on 2 February 2015
Many philosophy texts assume an understanding of the concepts used and this assumption can cause the novice problems. Philosophy dictionaries and encyclopaedias tend, in my experience, to be written in terms that sometimes include other problematic terms or are technical. This excellent little book (well 304 pages for such a subject is small) is written in a very accessible style (reminds me of Nigel Warburton who also strives to be clear and simple). The entries explain a range of common concepts/ideas/terms and gives examples as well as referring the reader to other relevant entries and further reading.
I would guess the book would be ideal for A level and first year undergraduate philosophy students and anybody else who wants terms to be defined clearly and simply. No substitute for the Routledge Shorter Encylopaedia of Philosophy, it is a good deal simpler and I can only commend the authors for their determined attempt to write clearly and simply when others do not. Any idiot can make something complicated sound complicated. It takes more effort to make the complicated sound simple and near genius to achieve it.
The Philosopher’s Toolkit: A compendium of philosophical concepts and methods by Julian Baggini and Peter S. Fosl, Wiley-Blackwell, 2nd edn. 2010, 304 ff.
This is a book of fundamentals of philosophy, explicitly written but with subject matter that needs concentrated reading. It is presented throughout in relatively short sections for easier assimilation. For many of these, a few particularly relevant other sections of the work are listed at the end so that the reader can join up his or her thinking with related topics or approaches. Baggini is a British professional writer and Fosl is Professor of Philosophy at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky.
There are seven chapters in this book and the first two deal with the devices used in philosophical arguments – like deduction and induction, fallacies and tautologies, analogies and anomalies. Chapter Three is about how we would assess the arguments of others (or what we need to look out for in making arguments of our own) with features like ambiguity, circularity, redundancy and somewhat more challenging features like category mistakes or conceptual incoherence.
Chapter Four teaches us how to distinguish between complementary pairs of philosophical concepts – analytic and synthetic, necessary and sufficient properties, objective and subjective arguments, and a whole lot more. In Chapter Five there is a fascinating examination of some of the most famous arguments that were used by philosophers of yesteryear – like Hume’s Fork and Ogham’s Razor.
The remaining two chapters are also written in a historical context dealing as they do with the views of some great philosophers of the past – Leibniz, Nietzsche, Sartre, and another more modern French philosopher Jacques Lacan, Gödel, and others. The suggestions for further reading appear at the end of each section, so the book concludes with just a detailed Index. This is an excellent book for serious students of philosophy and, quite apart from those studying the subject per se, it would prove useful to students of English or science who need to develop techniques of presenting coherent arguments. I have studied philosophy for several decades and I found this a useful addition to my library.
Howard Jones is the author of The World as Spirit (2011) and Evolution of Consciousness (2012)