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ClassicsOnline Home » CRAIG, E.: PHILOSOPHY - A Very Short Introduction (Abridged)
How we ought to live? What really exists? How do we know? This lively and engaging book is the ideal introduction for anyone who has ever been puzzled by what philosophy is or what it is for. Edward Craig argues that philosophy is not an activity born from another planet; learning about it is just a matter of broadening and deepening what most of us do already. He shows that philosophy is no mere intellectual pastime thinkers such as Plato, Buddhist writers, Descartes, Hobbes, Hume, Hegel, Mill and de Beauvoir were responding to real needs and events—much of their work shapes our lives today and many of their concerns are still ours.
A Very Short Introduction
Where to go next?
Here are names and addresses, so to speak,
of some guides with whom you can begin
to go further and deeper. It is worth
noticing that some very prominent
philosophers have devoted time and care to
writing introductions. This is no matter of
churning out a standard textbook: every
route into philosophy is to some extent
T. Nagel, What Does it All Mean? (New York
and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987)
In this very short book Tom Nagel,
eschewing all mention of history and
aiming straight for the problems, gives the
reader a taste of nine different areas:
knowledge, other people’s minds, the
mind-body relation, language and
meaning, freedom of the will, right and
wrong, justice, death, and the meaning of
life. Just right for your first piece of reading
—see what grabs you.
S.W. Blackburn, Think
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999)
The perfect thing to move on to after
Nagel. Takes on several of the same themes
as Nagel’s book, plus God and Reasoning,
now at greater length and depth; frequent
quotation of historical sources, so
beginning to communicate a sense of the
(Western) philosophical tradition. Very
B. Russell, The Problems of Philosophy
(Oxford: Oxford University Press,1912)
A classic introductory book, still going after
nearly ninety years. Don’t miss the last
chapter—Russell’s claims for the value of
philosophy—even though some of it may
nowadays seem just a little grandiose and
Histories of philosophy
B. Russell, History of Western Philosophy
(London: George Allen & Unwin,1946)
A remarkable book synthesizing a mountain
of material in a most engaging way. Enjoy
it, but don’t be surprised if you later hear
the opinion that Russell’s account of some
particular thinker is limited, or misses the
main point, or is distorted by his intense
dislike of Christianity.
F. Copleston, A History of Philosophy
(8 vols. London: Burns & Oates,1946–66)
Nothing like so much fun as Russell, but
comprehensive and reliable and suitable for
serious study. With a different publisher
(Search Press), Copleston later added a
volume on French philosophy from the
Revolution onwards, and another on
philosophy in Russia.
S. Radhakrishnan, Indian Philosophy
(2 vols. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1996;
1st publ. 1929)
Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, President of
India 1962–7, earlier held professorships
in Calcutta and Oxford. The Indian
philosophical tradition is deep and
sophisticated; the Western reader will often
come across familiar thoughts and
arguments, fascinatingly transformed by
the unfamiliar background. Don’t panic if
you see a few words of Sanskrit.
There are now several good one-volume
works of this kind: The Oxford Dictionary of
Philosophy, by Simon Blackburn; The
Oxford Companion to Philosophy, ed. Ted
Honderich; The Cambridge Dictionary of
Philosophy, ed. Robert Audi (first two
Oxford University Press, the last Cambridge
The best multi-volume work in English is
(though I say it myself—to understand why
I say that, take a close look at the photo on
p. 117) The Routledge Encyclopedia of
Philosophy. Not, in most cases, for the
individual pocket! This is one to read in a
big public library or a university library, or
via some such institution which subscribes
to the internet version.
Works referred to in the text
Plato, Crito. Handy and accessible is The
Last Days of Socrates (Penguin Books)
which contains The Apology, Crito, and
Phaedo in a translation by Hugh Tredennick.
My only complaint is that the Stephanus
numbering is indicated at the top of the
page, instead of being given fully in the
margin. Should you feel yourself getting
keen on Plato a good buy is Plato: Complete Works, ed. J. Cooper and D. S. Hutchinson
(Hackett Publishing Co.).
David Hume, Of Miracles, section X of An
Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding.
Many editions. Try that by L. A. Selby-Bigge
(Oxford University Press), which includes
Hume’s Enquiry Concerning the Principles of
Morals. Other writings on religion by Hume,
also easily available, are his Dialogues
Concerning Natural Religion and The
Natural History of Religion.
Anon., The Questions of King Milinda is
available in an inexpensive abridged version
edited by N.K.G. Mendis (Kandy, Sri Lanka:
Buddhist Publication Society, 1993).
Plato, Phaedrus 246a ff. and 253d ff. Plato
compares the soul to a chariot. Anon.,
Katha Upanishad, 3. 3–7, 9: the soul is
compared to a chariot in the early Indian
tradition. An easily available edition of the
main Upanishads is in the Oxford University
Press World Classics series in a translation
by Patrick Olivelle.
