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NA334412 - CRAIG, E.: PHILOSOPHY - A Very Short Introduction (Abridged)

Edward Craig
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 personal.


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 entertainingly written.

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 optimistic.

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.

Reference works

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 University Press).

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

Chapter 2

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.).

Chapter 3

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.

Chapter 4

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.

Chapter 5

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.

Chapter 6

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 Knowledge.

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 University Press.

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.

Chapter 7

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.

Chapter 8

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) is another.

Edward Craig

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