Customer Review

37 of 48 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Surely a better introduction to this subject is possible, 5 Sep 2009
This review is from: Philosophy: The Basics (Basics (Routledge Paperback)) (Paperback)
I don't want to pan this outright, not because I'm a kind reviewer but because I can see that it might be helpful to some readers and my own reasons for finding it largely unhelpful are fairly subjective. This is a review for readers like me, my current and younger selves.

In early middle age I'm gradually getting to grips with philosophy through a mixture of primary and secondary sources. That means some of the stuff I'm reading is fairly hard and I'm finding it so, but generally managing to struggle through by means of whatever help I can get, including, I hoped, from Mr. Warburton.

I guess I imagined that the basics he was offering would be a general overview of western philosophy, a sense of who the main players were, the positions they held, how they related to each other and what some of their more difficult terminology meant. Be advised: this book doesn't provide that at all. Instead it divides philosophy into areas of inquiry such as philosophy of science, philosophy of mind, philosophy of art etc. and lays out debates within these fields as clearly and simply as possible, and I mean very simply indeed, occasionally tending to labour its points.

The two stars tell the story. I don't like the book. I think it's boring, indefensibly so. I think I would have found it boring when I was a teenager - apparently the book's target audience. This would be fair enough if philosophy actually were boring, but, so far my researches tell me it's not - that is to say, all my researches except via introductory works like these, which seem curiously determined to present the discipline as nothing more than a litany of dull and obvious pedantry and scotch, as quickly as possible, any and all notions in young minds that philosophy is going to be something mindblowing. This was done to me when I was a kid and I can't endorse it. I think philosophy is mindblowing. It's difficult, yes, and, yes, often pretty dry getting there, but the places one arrives at are, by turns, revelatory and confounding and rock one's sense of reality and what it is to inhabit it. Is it too much to ask that at least some of that might be conveyed, at least hinted at, from the outset?

And other than that, I can't let this go: this idea in the introduction that a lot of philosophy is only difficult to understand because it's badly written. Warburton really needs to cite some examples if he wants to make a claim like this. In my view, he shouldn't make it at all. It's wrong and liable to promote philistinism. In fact, it looks perilously like philistinism itself, of the worst kind: the assertion that one's inability to understand is the fault of the author not the intellectual incapacity of the reader/viewer. I'm sorry, but, aside from everything else, what's the point of introducing people to a subject only to tell them that there's no point reading its tougher texts? It's unnecessarily discouraging. Why not, instead, explain some of that Latin and Greek derived jargon you're so disapproving of so that your readers can make a start?
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Showing 1-8 of 8 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 10 Jun 2010 13:54:34 BDT
Last edited by the author on 10 Jun 2010 14:00:17 BDT
You seem to be in a very small minority in your negative assessment of this book.
It does not (this book) purport to be a history of philosophy or even an overview, so how can you judge it and find it guilty of not providing this? I'm sure such fallacious reasoning has a name.

Posted on 5 Aug 2010 13:51:53 BDT
It would help if you were to recommend the book or books that excited you most when you first started exploring philosophy.

Posted on 14 Jun 2011 13:31:07 BDT
Mark Twain says:
I actually agree with this review. The best introduction to philosophy i have read is James Garvey's 20 Greatest Philosophy Books. I also recommend Bryan Magee's Confessions of a Philosopher.

I've read a few of the main contenders.

In reply to an earlier post on 30 Nov 2011 17:22:47 GMT
digit says:
I guess all my careful presaging about the subjective nature of my review was for nought. However, to defend myself against your specific points: 'the basics' might possibly be expected to include some sense of how the arguments and areas of inquiry have arisen and been developed (a bit of history) and, well, an overview.

I'm not sure whether my argument has a name or not, but the one you used about me being in minority does: it's called the argumentum ad populum, a well-known form of logical fallacy.

In reply to an earlier post on 30 Nov 2011 17:26:54 GMT
digit says:
I was excited by the primary texts, but wanted a book to help me understand them and, at this point, hadn't found one, except for Steven M. Cahn's Classics of Western Philosophy, which I've also reviewed. I'm reading Russell's History of Western Philosophy now and will also be gratefully investigating Mark Twain's suggestions.

In reply to an earlier post on 30 Nov 2011 17:27:24 GMT
digit says:

Posted on 6 Nov 2012 18:28:29 GMT
Colin C says:
I haven't read this book but the review seems fair to me and is clearly labelled as a personal opinion, and explained in full. Having studied Philosophy at University level, I have to agree that many (or even most) 'Introductions to...' books on the subject are dull, and bafflingly display little enthusiasm for what should be the most fascinating subject there is. Even Bertrand Russell's History of Western Philosophy is a disappointment in terms of readability.

I also agree with the recommendation by 'Mark Twain' here for Magee's Confessions of a Philosopher - probably the only overview of the subject which is warm and enthused in giving explanations of the central problems.

In reply to an earlier post on 8 Nov 2012 13:24:49 GMT
Last edited by the author on 8 Nov 2012 13:29:49 GMT
digit says:
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