Epicurus: The early historian of philosophy
Diogenes Laertius wrote a work called Lives of the Eminent Philosophers, published in
the Loeb Classical Library by Harvard
University Press (2 vols.) The last section of
vol. 2 is devoted entirely to Epicurus, and
reproduces some of his writings. (Apart
from these only a few fragments have come
down to us.)
John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism. This short
work, and Mill’s On Liberty (see below
under Ch. 8) can both be found in a volume
in the Everyman’s Library series published in
London by J. M. Dent & Sons and in New
York by E. P. Dutton & Co.
Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan. One good
option is the edition by Richard Tuck
published by Cambridge University Press.
The famous chapter about the state of
nature is part 1, chapter 13.
Plato, Republic 453–66. Plato’s abolition of
the family—or should one rather say his
introduction of a new, non-biological concept
of the family?—and his reasons for it.
Lucretius, Of the Nature of Things,
translated by R.E. Latham, introduction by
John Godwin, Penguin Books. Lucretius, a
Roman of the first century bc, put the
doctrines of Epicurus into Latin verse with the clear intention of converting his
compatriots if he could. Godwin’s
introduction begins: ‘This book should carry
a warning to the reader: it is intended to
change your life’. The original title is De
Rerum Natura. Berkeley, Three Dialogues
between Hylas and Philonous. Numerous
editions: a good bet is Roger Woolhouse’s
edition, published by Penguin Books, which
also contains Berkeley’s Principles of Human
Kant, Critique of Pure Reason. Still the best
translation is that by Norman Kemp Smith,
published by Macmillan. But beginners
beware: this is very hard reading.
Sanchez, Quod Nihil Scitur. This is highly
specialized stuff, but since I mentioned it in
the text I give the details here: edited and
translated by Elaine Limbrick and Douglas
Thomson, published by Cambridge
Descartes, Meditations. Many editions
available. But just in case you find yourself
getting interested in Descartes try (in its
paperback version) The Philosophical
Writings of Descartes, translated by J.
Cottingham, R. Stoothoff, and D. Murdoch,
published by Cambridge University Press (2
vols.) The Meditations are in ii. 3–62. Sextus Empiricus, Outlines of Pyrrhonism.
Again, this is specialized material. But it
would be a pity never to have read at least
the first twelve sections of book 1, as far as
the point where Sextus explains what the
Sceptical philosophy is for. R. G. Bury’s
translation is published in the Loeb Classical
Library by Harvard University Press.
Descartes, Discourse on the Method.
Numerous editions: see the recommendation
for Descartes’s Meditations just above. The
Discourse on the Method is in i. 111–51.
Hegel, Introduction to the Philosophy of
History. An excellent translation is that by
H. B. Nisbet and published by Cambridge
University Press under the title Hegel,
Lectures on the Philosophy of World
History: Introduction. Pp. 25–151 give you
all you need.
Nietzsche, The Genealogy of Morals.
Translating Nietzsche’s resonant and
inventive German is a tricky business; that
may be why so many English translations
are presently available. The two I can
recommend are those by W. Kaufmann and
R.J. Hollingdale, published by Vintage
Books, and by Douglas Smith, published by
Oxford University Press in their World Classics series. (But if you can comfortably
read Nietzsche in German don’t even think
about reading him in any other language.)
The central passage about the activities of
the ‘ascetic priest’ is 3. 10–22—but don’t
limit yourself to that.
John Stuart Mill, On Liberty. This and Mill’s
essay Utilitarianism (see above under
Chapter 5) are in a volume in the
Everyman’s Library series published in
London by J. M. Dent & Sons and in New
York by E.P. Dutton & Co.
John Stuart Mill, The Subjection of Women.
Available in a volume called John Stuart
Mill: Three Essays, introduction by Richard
Wollheim, published by Oxford University
Press; or by itself in a very inexpensive
version from Dover Publications.
Anon., Br ¸hada¯ranyaka Upanishad. As with
the Katha Upanishad (see above), an
accessible edition is Patrick Olivelle’s
translation of the main Upanishads in the
Oxford University Press World Classics series.
Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex. The
translation by H. M. Parshley is one of the
most handsome volumes in the Everyman’s
Library series, published by David Campbell
Publishers Ltd. Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophical
Manuscripts. This is where the quotation in
the text comes from. Someone having their
first go at Marx should look to some
anthology of his writings, perhaps The
Marx–Engels Reader, ed. R. Tucker, published
by Norton and Co. But beware: Marx,
especially early Marx, often isn’t easy to read—a consequence of habits of thought and
style he got from Hegel.
Peter Singer, Animal Liberation, is a notable
example of a book devoted to the morality
of human relationships with animals,
published by New York Review Books in
1975. Tom Regan’s The Case for Animal
Rights (University of California Press, 1983)
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