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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brief introduction to philosophy through central problems, 16 Jun 2012
This review is from: What Does It All Mean?: A Very Short Introduction to Philosophy (Paperback)
'What Does It All Mean?' is a brief introduction to philosophy by the American philosopher Thomas Nagel. It was originally published in 1987. The author states in his introduction that he intends the book to be useful for complete beginners, particularly adults, but the text is clearly written and should be accessible to intelligent teenagers.

Nagel believes that philosophy originates in certain questions that human beings have asked of themselves repeatedly. Accordingly, he divides his text into nine chapters, each of which deals with a single problematical issue. The idea is to give the novice reader a taste of the issues with which philosophy concerns itself, and its style of critical thinking, without encumbering him or her with the need to be familiar with historical philosophical movements, specific philosophers, or specialist terminology beyond the minimum for meaningful discussion.

In itself, the book is easily recommended. My only reservations concern value for money. The book is expensive for what is really an essay-length monograph (less than 25,000 words in total, or 100 pages of text). While it may seem unphilosophical to question whether wisdom has a price, this is a book aimed at "college-age" readers, and there are now several excellent introductions to the subject by well-known professional philosophers that are more recent, cheaper and more extensive in their coverage. The interested reader is in any case likely to have to supplement the Nagel with further reading; but will have to look elsewhere for suggestions, as Nagel makes none. (The book appears not to have been updated since its original appearance.) At the time of review, the Kindle edition is significantly better value.
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Showing 1-5 of 5 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 13 Nov 2012 16:12:41 GMT
B. Green says:
Thank you for posting this helpful review, which would've been considerably more helpful were it to have offered suggestions for further reading.

In reply to an earlier post on 13 Nov 2012 17:42:12 GMT
Paul Bowes says:
Thanks for your kind remark. I didn't include suggestions for further reading because I'm not a subject expert, and the next logical step depends on where your interests lie. Nagel doesn't include a bibliography, either.

In general, books on philosophy for non-experts divide into introductions, histories, studies of particular philosophers or schools of philosophy, and studies of particular areas of philosophy (such as ethics, logic, epistemology etc.) If you feel you want to carry on from Nagel, I would guess that a useful next step would be a longer, more comprehensive introduction: for example, Simon Blackburn's 'Think', Martin Hollis's 'Invitation to Philosophy', or Nigel Warburton's 'Philosophy: the Basics' - but there are many others. An alternative would be to identify an area in the Nagel book that particularly interested you and look for an introductory book on that area.

I have found Amazon's Listmania feature useful in the past for other people's suggestions. Just search on 'Philosophy' and look for lists aimed at beginners.

In reply to an earlier post on 14 Nov 2012 10:18:58 GMT
B. Green says:
For this generous, quickening response I am deeply indebted.

In reply to an earlier post on 15 Dec 2013 16:44:20 GMT
Thanks, Paul. I'm looking for a good introductory book on philosophy, and was trying to decide whether to buy this one. In looking, I've seen Nigel Warburton's name pop up several times, so I'll have a look at his book.

You wrote an excellent review, and again, thanks.

In reply to an earlier post on 16 Dec 2013 11:46:20 GMT
Paul Bowes says:
Glad to have been of help.
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