This broad and readable book makes use of 16 essays on great philosophers to explore and answer the question: “What is philosophy?” It describes each philosopher's life project, his or her motivating sight, and the various theories and concepts resulting from that central discovery. The essays focus on Confucius, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Marcus Aurelius, St Thomas Aquinas, Descartes, Hume, Kant, Marx, Mill, Nietzsche, James, Wittgenstein, and Beauvoir. Emphasis on their different theories includes their ideas about God, knowledge, society, and other well-know issues. This offers readers a look at varying views on morality, knowledge, and the nature of philosophy itself, and the profound effects of these differences—on priorities, focus, and methods of inquiry. The contributions of diverse authors share a unified belief that the ideas in this book are all important—that understanding a new way of thinking, gaining a new vision of possibilities, and challenging conventional assumptions can change one's life. For anyone who is curious about philosophy or the great philosophers, and anyone who is beginning to question their purpose and meaning, and life's everyday routine.
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"What is philosophy?" This question guides the sixteen original essays, written by teachers for students, which compose this new introductory philosophy text. Each essay presents one great philosopher's unique vision of the nature of philosophy, and the collection illustrates the diversity of approaches that make philosophy perennially fascinating, and that make the great philosophers our contemporaries. Phil Washburn and his colleagues have produced a set of interesting, readable, and substantial commentaries, each uniform in style and design, which give readers a rich, multifaceted understanding of the meaning of philosophy.
The philosophers included in this collection include: Confucius, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Marcus Aurelius, St. Thomas Aquinas, Descartes, Locke, Hume, Kant, Marx, Mill, Nietzsche, James, Wittgenstein and Beauvoir.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
My colleagues and I had several goals in mind as we wrote this book. We wanted to give people an answer to the question: "What is philosophy?" We wanted to make our book as broad and wide-ranging as possible and avoid a narrow perspective. We wanted it to be interesting and readable. But we also wanted it to be serious and accurate so that teachers could use it as a reliable introduction to the discipline.
Many books that introduce people to philosophy have similar goals, but our book is a little different from the others. All the great philosophers have different ideas about God and human nature and right and wrong, and most introductions to philosophy try to explain those ideas. Some emphasize the ideas themselves; others emphasize the great thinkers and their historical context.
But the philosophers not only disagree about morality and knowledge and the big questions, they also disagree about the nature of philosophy itself. The sixteen philosophers we discuss in this book all have different views about what it means to be a philosopher. And these differences have profound consequences. They result in different priorities, a different focus, and different methods of inquiry. We have emphasized the different answers to this particular question, "What is philosophy?", rather than the other questions. Of course, to explain the philosophers' visions of philosophy, we have to discuss their ideas about God, knowledge, society, and other well-known issues. But we look at those theories through the lens of the philosophers' distinctive conceptions of philosophy itself. In fact, we think that beginning with a philosopher's sense of what it means to be a philosopher makes his or her other ideas easier to understand. This emphasis makes our book different from other introductions.
We wrote the book for anyone who is curious about philosophy or the great philosophers. We didn't assume any prior knowledge of philosophy or history. We tried to avoid technical terms, and if we couldn't avoid them, we explained what they mean. When we talked about people, we explained who they were. But we also kept an old saying in mind: "Never overestimate your audience's knowledge; never underestimate their intelligence." The ideas in the book are challenging; some are profound and subtle. We haven't tried to oversimplify the philosophers' theories, although in a brief space we could not explain them in much detail. This book is a beginning. We hope that these essays lead readers to take up the philosophers' own works, where they can add to their understanding of each point of view. (Each chapter ends with a list of suggested readings. Appendix 1 lists web sites where one can find the great philosophers' own works online.)
We intended this book primarily for introductory philosophy courses in colleges, so we tried to make it informative for that audience. But one doesn't have to be in college to be curious about philosophy. Many high school students wonder about beliefs, values, identity, society, and other philosophical questions. And many people develop an interest in questions about purpose and meaning after they begin their careers or after they retire. We have put together a collection of essays that is enjoyable and stimulating for anyone who begins to question the everyday routine. And we hope it gives people a "map of the territory," so to speak, so that they know where to go to find out more about a point of view that interests them. We agree with John Dewey, the American pragmatist philosopher, who said that the purpose of formal education is to learn how to learn.
The contributors to the book are just as diverse as the sixteen philosophers we discuss. We all have our own styles and interests. But we are also similar in several ways. We are all teachers, and we've been telling students about these philosophers' life projects and visions of philosophy for years. We are all convinced that the ideas in this book are important. Understanding a new way of thinking, a new vision of possibilities, or a challenge to conventional assumptions can change your life. We have all experimented with different methods in our classes over the years to make these philosophers and their ideas come alive for people. We've all reached some agreements on the best ways to teach, and we've incorporated those methods in this book. The contributors have tried to transfer the illustrations, the questions, and the excitement of their classrooms to these chapters. We all chose to be teachers because a good learning experience is a great joy, and we try to convey that in this book.
Most of us teach in the General Studies Program at New York University. Some are affiliated with other institutions. As the editor, I have been impressed by the perseverance and the creativity our contributors have shown in writing and rewriting their chapters. I think it is a reflection of their dedication to the craft of teaching. Seeing this diverse group of people bring their ideas together, and seeing this project grow from a sketchy outline into a fine book, has been a source of tremendous satisfaction. I am very grateful to all my friends in this project who have worked so hard in striving toward a high level of excellence.
The General Studies Program is a delightful place to work. We are energized every day by our contact with bright, optimistic young people. Our job is to talk with them about great books and ideas. What could be better? And we have a good balance between autonomy in our classrooms and interaction with our fellow teachers. Dean Steve Curry, the Director of the program, deserves much of the credit for creating this congenial atmosphere. From the beginning of this project he has given us consistent, practical support and has encouraged us to pursue our interests in whatever direction we chose. Without his help, we could not have written this book.
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