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on 2 November 2013
Beginning with Socrates, Leszek Kolakowski takes us on an only moderately painful journey through the thinking of such eminences as Heraclitus, Aristotle, St Thomas Aquinas, William of Ockham, René Descartes, John Locke, Immanuel Kant, Friedrich Nietzsche, Henri Bergson, et al.

First let me say I have never studied philosophy, being rather afraid of it, and it seems with good reason to me now, having, over the course of three days, tried to understand some of the thinking of these great thinkers. Much of their reasoning and disputation is bound up with the question of the nature of God. As an atheist, this was not what I wanted to read about, but it really cannot be avoided. God is unfathomable, or else God is everything. Am I real? Are you real? According to what rules do some say that God is real, while others deny it? In Philosophy (is it real?)it seems to me that since we cannot change what has happened in the past, the existence of God is predicated on the question of Faith immutably, and forever. But since I am an atheist, I cannot even consider the existence of God, by virtue of my lack of belief. I am debarred.

Some philosophers wish to deny the existence of good and evil, since, if God is everything, and God is good, everything he allows must be good by definition. This massive edifice, encompassing our world and everything in it, is all powerful, all knowing, all seeing, etc. I'm going to defy this, in my own puny mind and raise the question of evil. God has allowed it to thrive, therefore, the paradox of good and evil has to be wished away in the flimsiest way possible, it seems to me. It was not until I reached the thinking of John Locke, that I felt any relief at all from the thickly laid traps of God's existence in the human mind. Locke placed limits on what can be known. They are narrow limits, but they free us from the cant of religious belief and all the confusions it raises. We cannot know some things. Locke, the ascetic: "...did not lament... the powerlessness of human reason when confronted with the metaphysical questions other philosophers had considered important and soluble."

"Our minds are like a clean slate, a `tabula rasa'. This claim led some of Locke's followers to conclude that all humans are equal from birth, that none is better or worse. He advocated the adoption of a general rule which is worth remembering: that we should believe nothing with greater conviction than is warranted by the evidence for it.... Since the Church is an association which we enter freely, and no institutions of the state have any authority in religious matters, we may not persecute people who think differently from us in such matters."

What I wanted was a humanist reason to continue philosophising, but none were considered. Nevertheless, imperfect and faulty though my own reasoning is, I continue to rely on it rather than abrogate my relief to God. Though I cannot thank him, as I'd like to do, for John Locke.
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on 22 October 2009
Kolakowski is great as an author of philosophical books for both professional philosphers and non-philosophers. In "Why is There..." he goes through famous philosophers throughout history.
He does not give a full picture of philosophical systems, he clearly declares at the beginning that he is going to pick only very specific topics within each of the famous or interesting philosphers. Each chapter (one chapter - one philosopher) ends with philosophical questions triggered by the philosopher described in it. It is fascinating journey through philosophy. Not for students but for people who want to be amazed by human thought and who want to enjoy a bit of really good philosophy delivered in a very understandable way.
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on 14 August 2013
It is an easy book to read for beginners. Probably a bit 'light' if you have already studied some philosophy.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 11 January 2016
This is a wonderfully lucid and stimulating book, which is by no means to say that it is all easy reading. However, in focusing on a key thread in each of the philosophers chosen Kolakowski makes even the most complex available. I particularly enjoyed the pieces on the theological philosophers: St. Anselm, William of Ockham et al as well as the essays on the pre-Socratics. I was quietly feeling rather peeved at the omission of Plotinus, only of course to be more than rewarded in the final chapter. This is a book to read and to return to for reference over and over. The questions that the author uses to conclude his writing on each of the philosophers are a most valuable guide to further thought, as are the cross-references throughout.
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on 24 January 2015
Mind boggling
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on 17 March 2013
I've read this book here over the pond and treasure the unique brilliance of Leszek Kolakowski with much gratitude.. I am purchasing the UK version as to acquire the seven chapters that were mysteriously left out of the US version.. But I suppose the real reason for my 'review' here is due to my amazement regarding there being only ONE review in dear old England? That my friends is a stunning revelation and speaks volumes (pardon the pun :)
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