Philosophy Bites Back Hardcover – 22 Nov 2012
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Engaging and accessible... Readers can enjoy each chapter individually or read the entire book for an understanding of major figures of Western philosophy. As was the first, this book is highly recommended for all general readers with an interest in philosophy. (Scott Duimstra, Library Journal)
As a fan of the Philosophy Bites podcast, I'm very pleased to see this publication of conversations with leading scholars on major figures in the history of philosophy. The result is not only a good introduction to that history, but a rare chance to read top-level philosophers speaking extemporaneously about the subjects they know best. Even regular listeners to the podcast will be glad to have this written version of highlights from the series. (Peter Adamson)
About the Author
David Edmonds is an award-winning documentary maker for the BBC World Service. He is the author or co-author (with John Eidinow) of several books, including Wittgenstein's Poker (short-listed for the Guardian First Book Award), Bobby Fischer Goes To War (long-listed for the Samuel Johnson prize), and Rousseau's Dog (about the relationship between Jean-Jacques Rousseau and David Hume). He is currently a Research Associate at the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics at Oxford University and a Contributing Editor for Prospect Magazine. Nigel Warburton is a freelance philosopher, podcaster, and writer. His books include A Little History of Philosophy, Philosophy: the Basics, Thinking from A to Z, Philosophy: the Classics, The Art Question, and Free Speech: A Very Short Introduction. He runs several weblogs including virtualphilosopher.com and artandallusion.com.
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making a beginner an expert in almost all schools of (Western) philosophy!
Has potential to change the reader's outlook towards life and thereby improve its quality, - not a mean feat!
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Beginning in 2007, David Edmonds and Nigel Warburton have maintained a popular site which offers short podcasts on philosophical topics. Edmonds and Warburton both are philosophically informed and have written highly regarded books on their own. In 2012, Edmonds and Warburton made transcripts of 25 of their podcasts and gathered them together in a book, "Philosophy Bites". Philosophy Bites Then, early in 2013, they published this sequel, titled appropriately enough "Philosophy Bites Back" which consists of the transcripts of an additional 27 podcasts. The first book approached philosophy through issues. Thus the book was arranged under five headings titled: "Ethics", "Politics", "Metaphysics and the Mind", "Aesthetics", and "God, Atheism, and the Meaning of Life", each of which received short discussions from thinkers with varying perspectives. This new book, takes a different approach. The topic headings are gone. Each of the 27 chapters (or transcripts) explores the work of an individual thinker, beginning with Socrates and ending with Derrida, rather than a philosophical issue explored by many thinkers. The discussions range over many issues including metaphysics, theism, theories of knowledge, ethics, political philosophy, and philosophy of art.
Each of the chapters follow the same basic format. Edmonds offers brief introductory comments and introduces the discussion. Warburton then interviews the speaker by asking a series of questions about the subject. He usually begins with questions asking for a short biographical introduction, proceeds to questions designed to elicit the nature of the subject's thought, and concludes by asking the speaker to assess the significance of, say, Plato or Hume, to present-day thinking about philosophy.
This book has many outstanding features. Although each chapter is brief, the speakers are highly renowned scholars in their fields. The quality of the chapters may vary somewhat, but each speaker shows a deep knowledge and enthusiasm for his or her subject and shows as well an ability to distill complex material to get to the heart of the matter. (William James once said that any philosophy could be summarized on the back of a postage stamp.) All of the podcast speakers have written extensive books upon their subjects in addition to the brief ten-page or so chapters presented here.
The speakers are engaging and lively. The chapters could not be mistaken for a full exposition of their subjects, but they provide basic information. Each individual chapter may catch the attention of a reader and encourage further reflection and more detailed reading in, for example, Plato's "Symposiusm", the subject of one of the chapters, or in detailed studies of Plato or the "Symposium". An important feature of the book is the suggestions for further reading at the end, which offers excellent primary sources by the subjects themselves or secondary sources for those inclined to detailed reading.
