It is easy to feel frightened at the beginning of the twenty-first century. And among the most frightening things are the minds of other people. The beliefs and faiths that move people to behave as they do are opaque to others; as we read or watch the news, lunacy together with mutual suspicion and contempt seem to be the order of the day.
If only people would be sensible. If only they would submit to the order of reason. This has been the lament of philosophers for millennia, and in times like these it becomes the lament of more than mere philosophers. But it is to the philosophical tradition that we have to look if we want to know what is required to be sensible, or what the order of reason might be.
Unfortunately, when we do look to the tradition, the picture is confused and convoluted, and it may not give us much help. This is particularly true if we look to the recent picture. Many of the philosophers I talk about in this book have been suspicious of the whole project of epistemology–of saying which intellectual habits deserve respect, and which ones do not. Words like ‘relativism’ and ‘postmodernism’ signal a resulting culture in which ‘anything goes’, and although this itself is an object of suspicion to innocent outsiders, they are unlikely to understand them well enough to oppose them effectively. This book tries to help us to do better. It is therefore something of a guide for the perplexed.
In writing it I have many sources to acknowledge. The material was presented as a set of eight Gifford lectures at the University of Glasgow in the spring of 2004, and my first debt is to the Trustees of that excellent fund, and to the questioning audience. Lord Gifford’s will is a