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A Reasonable but Tedious Read
on 3 April 2017
This book is a lengthy and detailed review of modern philosophy and is generally recommendable. However, there are aspects of Roger Scrutton's approach which grate slightly. As an example, I will discuss the treatment of Karl Popper who gets a brief mention and who's philosophy I am familiar with.
Scrutton's first line reads: "For a variety of good and bad reasons it is difficult to ignore the name of Popper, ....". This lofty and superior manner is rather irritating. I know that the good reasons for mentioning Popper are that he is widely followed and respected by scientists and others. But what are the bad reasons? No explanation is given. We are supposed to take Scrutton's judgement on trust.
Popper believed it was almost a moral obligation for philosophers (and other intellectuals) to write as clearly as possible avoiding the kind of pompous incomprehensible prose so favoured by Hegel and post-modern followers. Roger Scrutton's writing is certainly well ahead of the pompous brigade but could be presented in simpler language.
Lastly, the presentation of Popper's ideas (which Scrutton clearly does not accept) is inaccurate. It is not the case that Popper saw the failure to find a refutation of a theory as the best guarantee of it's truth. Popper did not believe in any guarantee of a theory's truth. Neither did Popper believe that the method of conjecture and refutation has led to true hypotheses in the past and will therefore lead to true hypotheses in the future. He believed exactly what Scrutton asserts two lines later (thinking that he is refuting Popper) that "the evidence will always be insufficient to prove them [scientific hypotheses]". In addition, Popper did not believe (as Scrutton asserts) in a simple dichotomy between science and pseudo-science.
So, I am left wondering just how accurate is Scrutton's presentation of other philosphers.
Perhaps he has tried to be too comprehensive to give an accurate account of the whole of modern philosophy.