Think About It
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This is a book about error, misconception and false reasoning on a wide range of topics. It is written for people who want to try to think in a rigorous way, but are not yet up to reading ‘proper’ philosophy books. They may not understand the technical terms, or simply find such books too difficult, or dauntingly long.
No specialist knowledge is needed to read this book – words like 'epistemology’ or ‘metaphysics’,for instance, are never used. The aim, mainly, has been to find a range of ‘ordinary’ topics that should interest most intelligent people. The book deals, among other things, with art, education, and sport, as well as few social questions such as the fair distribution of money, and the treatment of wrongdoing. There is also a little on the more traditionally ‘philosophical’ areas such as religion, morality, materialism. But even here the treatment is ‘reader-friendly’. Certainly the only prior knowledge needed should be that which any intelligent, thinking person will have.
Readers may not be interested in every one of the questions considered. For example, convinced atheists might choose to ignore the religious discussions. That won’t matter. The topics treated are largely independent of each other: there are occasional references to earlier material, but a reader will be able to follow any chapter without necessarily having read any other.
As the title suggest, the book is going to try to make the reader think in a clear, rational manner. The main benefit of ‘doing philosophy’ – if there is any! – lies in the practice it provides in valid reasoning and arguing, rather than the subject-matter itself. In fact, almost any subject can be investigated philosophically – thus we have ‘the philosophy of science’, the ‘philosophy of law’, and so on, which are established branches of the subject. Philosophy entails a deeper investigation of the particular area than ordinary practitioners have the time (or inclination, usually) to undertake – namely a consideration of its underlying principles and assumptions. But even on the most mundane, everyday matters, intelligent, well-qualified people are not always as skilled at thinking clearly and objectively as one might expect. One of the main themes of this book is that it is surprisingly easy to fall into error, on any question involving human interests, beliefs and values.
A basic contention of the book is that many of our underlying beliefs and principles are held for inadequate reasons. Typically, we absorb them from society generally, or from our parents, or teachers, or the people we habitually mix with. And views formed in this way are seldom questioned. Sometimes, again, there are hidden influences such as self-interest. In this book some of our ordinary ideas are examined, and, hopefully, those that are false or questionable are exposed. The only requirement of the reader is an open-minded approach, concentrating on the validity or otherwise of the arguments.