Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Okasha, Samir (2002): Philosophy of Science - A Very Short Introduction

What is it about?

This is a vary basic - yet very nicely written - account on philosophy of science.

Cotent-wise, the coverage is what one would expect: defining science (the demarkation problem), problematizing knowledge and knowing, nature and varieties of scientific reasoning etc.

However, the two last chapters ("Philosophical problems in physics, biology and psychology" and "Science and its critics") provide "fresh" perspectives on the subject matter beyond "the basic stuff".

Was it good?

The book is very well written. It manages at the same time to be quite faithful to the basic questions being discussed (e.g. the limits of human knowledge) and discuss the matter in very accessible terms.

Moreover, the author's choice of occasionally focusing on a particular point in time such as a historical debate or a prominent scientist of philosopher bring, in a way, the contents to life.

In addition, as noted above, the two last chapters clearly add value. The 6th chapter, "Philosophical problems in physics, biology and psychology" and "Science and its critics"discusses three cases or problems pertaining to philosophy of science more in depth. These cases are quite illustrative. And the 7th chapter, "Science and its critics" positions the contents of the book as well as science at large in a contemporary societal context and public discourse.

The main take-away for me?

This book, like some others, presents quite a strong case (though does not strictly speaking uncritically promote it) for science as a very social endevour. That is, science is not at all perfectly rational data-driven hypothesis testing and objective theory falsification that some "classical" accounts on the nature of science would have one believe. Instead, scientists are humans and therefore subject to stubbornness, peer pressure, adherence to socio-cultural values etc. Thus, it would be quite interesting to complement this book with a similar account on the sociology of science.

Who should read the book?

Like most books in the Oxford University Very Short Introductions series, this book is very accessible, and therefore suitable for nearly everyone. Of course, basic interest in the workings of science enhance the reading experience.

The book on Philosophy of Science

Monday, January 9, 2017

James, William (1907/2016): Pragmatism: A New Name For Some Old Ways Of Thinking

What is it about?

The book is a compilation of lectures on the philosophical school of thought called pragmatism, delivered by William James in early 20th century.

The book intends - though I'm not entirely sure that it succeeds - to provide an overview of this train of thought.

In any event, the core of pragmatism is that the most relevant questions in philosophy (or in human endeavours more generally) is not truth or accurate theorization of the natural world, but rather what practical effects people's conceptions have. In other words concepts/conceptions are (or are defined in terms of) the practical effects they have.

Undoubtedly there are more sublime and subtle views on pragmatism, but the above suffices for me.

Was it good?

Truth to be told, I quite disliked the book, and certainly had higher hopes about what I could learn from it.

This is perhaps because of the very obscure or inaccessible language used throughout - admittedly at least partly because the lectures were delivered about 100 years ago. In any event, throughout the book I struggled with deciphering sentences which, at first glance, could disclose something very profound, or be just empty jargon. This made the reading experience quite unrewarding.

Consequently, my overall impression of the book was that a pageful of a Wikipedia article could deliver to me more that this entire book.

The main take-away for me?

The core idea of pragmatism, as noted above, must be the main take-away from the book, because I largely failed to gather any other take-aways from it.

Who should read the book?

I would recommend the book only to those who - for a reason or another - are deeply interested in the person of William James, and want to study the original thinking of the man as delivered in the form of lectures.

The book on Pragmatism

Hinshaw, Stephen P. (2010): Origins of the Human Mind

What is it about?

While not a book but a lecture series, it discusses the origins, nature, workings and malfunctioning of the human mind from a broad variety of perspectives.

The topics range from historical-philosophical ones (e.g. mind-body dualism historically and today; substance dualism and property dualism) to developmental mechanisms such as infant attachment to how genes, together with the environment, influence the development of the mind over the lifespan of an individual.

Was it good?

The lecture series is highly enjoyable. The topics covered are very broad, the lecturer is both an obvious expert in the subject matter as well as an accomplished teacher, and the arrangement of how the series proceeds is well thought of.

Actually, the topics may be even a bit too varied - from mind-body dualism to genetics - to enable deeper understanding and appreciation. But nonetheless, the lecture series constitutes an excellent springboard to a broad variety of topics to be studied in depth subsequently.

The main take-away for me?

Actually, the main take-away for me perhaps was a realization that there is quite much that is not known with respect to the human mind. For example, it is quite far from understood (at least so that there would be any kind of a consensus) as to what the human mind is, or what brings about / causes / makes /constitutes ... the human mind in the first place.

Who should read the book?

As is the case with most of the lecture series by The Teaching Company, the lecture series is intended for quite a broad audience. Perhaps a basic underlying interest in psychology and/or philosophy - or better yet, the philosophy of the mind - makes the lectures an even more enjoyable experience.

The book on Origins of the Human Mind

Miller, David (2003): Political Philosophy - A Very Short Introduction

What is it about?

The book is a general introduction into the discipline of political philosophy. Perhaps more accurately, this description accurately applies to the two first chapters of the book ("Why do we need political philosophy" and "Political authority"), whereas the rest of the book mostly focuses - admittedly reasonably - on the political system of democracy, with occasional comparative remarks about alternatives.

Was it good?

The book is rhetorically nicely arranged. The book opens with a description of The Allegory of Good and Bad Government, a fresco paining from the 14th century by Ambrogio Lorenzetti, and this work of art is referred to multiple times throughout the book. This works beautifully in tying he contents together.

However, I was slightly disappointed in the space allocated for other political systems or trains of thought than democracy. I perfectly understand this choice by the author - after all, we live in such a system, and a good case can be made in arguing that democracy has been the most successful mode of government with many measures. Yet, I would have expected a book on political philosophy to discuss more about the underlying issues, choices, principles etc., and then discuss as to what kind of a political system would result if one (or we) made this of that choice, and how each choice could be justified and argued against.

The main take-away for me?

This may be a superficial take-away (perhaps a regrettable state of affair with respect to a book on a branch of philosophy), but it surely seems, base on this volume, that in current political philosophy there seems to be little challenge for democracy as being the preferable form of a political order - the issues in the scholarly community seem to revolve around how to fine-tune the system.

Who should read the book?

The book certainly is appropriate for a very general audience. Especially the chapter 6 on feminism (broadly understood) and multiculturalism, as well as the preceding chapter 7 on global justice and the status of the nation state resonate very well in the current day and age.

The book on Political Philosophy