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Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?: 23 Questions from Great Philosophers [Kindle Edition]

Leszek Kolakowski
3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Can nature make us happy? How can we know anything? What is justice? Why is there evil in the world? What is the source of truth? Is it possible for God not to exist? Can we really believe what we see? There are questions that have intrigued the world's great thinkers over the ages, which still touch a chord in all of us today. They are questions that can teach us about the way we live, work, relate to each other and see the world. Here Leszek Kolakowski explores the essence of these ideas, introducing figures from Socrates to Thomas Aquinas, Descartes to Nietzsche, and concentrating on one single important philosophical question from each of them. Whether reflecting on good and evil, truth and beauty, faith and the soul, or free will and consciousness, Leszek Kolakowski shows that these timeless ideas remain at the very core of our existence.

Editorial Reviews


"New York Review of Books"
"A slight and deceptively modest volume, "Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?" is more than a short guide to the history of philosophy.... Written with a graceful simplicity that belies its profundity, this is a book that reconnects philosophy with perennial questions.... Kolakowski's work is exemplary and indispensable."

"A discrete, dialectical wonder, a high-brow, low-key little volume that's strangely synchronous: backward-looking, forward-thinking, and--best of all--wholly free of both condescension and commonplaceness."

Richard Neuhaus, "First Things"
"Each little essay is a masterpiece of exquisitely refined intellectual summary and judgment. One may not always agree, but, in disagreement, one is prompted to think again."

"New York Times"
"With admirable clarity and brevity, Mr. Kolakowski puts these enduring questions within arm's reach of the general reader. If your New Year's resolution is to become a better, wiser person, this may be the place to start."

About the Author

Leszek Kolakowski is currently senior research fellow at All Souls College, Oxford. He has also taught at the University of Chicago, McGill University, UC Berkeley, and Yale University. He is the author of numerous books, including his masterpiece and magnum opus Main Currents of Marxism, published in three volumes in the 1970s and recently reissued in a single volume by Norton. He is the recipient of many major international awards, including the Jerusalem Prize for the Freedom of the Individual in Society (2007), the Library of Congress John W. Kluge Prize in the Human Sciences awarded for lifetime achievement in the humanistic and social sciences (2004), a MacArthur ("genius") Fellowship (1983) as well as the German Booksellers Peace Prize (1977), the Erasmus Prize (1980) and the Veillon Foundation European Prize for the Essay (1980). He is a Fellow of the British Academy, a fellow of the Académie Universelle des Cultures, and a Foreign Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He lives in Oxford, England.

Product Details

  • File Size: 1227 KB
  • Print Length: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (November 12, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0013TRS48
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #773,291 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Windows into Philosophy January 23, 2008
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Most of us would probably pick up a book like this because we are looking for answers about the meaning of life, or something like that. But instead of answers, Professor Kolakowski offers more questions. He introduces us to one thought or concept from each of 23 philosophers and then, in Socratic style, gives the reader some questions to answer.

This little book is both challenging and enjoyable to read, a real thought-provoker.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A delightful little book September 14, 2009
This small book of brief philosophical portraits is great fun. Important to emphasize, however, the smallness of the book and the brief nature of the portraits provided. As Kolakowski points out in his introduction to the book: "This little book is not meant as some sort of super-condensed textbook, encyclopaedia or dictionary. If a student attempted to sit an exam on the basis of these essays, he would be disappointed: he would fail." That caveat notwithstanding, these little essays (none of them longer than 10 pages) provide succinct snapshots of most of the great philosophers in the European tradition. Not so much a book of philosophy, it's a book about philosophers and their "great ideas", each presentation gets to the heart of the philosopher's key ideas, and each concludes with provocative questions for readers to ponder.
For some hard to fathom reason, Basic Books chose to eliminate 7 of Kolakowski's portraits, portraits that can be found in the Polish original. The seven portraits left on the cutting room floor are those of Aristotle, Meister Eckhart, Nicolas of Cusa, Hobbes, Heidegger, Jaspers and Plotinus. Chiefly for that reason (what in the world were they thinking?), this volume loses a star.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gritty and provocative September 12, 2010
This small book properly can be called a "diamond in the rough." For all rolled into one, is a clever yet understandable analysis of philosophy, "Cold War politics" and religion. In fact, here we get to see what philosophers do at the office each day. They comb history for the arguments of the masters and then supplement them with the latest contemporary findings and meld them together to solve the problems of today.

Leszek Kolakowski, once one of Poland's most important philosophers - that is until he was banned from teaching and forced to immigrate to the West -- uses 23 questions here as a platform for probing more deeply into key questions that sit at the center of modern philosophy generally, and at the intersection of rationality and metaphysics in particular, to analyze the arguments of many traditional philosophers. All of this analysis is put to good use as they each prove to be pivotal to understanding the finer points of contemporary Western philosophy.

