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54 of 57 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Making philosophy relevant
Neither a history of philosophy nor a dry, scholarly work, Simon Blackburn's book will appeal to those who have some knowledge of the subject and want an up-to-date primer on the big questions in philosophy. Using references to and quotations from the 'big names', Blackburn nevertheless ensures that the topics are always related to real life (including a hilarious...
Published on February 4, 2000 by R S Nair

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201 of 219 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars okay for a first book
There seem to be two main kinds of "introduction to philosophy" books out there. The first kind, like Anthony Gottlieb's The Dream of Reason, Will Durant's Story of Philosophy, and Bertrand Russell's A History of Western Philosophy, are not actually introductions to philosophy but introductions to the history of philosophy. After reading several of these I...
Published on January 2, 2002 by Justus Pendleton


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201 of 219 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars okay for a first book, January 2, 2002
By 
Justus Pendleton (Colorado Springs, CO United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
There seem to be two main kinds of "introduction to philosophy" books out there. The first kind, like Anthony Gottlieb's The Dream of Reason, Will Durant's Story of Philosophy, and Bertrand Russell's A History of Western Philosophy, are not actually introductions to philosophy but introductions to the history of philosophy. After reading several of these I have become convinced that while they have their place, they are not a good introduction to philosophy. When was the last time you took an introductory science class that focused on the history of science rather than science itself?
The second kind of introduction is unfortunately much rarer. This kind attempts to explain the ideas that philosophy attacks and some of the arguments surrounding the various theses. Anthony Flew's Introduction to Western Philosophy is one of these (unfortunately it also suffers from a perverse desire to keep some kind of chronological narrative and is far too dense for an introduction). Simon Blackburn's Think is yet another. I think this is a much more fruitful approach for someone actually interested in an introduction to philosophy rather than merely learning how to drop names at parties to sound educated.
Think has much to commend it. It clearly delineates a number of key topics. It attempts to show a back and forth of the various ideas held on these topics. For the most part, the writing is light, the explanations easy to understand. There are a number of brief excerpts from actual source material along with commentary on them to help us understand what is meant and how it might fit in to the modern world. Blackburn starts with Descartes and the modern age of philosophy rather than boring us with page upon page of medieval or ancient philosophy that is almost impossible to understand in an introduction to philosophy because of the sheer amount of context such material requires to be understood.
The downside is that Blackburn, despite his protestations to the contrary, doesn't do a very even handed job of presenting differences of opinions. He is quite clearly an atheist of the liberal English analytic school. Even if you agree with his positions -- and I do for the most part -- you still wish for a slight more equitable treatment in an introduction. This bias informs most of his commentary; there is a lot of Hume and virtually no Kant, and no other German idealists at all. I understand that the book is a slim volume and cannot be comprehensive, even as an introduction, of the various schools of modern philosophical thought. However, Blackburn spends far more time defending his favorite points of view than he does ones he disapproves of; the chapter on God is the most egregious example of this. However, as long as the reader uses some critical thinking I think the book is still useful as a KIND of introduction. With the caveat that the reader doesn't stop here and instead continues on to learn more about the viewpoints Blackburn gives short shrift. Perhaps there is no such thing as a perfect one-book introduction to a field of study like philosophy.
There are few other smaller complaints about the book. The chapter on logic was one of the weakest. The explanations were often hard to follow. Only inductive logic is mentioned, despite the predominant role deductive logic has had for the past several thousand years (again, I think this is an example of Blackburn's bias showing). The final chapter, however, was by far the weakest. It was almost entirely Blackburn's personal opinion. Unlike every other chapter in the book it is devoid of references to major philosophers and excerpts from their works. It feels completely out of place given the rest of the book. Also it would be nice if Blackburn had given a recommended reading list. After all, if he has done his job the reader should now hunger to read more about philosophy. But where to go? Are we to dive straight into the source material? But which Locke do we start with? Or perhaps Kant comes first? There is no guidance from Blackburn on this relatively important issue for the self-guided neophyte.
In all, this is a decent introduction, if not a great one. It's strongest point are that it is easy to read, which is a very strong point indeed in an introduction to philosophy.
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54 of 57 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Making philosophy relevant, February 4, 2000
Neither a history of philosophy nor a dry, scholarly work, Simon Blackburn's book will appeal to those who have some knowledge of the subject and want an up-to-date primer on the big questions in philosophy. Using references to and quotations from the 'big names', Blackburn nevertheless ensures that the topics are always related to real life (including a hilarious reference to Microsoft when discussing the Problem of Evil), showing both the contemporary relevance of philosophy, and the current 'consensus' on the topics in question. A must read for non-philosophers interested in philosophy, or anyone interested in rejecting the 'unexamined life'.
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87 of 96 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Don't let that first review keep you from this book!, January 24, 2000
By 
ChrisNY (Upstate NY USA) - See all my reviews
