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Eyewitness Companions: Philosophy (Eyewitness Companion Guides) Paperback – Large Print, April 2, 2007
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My veterinarian once told me that much research is put into the shapes of those cat morsels in bags of cat food to create a desire by the cat to eat them. This must be true of the warp and woof and weft of the Eyewitness Companions because the book fits so nicely in hand like, well, a companion. Longer than a usual paperback, the book is covered with a pliable glossy cardboard, making the book shape to the hand. Front and back tell the reader exactly what is inside: philosophy--its history, ideas, theories, who's who, and how to think. "Evocative and imaginative images illustrate the philosophical arguments" (back cover).
So with companion in hand, let us walk through the contents. An English philosophy professor, Stephen Law, author of this volume, sets up the contents into logical order: introducing philosophy, history including the eastern world, branches of philosophy, philosophy toolkit, and the pantheon of 100 most important philosophers from the ancient world through today.
Each section is set up with many illustrations depicting content. For example, pp. 78-79, one photograph and one print illustrate the meaning of "The Allegory of the Cave," Plato's famous explanation of his Eternal Forms as opposed to the material world of decaying representative objects.
Another example of set-up is demonstrated by the section on the problem of evil, covered effectively and briefly in three pages with five illustrations. "Understanding the argument" is one of the sub-topics, as well as "No good reason for evil," "Does free will account for evil?" and "The vale of soul-making."
Law magnificently presents short summaries of all branches and people. These chapters include What is knowledge? Metaphysics? Moral philosophy, philosophy of the mind, of religion, of politics, and of science? With a 2007 publication date, his topics are current. One of perpetual interest is intelligent design vs scientific theory. As the Catholic Church early recognized: religion and science can work together.
The articles are not meant to be detailed.. All information is introductory, but insightful and informative. However, by the time the reader reaches the last section on the 100 greats, the next destination will be planned: a trip to the library or bookstore for more information. But that is the point of an introductory book: to introduce content to the individual. The DK Eyewitness Companions series is designed for adults and perhaps interested young adults.
An interesting side note: Quotations are interspersed throughout the book and make the reader pause to ponder, truly reflective of philosophical practice. Some examples:
"War does not determine who is right--only who is left."--Bertrand Russell
"There must be some one quality without which a work of art cannot exist."
"Cells are simply too complex to have evolved randomly; intelligence was required to produce them." Michael Behe
Two things fill the mind with...wonder and awe...the starry heaven above me and the moral law within me." Immanuel Kant
This Eyewitness Companion is the most satisfactory, even superb, introduction to philosophy found on the market today, or at least as good as any other. Want philosophy? Get "Philosophy: Eyewitness Companions" and take with you a great guide on your quest.
Very highly recommended
- It's "introductory" in the unfortunate sense of being somewhat superficial. The book gives a feel for the subject matter, but never really goes deep enough to give a solid understanding.
- It's an "overview" in attempting to cover a broad range of material: the scope, history, and branches of philosophy, some discussion of reasoning and fallacies, and the last third of the book devoted to short biographies of more than 100 philosophers. But, again, the problem is that this breadth comes at the expense of superficiality.
- The focus is on Western philosophy. There's only token discussion of Eastern philosophy, and nothing from other parts of the world.
- The perspective is firmly that of analytic philosophy, which I think makes the book fairly lifeless and bland. Some Continental philosophers are included among the biographies, but this is again more of a token gesture.
Another negative is that the writing style is somewhat academic (the norm for analytic philosophy). This inhibits getting to the point and speaking directly to the reader, hence contributing to the book's blandness.
A positive, albeit a small one, is that the book is beautifully illustrated, as one expects from this publisher (DK). The illustrations don't always add substantial content, and they considerably reduce the space available for text, but they do at least add much visual appeal.
Overall, because of the issues noted above, I can't really recommend this book; I think there are better introductory philosophy books available. However, some readers might still like this book because of its coffee table vibe, so consider perusing a copy if you're on the fence about buying it.
Note: Amazon's "large print" description of this book is incorrect. The print is standard, and actually fairly small.
I paid a few dollars plus shipping for a used copy and I am very happy. Again, using this as a resource or a quick overview is ideal. Great quality binding and paper as well. If you know what you're buying, then you should be very happy.
As a side note, I found the illustrations in the book are beautiful, well done and add some artistic context to the material.