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Very Poorly Done Considering Expectations
on November 19, 2001
Some time ago I sat down and read through "Philosophy for Dummies" and "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Philosophy." My intentions were to find a book that I might recommend to friends who have a passing interest in the subject, so that I might encourage their understanding and gain more people to discuss ideas with.
Not only was I disappointed with "Philosophy for Dummies" but I found the presentation to be both offensive and underhanded. While appearing at first to be an introduction to the greater subject, it turns out to be a packaging of the author's own beliefs... heavily skewed and full of personal bias. Whole movements are passed over with little or nothing said other than a dismissive comment from the author, who apparently doesnt think them worth mention because he doesnt agree. This is HARDLY proper for what is supposed to be an introduction to the subject. The novice reader is left with a lopsided, limited presentation that while written well enough, leaves him needing to go buy ANOTHER book so he can actually BE introduced to what this title led him to believe he would be -- the subject of philosophy in a wide ranging sense.
As for having the intention of demonstrating the "philosophical process," and not being a general introduction, it fails in this way too. In this regard, the book becomes a subjective promotion of the author's views with at best a biased and extremely limited dabble in opposing ideas (if at times any at all), these being presented in a shallow and shakey fashion, intentionally staged by the author so he can wave them away. ~Laughs~ very convenient, and in total contradiction to the spirit of philosophy and the "battle" of opposing views that has fostered and nurtured the strengths and greatness of the subject throughout history. The "philosophical process" involves the challenging of ones ideas, not the ignoring of that which you dont like or that which disagrees with you, just so you can say you are right and feel good about it.
In surfing Amazon tonight, I decided to look at the reviews for this book ("Philosophy for Dummies"). I was VERY glad to see that a number of people saw the same thing as I did in this.
Pro-God or not, is not the point. The glory of philosophy is found in all the different ideas it contains and the critical eyes objectively (hopefully) applied to them in evaluation. This is what an introduction should present (scope understandably limited to a degree), and most importantly should ENCOURAGE. A book like this should be written with the intention of exposing the reader to the subject of philosophy itself (the history and the general system of rational thought that is its foundation), not just the author's step by step program of -- "This is what I think, so I am going to show you why you should think this way too. Don't worry about the other stuff, it's just nonsense, so we won't say anything much about that."
"Complete Idiot's Guide to Philosophy" is a much better choice if we were to compare the two. It presents a wide variety of thoughts and explanations, leaving each person to think for himself and later search out more of what he finds speaks to him. The layout is well organized, and the progression of ideas fit well together, allowing the novice reader to not only see the varying concepts, but how each stage of thought fed into the next, and how differing theories challenge one another. The reader is exposed to the ideas themselves, as presented by the given philosophers, not as packaged by a single author who is spending less time introducing and more time selling his own views. Concepts are not examined in great detail, but then again, that is not what this book is trying to do.
While "Complete Idiot's Guide to Philosophy" is not the best introduction to the subject, it is a good, concise volume of work. As its intention was to be just that, it does its job well. There are better introductions available, but these are often much longer with ideas being developed in greater detail... something that while would be sought by a true student of the subject, might turn off those just looking for a surface exposure. The examinations are cursory at times, but this is again understandable considering the breadth of the subject in relation to the attempt to introduce as much as possible in a limited space, in simple terms.
If you are choosing between the two...
Buy "Complete Idiot's Guide to Philosophy" if you want an introduction to the subject.
Buy "Philosophy for Dummies" if you want an introduction to Tom Morris.
Actually... check out "Thinking Through Philosophy" - Horner and Westacott - Cambridge University Press. The format and organization of this book is different from the two spoken of above, feeling less "rushed" though still concise and accessible... and the style of introduction is good for both casual readers and those seeking to later move into a deeper study.