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I was looking for a "primer" on philosophy...who said what, when and so on. Though this wasn't the book I was looking for, I found it engrossing and interesting.
After trying to wade through Durant's pompous prose in "A Story of Philosophy," Blackburn's straightforward style was very refreshing. Like a good novel, I couldn't put it down and sometimes jumped to the end of the end of a chapter just to peek at the author's conclusion. Blackburn never really gave definitive answers to life's great questions, but that made it even more satisfying.
For a novice, like myself, the terminology was a little confusing and I'm still not sure who was associated with what school of thought (I wish I had had his dictionary to read along with this), but it left me wanting to know and read more.
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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars This is not an Idiot's Guide to Philosophy, August 6, 2001
By 
Zeldock (Pennsylvania USA) - See all my reviews
Blackburn takes a different approach to introducing philosophy: rather than provide a chronological survey (a la Will Durant) or a cartoon-&-sidebar summary (a la the Dummies and Idiot books), he focuses on eight of the most important philosophical problems and invites the reader to work through them, with the author's help and guidance from some of the leading thinkers in the Western tradition. He is by and large successful in this effort, pitching his discussion to the "intelligent" beginner. By the end of the book, you have both observed philosophers at work and taken a crack at philosophy yourself.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable introduction to philosophy's main haunts, August 21, 2000
By 
Peter (London, UK) - See all my reviews
This is a thoughtful, easy to follow book introducing some of the major topics of philosophical thought.
The author does not go into a great deal of depth on any particular area, and mixes his own interpretation and opinions in with that of the greats. This makes for an easy read and successfully perked my curiosity to find out more.
If you want a solid, thorough treatment of the topic you would be best looking elsewhere. On the other hand, if you are interested in some of philosophy's big questions and need something to ponder then this is an enjoyable read.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thinking is not as easy as it once was, December 2, 2002
Blackburn has written this book as a defense of philosophy as a practical tool for making sense of the world in which we live. To be perfectly frank making sense of the world is a relatively difficult task.
Rather than discuss the history of philosophy Mr. Blackburn turns his attention to the topics of philosophy: Does free exist, is there a god, how do we know what we know.
Over its two thousand year-history, the philosophical tradition hasn't come a long way toward answering these big questions. What it has done, however, is give thinkers methods for revealing obvious fallacies in a whole range of arguments.
"Think" is designed to give the general reader access to some of the methods and ideas developed by thinkers from Descartes onward. What the book does not do is give the reader any prefabricated answers to these Big questions. Mr. Blackburn is less interested in giving us the answers than he is in showing us how to approach the questions. Although he occasionally offers his own opinion, he is careful to show that there is no easy way to access philosophical truth.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best single-volume introduction to Western philosophy, November 12, 2009
By 
Michael Meadon (Johannesburg, South Africa) - See all my reviews
"Think" by Simon Blackburn is, in my opinion, the best single-volume introduction to Western philosophy, or, as Blackburn puts it, `conceptual engineering'. Covering all the major topics in academic philosophy - free will and determinism, the existence of God, morality, rationality and reasoning, epistemology, the self, the existence of the external world and more - Blackburn gently and perspicaciously explains the important thinkers and their important thoughts. Suitable both for the uninitiated and for those with philosophical training (I've read it three times, and, despite four years of formal training, benefited each time), I cannot recommend it enough. Indeed, on Huxley's principle that you should know something about everything and everything about something, I pretty much think everyone should read it. Atheists and skeptics, for one (um, two?), will come away with a significantly more sophisticated understanding of the fundamental philosophical issues.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Think!, July 21, 2008
This review is from: Think: A Compelling Introduction to Philosophy (Paperback)
Blackburn thoroughly and succinctly provides an overview of the major problems of modern (Western) philosophy in a clear and evenhanded manner. He challenges the reader to consider these problems without overwhelming or patronizing him. The reader is given solid ground from which he or she can further investigate issues of particular interest. Notes and bibliography are particularly helpful. I intend to use this volume as a springboard for a college-level introductory philosophy course.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Good Read!, June 1, 2001
Gertrude Stein observed of Ezra Pound that he was a village explainer, and very good to have around if one happened to be a village. Simon Blackburn merits the same level of praise. This book's stated intention is to give readers some sense of how philosophers approach the really big questions of knowledge, free will, God, reasoning, and so on. That's a tall order. Think is better appreciated as a chrestomathy of thought-provoking quotations and asides. The book's strongest points are its useful tips on formulating and analyzing arguments. Incidentally, the politically correct reader will be delighted at Blackburn's bows to gender-neutral language, his digs at the religious right and his sly elbow in the dead ribs of Edmund Burke. We [...] recommend this book for anyone interested in philosophy but short of time, or merely out to impress friends, colleagues and clients by dropping names of celebrity philosophers into conversations or sales pitches.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Getting started in Philosophy, February 22, 2010
By 
Leonardo Alves (Houghton, Michigan USA) - See all my reviews
I have never taken a formal class in philosophy but have for a long time been interested in the problems and methods studied by it. So I had to experiment with introductory books including Blackburn's Think. I present here a brief review of the book along with other ideas for the interested reader.

