Those beginning the study of philosophy, whether on their own or in, say, an introductory college course in the subject, face many and varied challenges. One primary among them is that of the choice of the philosophical texts to be read. It turns out, of course, that often the choice is made to start by reading an explicitly introductory text in philosophy, as opposed to reading primary sources, that is, texts written by major thinkers in philosophy and its history. There are reasons both for and against beginning with an introductory text, reasons that demand discussion. I will, however, leave their discussion to another time and place, and proceed with the initiative at hand.
The initiative is that of offering via this blog: first, the careful exposition of some of the best and most visible introductory philosophical texts available; and, second, the complementing and the correcting of them as called for by the needs of those using them in their study of philosophy. That is, even these philosophical texts stand in need of exposition and of being complemented and corrected; unless this is done, those relying on them will find it more difficult than it needs to be to achieve the understanding they seek of philosophy and of the questions and problems raised in philosophy and their answers and solutions.
The texts to be considered within the initiative include:
Thomas Nagel, What Does It All Mean? A Very Short Introduction to Philosophy (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987).
Simon Blackburn, Think. A Compelling Introduction to Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013 ).
Roger Scruton, An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Philosophy (New York: Penguin Books, 1999 ).
I will start with Nagel’s book. Others may be added to the list should I come to see them as having an importance comparable to that of the three just listed.
Now, the three authors are all philosophers of significant standing; Nagel, for example, is the author of the important and, in some circles, controversial Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012). The three introductions to philosophy can, then, stand as introductions to the philosophies of the three philosophers themselves. Accordingly, the posts to come should be of interest not only to those who are beginning the study of philosophy with one of the texts at hand and those who are assigning them, but also to those who have a specific interest in the philosophies of messieurs Nagel, Blackburn, or Scruton. No, I’ll go further: they should be of interest of any who are interested in philosophy, at least if I deliver the goods.
All three of the books are available through, of course, Amazon.com and elsewhere; none are forbiddingly expensive. I invite you to get a copy of Nagel’s What Does It All Mean? and to join in its critically appreciative reading.
Until next time.