Using a question-led approach, What is this thing called Philosophy? introduces students to the core areas of philosophy. We spent five minutes with editor Duncan Pritchard to find out more about the book.
I must have been an odd child, since I decided very early on that I wanted to be an academic (or possibly a librarian), rather than a train driver, footballer, pop star and so forth, which were the kinds of things other kids in my school wanted to be. This is particularly strange given that I come from a very working class background, and so had never met an academic, or indeed met anyone who (so far as I knew) had a degree (back then it was unusual for primary school teachers to be educated to this level). So quite how this idea took root I don’t know, but somehow I must have formed the impression that this life of the mind—of scholarship—would suit me (which it does, luckily enough). Like most people, I didn’t study any philosophy until I got to university, but as soon as I came into contact with it I was hooked. I think it was because of all the academic subjects it was the most academic, in that it is solely about ideas. Fortunately, I didn’t realise when I made this decision how darned hard it is to become a professional philosopher, particularly if you don’t have a financial safety net to fall back on (wanting to be a pop star or footballer might have been marginally more realistic). So I blundered forward, increasingly aware of the danger of falling flat on my face, and somehow ended up making it into academia (more by luck than judgement, if I’m honest).
Philosophy engages with perennial questions that go back to ancient times and the very birth of civilisation (and I don’t think it is at all a coincidence that philosophy and civilisation began at the same time). The exploration of these questions is a vital part of living an examined life, and that’s why philosophy will always be important.
Short answer: over the years I have become very good at twisting arms! Nearly all of the contributors are people I know, and all of them have produced work in their field that I admire. I knew that so long as I had good people on board, then the book would be terrific (which it is).
I’ve constructed the book in such a way that it should take the reader on a very rewarding journey through all the main areas of philosophy. We begin by thinking about what philosophy is. We then plunge into some topics (ethics, political philosophy, aesthetics) where the reader might already have some views, so that they have a way into the issues being discussed. Hopefully, this will hook them, and inspire them to read on and engage with some of the more abstract areas of philosophy, such as epistemology, philosophy of mind, metaphysics, and philosophy of science. Having covered this ground, the reader should be well-placed to get stuck into the final two topics, which draw upon several areas of philosophy: philosophy of religion and the meaning of life. The latter topic is rarely found in introductory textbooks, but I think it’s vital to have it in there, as it’s an issue that is so centrally entwined with philosophy. I think it’s also important that this topic comes at the end of the book rather than the beginning, since that ensures that we can deal with it in some depth, rather than at a purely superficial level. There are also lots of other features of the book that will make it a great way to learn about philosophy. I’ve written a piece at the end on writing good philosophy essays, there’s a glossary of terms used, and every chapter has a summary, study questions, and lists of annotated readings (broken down into introductory, advanced, and freely available on the internet). We’ve tried to make the writing as accessible as possible, and the text is regularly broken up with text boxes devoted to interesting side-topics. Finally, we have an incredibly comprehensive companion webpage for the book that offers lots of additional supporting resources. Basically—although I am of course biased in this regard!—I think this is probably the optimal textbook for learning about philosophy.
I hope the reader gets not only a sense of what philosophy is, but also a sense of its crucial importance to living a good life, a life of flourishing (as the ancients termed it).
The easy way to find out what philosophy is all about.
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