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Surely not a philosophy book?
on January 11, 2004
After reading the reviews here I couldn't wait to get started on this book. But when I did, I was intensely disappointed. The book is shelved in my local bookshop under "Philosophy". Its title describes it as applying "philosophy" to life. But it seemed to me to bear no resemblance at all to a work of philosophy, in that all it really consists of is a series of unargued assertions.
In fact I happen to agree with a lot of these assertions. It's not that I'm a rabid right-winger who is opposed to the author's standpoint. The problem is that the conceptual underpinning of that standpoint - which forms the starting point for the assertions in the book - isn't mentioned at all. And I expect more of a book which is marketed as "philosophy" than for it simply to parrot back my own beliefs at me without any reasoned argument.
For instance, at page 142 (in the chapter on poverty), the book confidently states that: "One of the measures of a good society is how it treats the poor".
This is an assertion with which most of us (I guess) are going to agree. But surely it marks the conclusion of a philosophical argument about the nature of good, the nature of society etc, and the beginning of a practical argument about how to put that conclusion into effect? The author doesn't give any indication of the underlying philosophical argument, only the resulting practical one.
I don't think this cop-out is justified by the title: if you're applying philosophy to life, don't you need to have some idea of the ingredients in that philosophy, and why you've come to the conclusions you have? Surely "practical application" requires understanding, and thus a good grounding of reasoned argument?
The book seemed more to me like a selection of political opinion pieces in a newspaper than a philosophical work: and on looking at the introduction I see that's because that is exactly what it is. (It started life as a series of articles in the Guardian newspaper.) It's moderately interesting, but no more philosophy than an Observer editorial is.
I'm sure there are better practical guides out there to the "application of philosopy to life". I seem to remember a book by Peter Singer, called "Practical Ethics" which hit the spot. And hasn't Mary Warnock written in this area?
If you think you want a challenge, rather than an unargued re-assertion of your own views, I'd have a good look at this in a bookshop before buying, because it may well not be what you're after.