In each essay a wide range of issues that interest the author are examined and analyzed. And although some of the discussions are clearer and better argued (and thus were more valuable to this reader than others), they all are clear and understandable and coalesce around the very interesting issue of the nature and rationality of the existence of god, therefore the title of the book. Using the history of philosophy and the essays of a slew of philosophers as a guide to established Western philosophical literature, the author combs history to come to some rather unexpected conclusions. The most important of these becomes what could be considered the running theme of the book: that there is an irreducible religious presence in many intellectual arguments, in Western, as well as in non-Western societies.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, but Incomplete May 27, 2008
This is a relatively quick and interesting read. I am amazed that the editor cut the writer's essays on Aristotle (which would have demostrated the author's thoughts on the evolution of Scrates' and and Plato's philosophy), and also an essay on Meister Eckhart, one of my favorite spiritual thinkers. But worth the time to read to be exposed to the philosophy of some well-known thinkers, and some other more obscure thinkers over 2,500 years of human history.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Don't buy this edition January 30, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The original edition (Penguin, UK) had 30 essays, but this one had 7 of them, WITHOUT PREVIOUS ALERT, cut off!

I want to know what does the editor think of us, customers!
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22 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A great introduction/review of western philosophy April 23, 2008
By Ty
This is an excellent book that I just couldn't quite give five stars to. First, let me tell explain the two things I found problematic with it.

The "God of Christianity" is featured far too much here. It necessarily dominates the discussions of many of his selections for study (Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, etc.), but he manages to drag Christianity into discussions where it seems completely unnecessary as well. Why is this needed (or even sound) in a book which is a sampling of philosophy? It almost, but not quite, gets to the point where it becomes a serious flaw with the book rather than just an annoyance.

In the introduction, the author states that he will concentrate on one idea in the thought of each philosopher, as trying to summarize each in a book such as this would be impossible. Given the natural space limitations of a book like this, that makes sense. But he nevertheless takes up space on a few of his selections by making controversial generalizations - not focusing on one idea - and then not having to defend these generalizations because of the space constraint. His treatment of Nietzsche was particularly glaring in this sense.

Nevertheless, this book is still a fine introduction to some of the problems which have been wrestled with during the history of western philosophy. And he does have a very nice way of fleshing out questions that are still interesting today. Take a look at his section on Plato for a good sample. Overall a fun and interesting read.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Heavy subject matter but light reading
The author does a noteworthy job of seeking the answer to this question of all questions through a series of very readable interviews with noted thinkers who have something novel... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Richard Colestock
4.0 out of 5 stars a quick cure
i only scanned it but sent it to my niece telling her that if she read this she could forget wasting her time reading more philosophy.. Read more
Published 9 months ago by J. craig
4.0 out of 5 stars A solid introduction to philosophy
This book was used as a text in an Introduction to Philosophy class and I think it did a great job of getting the main points of these philosophers across. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Scott Williams
3.0 out of 5 stars not what everybody thinks
We are met on the battlefield of a great war. It was a poetic slaughter. Aristotle had to attempt a science of everything, but the essay on Aristotle was left out so the book could... Read more
Published on August 27, 2011 by Bruce P. Barten
1.0 out of 5 stars Don't buy this Book!
I bought the book because its title is the main sentence of Heidegger's great essay on metaphysics.
How can Basic Books sell it without Kolakowski's essay on Heidegger? Read more
Published on January 15, 2010 by Eric H. Edwards
2.0 out of 5 stars Nothing new here
If you are really interested in exploring philosophy and critical questions from philosophy i suggest that you avoid this book. Read more
Published on December 4, 2009 by T. Kepler
3.0 out of 5 stars I Got It After The Third Essay
This book was more than disappointing, it was repetitious and very slanted. I'm not sure why I got it; I think I saw a reference in some other book. Read more
Published on November 12, 2009 by sbissell3
2.0 out of 5 stars Sincerely Wish It Was Better - But It Isn't
The problem with this book is that it is not good reading.

I am an omnivorous reader who reads everything. Read more
Published on April 26, 2009 by Roberto Motta
5.0 out of 5 stars Whay is there something Rather than Nothing . . . . .
The book came very quickly and at a price cheaper than advertized in the magazine that reviewed it.
Published on November 2, 2008 by David I. Shoulders
4.0 out of 5 stars A Non-Philosopher's Roadmap
Very helpful in explaining the development of Western Civilization's reasoning on the meaning of life; is there a God; does man have free will; etc. Read more
Published on June 4, 2008 by William D. Macgillivray
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