Thinking It Through: An Introduction to Contemporary Philosophy

Thinking It Through: An Introduction to Contemporary Philosophy

Thinking It Through: An Introduction to Contemporary Philosophy

Thinking It Through: An Introduction to Contemporary Philosophy

Synopsis

Here is a thorough, vividly written introduction to contemporary philosophy and some of the most crucial questions of human existence: the nature of mind and knowledge, the status of moral claims, the existence of God, the role of science, and the mysteries of language, among them. In Thinking It Through, esteemed philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah shows us what it means to "do" philosophy in our time and why it should matter to anyone who wishes to live a more thoughtful life. Opposing the common misconceptions that being a philosopher means espousing a set of philosophical beliefs, or being a follower of a particular thinker, Appiah argues that "the result of philosophical exploration is not the end of inquiry in a settled opinion, but a mind resting more comfortably among many possibilities, or else the reframing of the question, and a new inquiry." Thinking It Through is organized around eight central topics--mind, knowledge, language, science, morality, politics, law, and metaphysics. It traces how philosophers in the past have considered each subject (how Hobbes, Wittgenstein, and Frege, for example, approached the problem of language) and then explores some of the major questions that still engage philosophers today. More important, Appiah shows us not only what philosophers have thought but how they think, giving us examples we might use in our own attempts to navigate the complex issues that confront any reflective person in the 21st century. Filled with concrete examples of how philosophers work and written in the liveliest prose, Thinking It Through guides readers through the process of philosophical reflection and enlarges our understanding of the central questions of human life.

Excerpt

People come to philosophy by many different routes. The physicist Schrödinger, who developed some of the key concepts of modern quantum theory, was drawn into philosophy by the profoundly puzzling nature of the world he and others discovered when they started to examine things on the scale of the atom. One of my friends came to philosophy when, as a teenager, he was first developing adult relationships of friendship and love. He was perplexed about how easy it was to think you understood somebody and then discover that you had not understood her at all. This led him to wonder whether we ever really know what is going on in other people's minds. And many people come to philosophy when they are trying, as we say, to “find themselves”: to make sense of their lives and to decide who they are.

If, for these or any other reasons, you come to have an interest in philosophy, it is natural to turn to the works of great philosophers. But for most people the content of these works is rather a shock. Instead of offering direct answers to these questions—What is physical reality really like? Can we ever be sure we know what other people are thinking? Who am I?—a philosopher is likely to start with questions that seem to him or her more basic than these … but which may seem to others far less interesting. Instead of beginning by asking what we can know about other people's thoughts, a philosopher is likely to start by asking what it is to know anything at all—thus beginning with epistemology, which is the philosophical examination of the nature of knowledge. Despite the natural disappointment it produces, I think that starting with these fundamental questions makes sense. Let me suggest an image that might help you to see why.

Imagine you are lost in a large old city in Africa or Asia or Europe. Every way you turn there is interest and excitement. But . . .

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