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Customer Review

on May 20, 2002
This volume does not present itself as a comprehensive
overview of all of Western (or Eastern) philosophy. It is
rather an excellent focus on several major philosophers
and the major areas which their philosophies examined,
analyzed, and attempted to explain. Additional volumes
which might be added along with this one would be
Bertrand Russell's A HISTORY OF WESTERN PHILSOPHY, Will
Durant's THE STORY OF PHILOSOPHY, and a non-philosophy
book, but an excellent overview and beginning guide to
further more specific reading and research -- Charles
Van Doren's A HISTORY OF KNOWLEGE.
How do we know? And, how do we know -- that we know?
What are the processes by which we take the stimulations
from the external world -- through our eyes, ears, nose,
mouth, skin -- transmit them to our brain, and then have
them decoded, categorized, analyzed, correlated, and
turned into thoughts, ideas, and actions? Most of us
never think about this intricate, and very profound
procedure, because it happens so fast -- and we have
done it so often. But we should think about it carefully
and often. We should question the motives behind our
associations and categorizations of ideas. Do we fall
into "habits" (biases, prejudices) of pleasure or ego
which form the usual basis for our thought formations
and actions...which prevent us from seeing and understanding
things objectively...and more in their fuller light?
This excellent volume examines those same ideas in
light of the philosophies of a select group of deep
thinkers. But the writing in this work is clear,
insightful, and very stimulating to further reading
in the philosophers themselves. The philosophers covered
in this work (after an "Introduction" titled -- "The
Indestructible Questions") are: Plato; Descartes;
Hume; Hegel; Marx; and Sartre. There is a concluding
section titled: The Contemporary Scene in Philosophy.
Each of these major divisions is subdivided into
sections on the important concepts, analyses, and
understandings contributed by the major philosopher.
The sub-sections under PLATO are titled: Virtue is
Knowledge; Shadow and Substance; The Divided Line;
The Tri-Partite Soul; The Ideal State. The sub-sections
under DESCARTES are: Historical Transition to the
Modern World; Doubting to Believe; God Exists; The
Clockwork Universe; Body and Soul. The sub-sections
under HUME are: How do you Know?; "A Well-Meanin'
Critter"; Will the Sun Rise Tomorrow?: Reason--"Slave
of the Passions". The sub-sections under HEGEL are:
A Revolution in Thought; The Real is the Rational;
Master and Slave; The Cunning of Reason; The Owl of
Minerva. The sub-sections under MARX are: The Young
Hegelian; Alienated Man; The Conflict of Classes;
The World to Come. The sub-sections under SARTRE
are: My Existence is Absurd; Nausea; "Condemned to
be Free"; No Exit.
Many people are offended by the idea that Plato
suggested the censoring of dramatists and poets who
play on the passions of their audiences. They have
labeled Plato everything from a Fascist to a proto-
Communist. The author of this text does an excellent
presentation of Plato's point (one which might bear
modern relevance): "Why does Plato so degrade and
devalue the artist? Plato is suspicious of all forms
of communication which use images, such as painting,
poetry, sculpture, drama, religious ritual. These
art forms use images to provide fantasy rather than
truth, and Plato feared that the passions of the
public are easily stimulated, influenced, and controlled
by their persuasive imagery. (What would Plato think
of our public relations industry, which is in the
business of manufacturing images for its clients?)"
One doesn't have to agree with Plato...but one can
certainly see his point through this clear and
objective presentation. It is to our benefit to
examine our own biases and "habits" of thinking
and analyzing -- to keep ourselves keen to seeking
the truth of what is, rather than what we would like
it to be. We need to have a firmer basis for our
thinking and evaluating (giving of value) rather than
what "pleases" us, feeds our own vanity or ego, or
whatever confirms "our group's" way of "seeing" things.
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