Friday, August 02, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: The Philosopher's Toolkit

Chances are that for any viewpoint we take or for any choice we make, the spirit philosopher is not far away, saying, “Been there, done that.” As original as we like to think ourselves, our predecessors have figured out—or have certified that none of us can possibly figure out—the hidden meaning of our experiences, motives, and conduct.

That’s what makes reading Julian Baggini’s and Peter S. Fosl’s The Philosopher’s Toolkit: A Compendium of Philosophical Concepts and Methods so engaging. The authors have thoughtfully organized this book to serve as both a brief history of philosophy for students of Western thought or as a user's manual for decision-makers working through complex philosophical theories and strategies that have guided writers, lawyers, doctors, scientists, rulers, and business people for more than two millennia. According to The Philosopher's Toolkit, the "tools" for analyzing problems and deciding on fundamental issues are there for the taking, from deduction and induction to refutation, categorizing, synthesizing, and critiquing. This book explains the foundations of our reasoning, without overstating their value or bypassing their limitations, with clear definitions, practical examples, and useful suggestions for their application.

Baggini and Fosl succeed in concisely detailing the depth of philosophical staples such as empiricists' skepticism, Ockham's razor, and Kant's categorical imperative, which are more complex than they seem; similarly, they clarify complicated terms such as a priori/a posteriori experiences, the Heideggerian critique of metaphysics, and the Foucaultian critique of power, all of which generally require more than a surface reading to grasp their essence.

If you feel that arguments all too often are baseless, unreasonable, and inconclusive, you will discover why and how to counter them in The Philosopher's Toolkit.