Review: The Philosophy Book (Big Ideas Simply Explained)

philosophy

In both high school and university I had no particular interest in philosophy. I didn’t have any classes on it, and learning about it seemed to be a waste of time. My time. In Bible College my Apologetics teacher (actually, both of them) had degrees in Philosophy. One at least had a Master’s, if not a PhD, and the other was working on his PhD. When I first took Apologetics (when you fail the quizzes and you don’t write the full final paper, you tend to have to take classes again), my teacher took a different approach than what I expected. He didn’t look at the science of things, but looked at the worldview of the Bible, and incorporated philosophy into the class. This was where I was introduced to Francis Schaeffer, for we had to read Escape From Reason. Still, having had no prior exposure to philosophical thinking, Schaeffer made some really good points, but I couldn’t understand a thing he said (hence the above failing of the quizzes). It wasn’t until I read volume one of his Complete Works [http://amzn.to/1hJlGxR] the next semester that some things started to click.

Because of my teacher, philosophy became a little less dreadful, and because of Schaeffer I saw that it could be understood and even interesting inside a Christian framework. What also would have helped… is pictures. And The Philosophy Book. This book by DK Publishers is a nice, hardback survey of philosophical thought from 700 BC – the present day. Now while this isn’t written from a Christian worldview, I was glad to see Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas in here. While none of the ideas (from what I can tell so far) are explicitly affirmed or denied, all are viewed positively. Pretty much they’re written in a neutral position, but there are no beatdown comments, say, about how stupid one view is. What you’re reading is what a particular person’s thought is. Many people disagree with Anselm’s view that “just by thinking of God we can know he exists”, but it’s placed in here without bias. For example, we read

“Kant holds that Anselm is also wrong to say that what exists in reality as well as in the mind is greater than what exists in the mind alone, but other philosophers disagree. Is there not a real sense in which a real painting is greater than the mental concept the painter has before he starts work?” (80).

Or this about Pascal’s wager,

“Pascal argues that betting that God does not exist risks losing a great deal (infinite happiness in Heaven), while only gaining a little (a finite sense of independence in this world) — but betting that God exists risks little while gaining a great deal. It is more rational, on this basis, to believe in God” (125).

Layout

There are six pages of introduction. Philosophy pretty much started with Socrates. “[H]e prided himself on being the wisest of men because he knew he didn’t know anything. His legacy lay in the tradition he established of debate and discussion, of questioning the assumptions of other people to gain deeper understanding and elicit fundamental truths“ (12). After briefly covering topics like philosophy and religion in the Eastern and Western cultures, science and society, and enjoying philosophy, the book turns toward its 107 entries on philosophical thinkers.

Now there aren’t many entries on Christian thinkers. But there are the well-known thinkers, Pythagoras, Confucius, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Bacon, Descartes, Rousseau, Marx, Nietzsche, Russell, Sartre, Chomsky, etc. Everyone gets one entry, and there are a lot of names I haven’t heard of, but this is also a plus of this book. There are more contributors to philosophy than just the big-hitters (it’s the same with their science volume too). Some entries are one page, while others (Aquinas) are up to six pages.

Essentially, what this series does is it takes the big philosophical ideas and simplify them for the layman audience. With most entries (namely, the longer ones) you get the name (Thomas Aquinas), you get an gray shaded In Context box which gives you the Branch of philosophy (Metaphysics), the Approach (Christian Aristotelian), and the thoughts of others before and after Aquinas. There’s another coloured box that gives a some biographical details of Aquinas’ life, along with his Key Works. There are four quote boxes here, two from Aquinas, one from Aristotle, and the other from Stephen Hawking. Usually there are thought bubbles that point to other thought bubbles, showing the progression of the thinker’s thoughts. For example,

  • Aristotle says that the universe has always existed —>
  • The world did have a beginning, but God could have created it in such a way that it existed eternally 
  • <—The Bible says that the universe has not always existed

Now just picture them in bubble form (it looks better in the book. Trust me on this one).

There is a See Also section referring you to other thinkers in the book. And often there are pictures of some form. Here, there are both paintings of Aquinas and pictures which describe his thoughts of how the universe came to be.

Recommended?

If you have an interest in philosophy but you don’t know where to start, this book is a good primer. I haven’t immersed myself in all things philosophy, so I don’t have many ‘beginner’-recommendations, but I find the layout of this volume to be very good.  All in all it’s a stimulating book that does a good job of showing you the main idea and backing it up with other avenues of expression (like pictures, because who doesn’t like a book with pictures?).

Lagniappe

  • Series: Big Ideas Simply Explained
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: DK (January 17, 2011)

Buy it on Amazon!

[Special thanks to DK US for allowing me to review this book! I was not obligated to provide a positive review in exchange for this book].

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