Think is an introduction to philosophy organized around the following main philosophical themes::

1 - Knowledge - Descartes' evil demon and the "cogito";
2 - Mind - if I am not a brain in a vat what can I tell about your conciouness;
3 - Free Will - versus determinism;
4 - The Self - souls and credulism;
5 - God - ontological, cosmological, intelligent design and miracle based arguments;
6 - Reasoning - language and logic;
7 - The World - a wrap up.

Each theme is discussed in a chapter supported by quotations from classical philosophical texts from Descartes, Spinoza, Kant, Schopenhauer, Wittgenstein, among others. Each chapter increases in complexity to the point that, in many cases, I had to go back a few pages and re-read entire sections to make sure I was following the thought exercises.

I struggled the most across the "Self" chapter, and by going back a couple of pages at a time I probably ended up having read the entire chapter three times or more. Not that the chapter was specially convoluted but because the ideas and thought exercises were very difficult to me. The best chapter in my opinion was the one about God which evaluated the ontological, cosmological, intelligent design and miracle based arguments for and against God's existence.

I believe the choice of quotations, the didactical construction of explanations and the pace of the book were all very good but I was not too impressed by the quality of the prose. So my conclusion is that it is a competent though not memorable book. Since it is slightly more expensive than other introductory tomes please consider these other ideas::

1 - Sophie's World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy by Jostein Gaarder - An excellent introduction more appropriate for teenagers and young adults (I read it when I was about 20 years old);

2 - Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance - An Inquire into Values by Robert Pirsig - Criticized by some, loved by many. Could be the Sophie for grownups (I read it last year at 36 years old);

3 - The Story of Philosophy: The Lives and Opinions of the World's Greatest Philosophers by Will Durant - This is my all time favourite. Will Durant, the historian, has an admirable prose;

4 - History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell - History of philosophy by a leading philosopher and mathematician and also an engaging writer.

If you decide to go with "Think" you may want to check out as a companion book "The Blank Slate" by Steven Pinker. The Blank Slate is a book on behavioural science, it carries a praise by Simon Blackburn and maybe not coincidentally both books discuss the same main themes but, at times, from different perspectives making for a good complement. The Blank Slate is a five star book and was a Pulitzer finalist. I have written a review on it.

Leonardo Alves - Brazil - 2010
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Think: A Compelling Introduction to Philosophy
Think: A Compelling Introduction to Philosophy by Simon Blackburn (Paperback - March 22, 2013)
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