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A Compelling Introduction to Philosophy

Oxford UP,

15 min read
10 take-aways
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  • Background
  • For Beginners


Gertrude Stein observed of Ezra Pound that he was a village explainer, and very good to have around if one happened to be a village. Simon Blackburn merits the same level of praise. This book’s stated intention is to give readers some sense of how philosophers approach the really big questions of knowledge, free will, God, reasoning, and so on. That’s a tall order. The book is better appreciated as a chrestomathy of thought-provoking quotations and asides. Its strongest points are its useful tips on formulating and analyzing arguments. Incidentally, the politically correct reader will be delighted at Blackburn’s bows to gender-neutral language, his digs at the religious right and his sly elbow in the dead ribs of Edmund Burke. getAbstract recommends this book for anyone interested in philosophy but short of time, or merely out to impress friends, colleagues and clients by dropping names of celebrity philosophers into conversations or sales pitches.



On November 10, 1619 the philosopher, mathematician and pious Catholic René Descartes shut himself away in a room heated by a stove and had a vision followed by dreams. He concluded that this experience had revealed his vocation: to unfold the one true way to knowledge. The world was rapidly changing. Polish astronomer Copernicus had formulated a heliocentric model of the solar system, and such scientists as Galileo were laying the foundations of a "mechanical" science of nature. There seemed to be no room in the world for God. Descartes aimed to show that God still belonged to the world, or the world to God. He was the first philosopher to wrestle with the implications of the modern scientific world view. The issues he treated in his "Meditations" included most of the central problems for subsequent philosophy.

He begins by introducing a world in which nothing is certain, in which nothing the senses tell him can be trusted, because an Evil Demon has the power to deceive people through their senses. However, if one can be deceived, one must exist. In fact, if one can think at all, one must exist. This is the famous "Cogito, ergo sum" (I think, therefore I...

About the Author

Simon Blackburn  is Edna J. Koury Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the University of North Carolina. He was a Fellow and Tutor at Pembroke College, Oxford from 1969 to 1990. His books include the Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy He edited the journal Mind from 1984 to 1990.

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    A. J. 4 years ago
    I found this summary a bit confusing. It does not follow the structure of the book and the somewhat misses the point of the book. It did however motivate me to buy the book when I read the book table of contents because I could not fully understand the flow of the summary!

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