Customer Review

3.0 out of 5 stars Sketchy but readable, 26 Jan 2014
This review is from: The Big Questions: Tackling the Problems of Philosophy with Ideas from Mathematics, Economics and Physics (Paperback)
The author is an academic economist who wishes to make useful contributions to debates such as Intelligent Design, for instance, and has some interesting anecdotes about number theory in particular, and some other areas of 20th-21st century philosophy.

Unfortunately, as I progressed, I found this book increasingly irritating for a number of reasons:

1. He quotes writers who have written better books on his subjects - Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Douglas R Hofstadter, for instance. He is honest enough to advise us to read all their books, but if you've read their books, you won't want to read this one

2. He assumes you can only agree with him and any disagreement must be irrational. This is true of many economists, who professionally reduce the world to simple forms they can toy with, and get lost on the way back up to the complexities of real life. His "proof" that protectionism is "always bad", for example, deploys a crass utilitarian worldview - if an American gets a good camera more cheaply from a Chinese factory than an American factory, then it must be "good". It doesn't occur to him to examine the impact of unemployment in America or exploitative labour conditions (to produce the cheaper goods) in China. His economics being so partial and ill-considered, the reader must be put off the many areas where he is merely an interested amateur

3. When the going gets tough, he points to external sources and swerves away from attempting his own explanation. This tactic makes the books confusing: it walks up towards advanced thinking, then turns away before properly engaging

4. Even when the going is not so tough, he seems to lose interest in a topic and bring it to an abrupt end without taking the time to develop a really convincing case. He frequently uses rather flimsy word games where a rigorous thought experiment would be enlightening

5. Although this was a UK edition, much of the content is mired in Americanisms. I really don't care about the tactics used to get Intelligent Design mumbo-jumbo into American classrooms, for instance, but local American detail is key to some of his arguments

In the end, yes, there is some good stuff in here, delivered in a chatty style. But a book of philosophy it ain't.

Maybe this author needs a stricter editor?
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