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Thinking It Through: An Introduction to Contemporary Philosophy

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ISBN-13: 978-0195134582
ISBN-10: 0195134583
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What legal and political circumstances justify civil disobedience? When does lying qualify as a moral act? It is by probing a wide range of such questions that a Princeton professor demonstrates what it means to do philosophy. Hoping to discipline readers in the systematic analysis of inquiries, Appiah shows the uninitiated how to weigh alternative perspectives and test the internal consistency of arguments. The alternative perspectives scrutinized include those of classic thinkers (including Plato, Descartes, and Kant), and the conundrums surveyed include many central to the philosophic tradition (such as the mind-body problem), but readers quickly learn how rigorous philosophical thinking can guide them through a thicket of contemporary issues not yet in the textbooks. Beginners who can't tell a "counterfactual" from a "foundational belief" soon find themselves understanding how such technical terms can tighten their reasoning about language, morality, politics, and other topics. By the time they finish the book, many readers will discover that their timid curiosity about philosophy has grown into a bold willingness to explore the professional literature. Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"This book is excellent, one of the best of its kind that I've seen. It accomplishes what few general introductions to philosophy even attempt: to integrate contemporary discussion and argument into a treatment of our perennial problems without losing sight of their roots."--David Sosa, University of Texas at Austin

"The distinguishing mark of this work, which will set it clearly apart from all the best introductory books of this kind, is the way it makes deep and insightful connections among the various topics. It introduces the reader to all the main problems of contemporary philosophy, and makes philosophical concepts come alive in systematic exploration of the deep thoughts and difficult arguments to which Appiah gives lucid access."--Neil Tennant, The Ohio State University

"An extraordinarily successful introduction to philosophy: wise, witty and deeply engaging."--Paul Boghossian, New York University


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (November 6, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195134583
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195134582
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 1 x 5.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #186,399 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Kwame Anthony Appiah, the president of the PEN American Center, is the author of The Ethics of Identity, Thinking It Through: An Introduction to Contemporary Philosophy, The Honor Code and the prize-winning Cosmopolitanism. Raised in Ghana and educated in England, he has taught philosophy on three continents and is currently a professor at Princeton University. He maintains a website at

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33 of 34 people found the following review helpful By C. Fisher on May 20, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Philosophy is a subject that most people feel intrigued by but for many reasons most people never get involved with. I have been surrounded by philosophy students for many years and I have always wanted to learn more but was put off because I didn't know where to start, there is so much new language to learn and it just seems like an impenetrable academic subject into which would be foolish to venture unguided.
'Thinking it Through' manages to start at the very beginning of the process of philosophy without dumbing down. Each of the nine chapters (covering Mind, Knowledge, Science, Morality, Politics, Law, Metaphysics and a chapter on Philosophy as a subject) begin with the discussion of a premise on which the rest of the chapter is based. In the chapter on the Mind the discussion revolves around whether a computer could ever be considered to have a mind. This initial question is then slowly broken down into the major philosophical arguments. Each is dealt with in turn, in a clear rational manner that is easy to understand. Different arguments are compared and evaluated. By the end of each chapter you have learnt so much and gone through so many arguments and discussions that you have almost forgotten what you read, but the chapter summary springs to the rescue and tells you exactly what you just learnt.
Every new term used, and there are a lot of them, is highlighted in bold print, defined and can be found in the index for future reference. The author has the skill to explain all the ideas and arguments without losing track of the the fundemental purpose of the chapter.
It is layed out clearly and openly and is extremely informative. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and I think I may have learned more from it than from almost any book I have ever read.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Anthony Rodriguez on July 16, 2009
Format: Hardcover
It is my belief that this book was marketed very badly and that this contributes to the mixed reviews I find. The book, however, in and of itself is amazing. Appiah is a brilliant philosopher in his own right and has an ability to make complicated concepts lucid and clear without sacrificing the many facets of said concepts. There are parts in this book that are better than others (perhaps because I, myself, tend to drift towards certain branches of philosophy at the expense of others). I thought his chapters on metaphysics, science, and mind were particularly well done, whereas his chapter on philosophy of language was dizzying (though I believe this is due more to the nature of the beast than Appiah himself). Here's where the marketing problem comes in. This book is subtitled an Introduction to Contemporary Philosophy, and it is. However, what is left out is that this requires a COMMITMENT from the reader. I would recommend Sophie's World, Russell's flawed (though enlightening) History of Western Philosophy, or Will Durant's Story of Philosophy for the person with little background in philosophy who wants to start learning about philosophy (meaning if you took a class in college, you're exempt, but they really are still good books). However, keep in mind that, with the exception of this book, there are NO good, clear, beginner level intros to CONTEMPORARY analytic philosophy out there. There are a couple of Continental philosophy one's out there that are good but no Analytic ones (if you take a philosophy class in Britain or 95% of the universities in North America, you are studying Analytic philosophy). Appiah fills that gap. However, the subject matter is daunting. That's where the marketing error comes in.Read more ›
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33 of 39 people found the following review helpful By J. Miller on May 25, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Appiah maps out the basic terrain of philosophical inquiry for beginners. The book is readable and the terminology is accessible--highlighted terms are defined and indexed. Key themes include: Philosophy of Mind, Epistemology, Language, Science, Ethics, Political Theory, Legal Theory, and Metaphysics. If someone said, "So what do contemporary philosophers write about?" I would give them this book.
However, I wouldn't give them this book if they asked, "What makes philosophy interesting?" Appiah is circumspect and unimpassioned, careful to take few defined stands (which is appropriate to the book). But "Thinking It Through" reads like an automobile owner's manual rather than a guide to making key decisions about life. Furthermore, there are some ambiguous structural choices in the book: why are ethics and metaphysics separated? ...why does law now get its own chapter in an introduction to philosophy (previously subsumed under political philosophy)? ...why does political theory include indepth discussion of the two most recent contributions to political philosophy, but no mention of Marx, Locke, or Jefferson? ...why does the philosophy of mind not mention John Searle? ...why no discussion of aesthetics? ...why no existentialism?
Perhaps this is all too much to ask of one book. After all the subtitle is intentionally "An Introduction to Contemporary Philosophy," and Appiah really does go specifically through the who's who of living philosophers. This is an EXCELLENT book for someone who is thinking about majoring in philosophy at University. I wouldn't give it to the curious layreader who suspects philosophy might have to do with the meaning of life.
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