Beginning Philosophy

Beginning Philosophy

Beginning Philosophy

Beginning Philosophy


Beginning Philosophy offers students and general readers a uniquely straightforward yet challenging introduction to fundamental philosophical problems. Readily accessible to novices yet rich enough for more experienced readers, it combines serious investigation across a wide range of subjects in analytic philosophy with a clear, user-friendly writing style. Topics include logic and reasoning, the theory of knowledge, the nature of the external world, the mind/body problem, normative ethics, metaethics, free will, the existence of God, and the problem of evil. A concluding chapter outlines the worldview developed in the text and connects that view to questions about the meaning of life. The interconnection of philosophical problems and the relationship of philosophy and science are emphasized throughout. The book includes both extensive quotes from historical figures such as Aquinas, Descartes, and Hume and references to philosophically minded nonphilosophers like Dostoevski, Stephen Jay Gould, and Carl Sagan. Beginning Philosophy is designed for use in introductory philosophy courses at a wide range of institutions. It contains numerous pedagogical materials at the end of each chapter: sections called "misconceptions" list errors that introductory readers should avoid; guide questions prompt students to explain in their own words what the text is saying; review questions help students prepare for examinations; open-ended discussion questions call for independent judgment; and annotated bibliographies provide suggestions for further reading. The volume is further enhanced by a list of famous quotations from philosophers, a glossary of philosophical terms, a glossary of names of the most famous philosophers and scientists discussed in the text, and an extensive bibliography listing every work cited.


I have written this book as simply as I can to make it understandable to the complete novice to philosophy. I also want Beginning Philosophy to be forceful and provocative reading for students, instructors, and general readers. I provide the best arguments I can for all of the opposing views on the issues I consider, but this is not a neutral book. I reach my own distinctive conclusions about each of the problems. These conclusions often do not represent majority opinions among analytic philosophers, let alone all philosophers.

The text contains eleven chapters. the first chapter introduces the subject of philosophy, and the second provides as much logical methodology as I think is needed to handle the rest of the book. the logic chapter can be skipped, but readers who do so will need to refer back to chapter 2 occasionally. the next eight chapters deal with what I take to be the central issues of Western analytic philosophy—knowledge, existence, and value. Those eight chapters are self-contained and may be read in any order. the eleventh chapter sums up the worldview gotten from the rest of the book.

At the end of each chapter are several addenda that I have found helpful in my own teaching. the misconceptions sections expressly warn against errors that introductory students are prone to make. I have found that a good deal of students' difficulties in understanding philosophical reasoning lies in confusions over very basic ideas—ideas that instructors tend to take for granted. For this reason, it is valuable to attack the misconceptions directly. the guide questions are specific questions about the text (along with page numbers where the answers are found) that I assign with each reading assignment. Guide questions direct students to the key themes and prompt them to express them in their own words. the review questions for examinations are questions that students should master as preparation for tests on the chapters, thus answering the classic question, "What should I study for the exam?" the discussion questions require independent judgment, and can serve as essay exam questions, paper topics, in-class discussion material, or issues for readers to ponder on their own. Students who hope to get the most they can from the text will try their hands at the discussion questions. There are also annotated bibliographies of relevant books at the end of each chapter.

At the end of the book there is an appendix of famous philosophical quotes, along with a glossary of philosophical terms and a glossary of the names of the most important historical thinkers cited in the text. the glossary of terms is not meant to take the place of a dictionary—as with any college-level reading, students will need dictionaries.

I have tried to emphasize throughout the interconnections between philo-

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