With 27 thinkers discussed, relatively few readers will have background familiarity with them all. For those readers familiar with philosophy, the book offers the opportunity for a quick summary of familiar figures together with short introductions to philosophers that the reader may not know or know in another context (such as the economist Adam Smith). For the newcomer, the book offers a great deal of philosophers and philosophical approaches to think about and explore further. The book opens with a brief discussion with a number of prominent scholars who are asked to identify their "favorite philosopher" and it concludes with a series of effective snappy definitions from users of the podcast who were asked to define "philosophy" in 140 characters or less. Some of the definitions are insightful.
Because of the quick-summary style presentations, and because of the teaching of my first professor of philosophy of long ago, I cannot rate this book five stars. Philosophy is always a work in process and striving for five stars. The book is a good introduction which has value in itself and which may well inspire some readers to explore further.
Here is a list of the philosophers and the speakers presented in this short volume.
1. Socrates by Mary Margared McCabe
2. Plato by Angie Hobbs
3. Aristotle by Terrence Irwin
4. Aquinas by Anthony Kenny
5. Machiavelli by Quentin Skinner
6. Montaigne by Sarah Bakewell
7. Descartes by A.C. Grayling
8. Spinoza by Susan James
9. Locke by John Dunn
10. Berkeley by John Campbell
11. Hume by Peter Millican
12. Adam Smith by Nick Phillipson
13. Rousseau by Melissa Lane
14. Burke by Richard Bourke
15. Kant by A.W. Moore
16. Hegel by Robert Stern
17. Mill by Richard Reeves
18. Kierkegaard by Clare Carlisle
19. Nietzsche by Aaron Ridley
20. Henry Sidgwick by Peter Singer
21. The American Pragmatists by Robert Talisse
22. Wittgenstein by Barry Smith
23. Frank Ramsey by Hugh Mellor
24. Sartre by Mary Warnock
25. Hayek by Chandran Kukathas
26. John Rawls by Jonathan Wolff
27. Derrida by Robert Rowland Smith
For someone like myself who has had only a couple of philosophy courses some aeons ago it makes for a rather nice roadmap. For example knowing that Derrida is about deconstructionism and the impossibility of forgiveness may not do justice to the entire sense of his work, but at least it's a beginning. Jonathan Wolff offers that the essential point of Rawls Theory of Justice is that social inequality is morally acceptable only as long as it is bounded by a requirement to maximize the benefits to those least well-off, an idea which has in recent years started to take hold. There are some nice insights on Nietzsche and his aesthetics of primal chaos as well as his disillusionment of Wagner, Mary Warnock advises us of which works by Sartre one should avoid and Clare Carlisle has piqued my interest in Kierkegard's Fear and Trembling.
The advantage of the book form is that you can annotate, scan, skim and process it more quickly. The advantages of the podcasts are that they are free, the selection is larger (there is also an earlier book) and that the expressiveness of the speakers gives the explorations a more nuanced and emotive emphasis on the substance of the talks. In either case the presentation is quite enjoyable and the talks can serve both as a refresher and as an introduction to the great thinkers of the West.
Also; if you haven't already please check out the Philosophy Bites podcast.
"[On Aristophanes] There were three different sexes of proto-human beings: male, female, and hermaphrodite. And these beings were initially spherical. They were completely round, with four arms, four legs, two heads, two faces, and two sets of genitalia, and they rolled around the surfaces of the earth like acrobats."
From Plato, on erotic love, to Machiavelli, and his book The Prince, all ranges of topics are covered with a fresh new light shone upon these philosophers. Edmonds approaches each chapter with an introduction and follows up with an in-depth discussion to inspire the reader to think deeply and formulate his or her own thoughts.
While not all philosophers touched on in this book will be known to all readers, and each chapter might not catch the same values and meanings from person to person, there just might be something here to motivate you into finding your own favorite philosopher.
*You can view the original review at City Book Review