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The Making of a Philosopher: My Journey Through Twentieth-Century Philosophy Hardcover – March 26, 2002

3.6 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Amazon.com Review

The Making of a Philosopher is an unusual book--and a welcome one. Well-known analytic philosopher Colin McGinn sets out, rather ambitiously, to write an introduction and explanation of philosophy. But instead of a dry volume bound for dusty shelves, McGinn has given us a book of philosophy, but it is philosophy as told through autobiography. By telling the story of his life--or, more precisely, his intellectual life--McGinn illuminates a number of the central topics in contemporary philosophy. He intentionally leaves out the portions of his life he deems irrelevant to his intellectual formation, but one can't help wondering how capably he can make this distinction about himself.

The book is enormously readable, or at least as readable as an introduction to analytic philosophy can hope to be. McGinn, who also writes fiction, has a gift for narrative, and the events in his life propel the reader along a clear, concise, and helpful overview of the main topics in today's philosophy departments. He is candid, occasionally self-deprecating, and funny, but above all, an able guide. Readers will discover not only the thoughts of Bertrand Russell, Saul Kripke, and Ludwig Wittgenstein but also a wonderfully honest examination of a philosopher's life worth living. --Eric de Place

From Publishers Weekly

"I had gone from underachieving jock-mod to pocket-sized intellectual in less than a year, and philosophy had to take a lot of the blame," writes Rutgers University philosophy professor Colin McGinn (The Mysterious Flame) in The Making of a Philosopher: My Journey Through Twentieth-Century Philosophy. Hoping to explain contemporary analytical philosophy without having his book "remind the reader of school," McGinn, renowned for his work on consciousness, gives a personal account of his encounters with philosophy, including his discovery of Descartes as a teenager in Blackpool, the revelation of reading Chomsky as a psychology undergraduate and his preoccupation with Wittgenstein while teaching at UCLA. He also discusses the work of mentors and colleagues like Jerry Fodor and Thomas Nagel.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1st edition (March 26, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060197927
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060197926
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.9 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,762,301 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
"I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance."--Socrates
All too often, philosophers write in an arcane, esoteric language baffling to laypersons untrained in the discipline. The layperson's reaction to reading such perceived mumbo-jumbo is typically "Say what?" or "So what?"
In The Making of a Philosopher, Colin McGinn seeks to rescue philosophy from its ivory tower, bring it down to earth, and explain it in an accessible, engaging way. He is only partially successful; some sections of his book remain tough sledding.
McGinn, 52, was born in West Hartlepool, county Durham, a small mining town in the northeast of England. He was educated at the Univ. of Manchester and Oxford Univ. He now lives in New York City and is a Professor of Philosophy at Rutgers.
An analytical philosopher dealing with language and logic, McGinn traces his philosophical lineage from Plato and Aristotle, through Locke, Berkeley, Hume, Descartes, Leibniz, and Kant, to Frege, Russell, and Wittgenstein--a tradition that emphasizes clarity, rigor, argument, theory, and truth.
"It is not a tradition," he writes, "that aims primarily for inspiration or consolation or ideology. Nor is it particurlary concerned with 'philosophy of life"--though parts of it are. This kind of philosophy is more like science than religion, more like mathematics than poetry--though it is neither science nor mathematics."
As an academic philosopher, McGinn has been interested mainly in epistemology, linguistic analysis, and cognitive science. Alas, in The Making of a Philosopher, he does not even mention my two favorite philosophers, Nietzsche and Schopenhauer, nor does he deal with Eastern philosophy, other representatives of Continental philosophy, or post-modern philosophy.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is both a memoir and yet another introduction to philosophy. McGinn tries to come at introducing philosophy in a different way: through his autobiography and through the issues that prompted his interests in philosophy, the ideas he found interesting as a young man studying philosophy, and what he has thought about at particular times in his career as an academic.
The results are rather mixed. You don't get much of substance here, and so you should look somewhere else if you're searching for a serious and comprehensive introduction to philosophy. But this book does cover enough ground to give you a taste of what current academic philosophizing is like. It includes a breezy, straightforward picture of the life of an academic along with brief sketches of lots of interesting philosophical issues. Furthermore, there's not a lot of history covered here; the emphasis is on a few historically important philosophical issues and the more striking arguments and positions that have been defended in contemporary analytic philosophy. So this really gives you an account of what professional life is like for people working in contemporary Anglo-American analytic philosophy, the tradition in which McGinn works.
It appears McGinn intends the reader to come to philosophy in the same way he did. We go from the vague, somewhat confused ideas and concerns that first led McGinn to philosophy to immersion in ideas and concerns of current-day professional philosophers. Now, this emphasis on the intellectual development might seem too limited a perspective from which to introduce a subject. But this isn't such a problem here since specialization isn't as extreme in philosophy as it is in other parts of the academy.
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Format: Hardcover
On page 222 the author explains his reputation as a tough reviewer of other books. I'd love to imitate him, but cannot avoid giving him five stars, for five reasons.

First, I literally read this book at one sitting - OK lying down on my bed, for four hours 5 minutes, not even one trip to the john. Credit for page-turnability must go to the writing; but also to fine contributions by the editorial and design teams.

Second, accuracy. He describes well the Oxford I knew as a B. Phil (Philosophy) student a few years earlier than him, also from a non-Oxbridge background.

Third, determination. He was not from an academic family, and his first high school did not expect its students to go on to college. But once he got the thinking bug, there was no holding him back.

Fourth, stimulation. This is not a crash-course in philosophy. However, enough is said sufficiently clearly on metaphysics - oddly, a word never mentioned - and on moral philosophy to stir my flaccid philosophical loins.

Fifth, anecdotal warmth. I enjoyed the accounts of philosophers behaving generously or pettily. It's a book that humanizes philosophy. He had his spats with the Oxford establishment - and Rutgers has been the beneficiary

For those with an interest in cross-cultural studies there are nice reminders that driving on the left is not the only habit that Brits need to correct if they want to become good Cis-Atlantic citizens.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a great book but I felt something cold inside of me while reading it. I don't know if it is cultural (the modern English philosopher's fear of displaying passion) but I had the feeling to talk to a plumber who developed expertise in abstract concepts and their relationships just as if they were small plumbing problems fitting together under a generalized plumbing theory. Perhaps philosophy needs to be treated like that, just like engineering --but not for me. At least I give myself the illusion of doing something more...literary.
Colin McGINN teaches us that we need nevertheless to master the art of clarity of both thought and exposition. He write with perfect clarity: a clear, unburdened, unaffected, UnFrench UnGerman philosophical prose.
The book has a presentation of the Kripke idea of naming as necessity of such clarity that I felt actually smart reading it.
Other than that there is the feeling of drabness in part of the book of the type I got once at a conference in an industrial city West of London.
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