sense of delight in the acquisition of knowledge and the uses to which it can be put. In 'Thinking of Answers', he proposes, not answers as such, but gives the reader insight as to how he (Grayling) goes about the task of thinking about what sort of form a good answer might take. For those steeped in Karl Popper and his general outlook, which can be summarised using one of his book titles (Conjectures and Refutations), one becomes wary of arguments or conclusions that discount the possibility of more information coming to light that may require us to re-examine our hypotheses. Grayling never crosses this line.

The most startling article, for me, was about gender. It was a shock to learn that '...as many as one in a hundred people have bodies that differ from the male and female standards, if one includes XX and XY chromosonal abnormalities such as chromosomal mosaicism and the Klinefelter and Turner syndromes, androgen-insensitivity syndrome, adrenal hyperplasias, ovo-testes (formerly so-called 'true hermaphroditism'), genital agenesis, 5 alpha reductase deficiency, gonadal dysgenesis (Swyer syndrome), hypospadias, iatrogenic influences (for example, medical mistakes in pregnancy), and more.' p. 122, 123. Grayling doesn't dwell on the details (I'm thankful that wikipedia exists) but urges us to consider these things in our wider philosophical journey through life.

Darwin drew our attention to the grandeur in the view of life that accepts these 'endless forms most beautiful'. Grayling does some justice to this statement with a broad view of philosophy that acknowledges the variety inherent in nature both outside ourselves as well as inside. In pursuing pleasure, one could do a lot worse than reading A C Grayling.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 25 November 2010
One might be tempted to recommend this book to the novice philosopher but on reflection, it seems to be a book to be recommended to all experts - in law, philosophy, or science. In this book, Grayling made his approach to philosophy even more accessible to the layman than any of his "Of Things" series of books such as "The Mystery of Things" and "The Meaning of Things". What is the point of any inquiry into philosophy, the meaning of life, or any other complex subject if only learned exponents can participate? Experts might take a cue from this book in de-mystifying their fields of knowledge. In this book Grayling introduced 111 questions that will stimulate deep and long discussions not only over the questions posed but also the answers that he provided. A few random samples of the questions may indicate whether one might be interested in this book: "Which is more important: knowing facts, or knowing method?" "Are altruism and self-interest irreconcilable opposites?" "If both sides in a conflict can passionately believe that theirs is a just cause, does this mean that the idea of justice is empty? If so, how can it have been such an inspiration for so many reform movements?" Each of the questions posed is accompanied by a subject heading, for instance, the last question comes under the title, "Justice as Inspiration". One might find it superfluous to have titles to such short chapters - each question is followed by an answer no longer than four pages; most are about two pages, however, I think that the titles usefully indicate the broader areas of their respective subjects that the reader might wish to study. Not every question concerns typical issues in philosophy. One such question was "Is `shock art' art?" Another, "'If one must speak, one must speak clearly': is that a genuine principle?" It is difficult to summarise short, precise and clear writing such as those found in this book, but the measure of the book's attraction lies not only in the questions but also the answers Grayling provided. As a sample of that, the following is the opening paragraph to the preceding question: "William James (brother of the more famous Henry James) defined the task of philosophy as `the dogged struggle to achieve clarity'. Philosophy itself is no more or less than enquiry - into everything, about everything. When its questions become clear and methods of answering them are found, philosophy becomes science, or psychology, and so on for the other special disciplines. The achievement of understanding ourselves and the world is therefore the product of that remarkable dogged struggle: to achieve clarity." Is clarity so important that it matters not whether one is clearly right or clearly wrong so long as one is clear? Grayling's questions (and answers) have a way of prodding us to question even more.
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on 7 September 2011
We did this at my book group. It is a lot of short essays on questions. Some are hard going. hard work reading straight off but good to dip in and out of . Not as approachable as some of his others.
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on 9 May 2014
a great read containing loads of ideas that will stimulate your brain. i recommend to every human being on the planet.
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on 30 January 2016
An easy and enjoyable read, most useful as a means of stimulating one to consider the wide range of matters addressed, some of which one may not otherwise have pondered. You are invited not to agree with all of Grayling's expressed views, but will find it hard not to!
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on 28 July 2013
Bought this one for my wife when she took a shine to looking into philosophy. Not a novel; you need to read this book when there are few distractions.
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on 3 September 2010
i was full of hope for this book - but it hasn't imparted any blinding revelations yet!

that said it's a nice easy read and i like the small bite sized sections.
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