Confessions of a Philosopher

That’s another one down from the Liberate pile – this one on recommendation from Ciaran Healy of the (in)famous Ruthless Truth website (which has disappeared and been sort of replaced by the kinder, gentler Liberation Unleashed).

If you read the Amazon description of this book – which touts Bryan Magee as “the Carl Sagan of philosophy” and the book as “infectiously exciting”- you might conclude that this’ll be a fun, easy tour through the great Western thinkers (Hume, Kant, Popper, Schopenhauer, etc.). I must say, though, that this one really stretched the old gray cells. It’s over 450 pages of small print and I’m ashamed that the British author uses vocabulary (not in describing Kant – just in everyday rambling on) that this American had to look up in the dictionary.

And yes, some of the philosophy is a little hard to grasp too. For about the first 3/4 of the book I kept saying to myself that as soon as I finished the last page, I’d turn back to page 1 and start again, in hopes that the finer details of what he was talking about would sink in (had no trouble getting the big picture). It’s definitely good enough to read again (and even says so on the cover) but… I’ve decided not to now. Too many other good books in my pile and Magee succeeded in convincing me to read the original works of the philosophers who interest me – Kant, Popper, and Schopenhauer (non-dualist!) – and not other people’s summaries (often abridged, often incorrect).

I’d also commend the author for making me see the value of reading the older philosophers, even if we now believe some of their material has major flaws, because it often at least points you in a better direction than where you’d head sitting around trying to figure out the world on your own, using your common sense. You don’t want to spend decades of your life lost in your own ontological cul-de-sacs to nowhere, emerging when you’re elderly to discover that you’ve only now reached where Kant begins, because you didn’t take the time to read him first (this is claimed of Bertrand Russell).