By Sam Vaknin
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Author of "Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited"
Stevenson, Jay, P.D. - The Complete Idiot's Guide to Philosophy - Alpha Books, 2005
Philosophy is the attempt to enhance the traits we deem desirable and suppress the traits we deem unwanted (a matter of judgment) by getting better acquainted with the world around us (a matter of reality). An improvement in the world around us inevitably follows.
To qualify as a philosophical theory, the practitioner of philosophy - the philosopher - must, therefore meet a few tests:
1. To clearly define and enumerate the traits he seeks to enhance (or suppress) and to lucidly and unambiguously describe his ideal of the world
2. Not to fail the tests of every scientific theory (internal and external consistency, falsifiability, possessed of explanatory and predictive powers, etc.)
These are mutually exclusive demands. Reality - even merely the intersubjective sort - does not yield to value judgments. Ideals, by definition, are unreal. Consequently, philosophy uneasily treads the ever-thinning lines separating it, on the one hand, from physics and, on the other hand, from religion.
The history of philosophy is the tale of attempts - mostly botched - to square this obstinate circle. In their desperate struggle to find meaning, philosophers resorted to increasingly arcane vocabularies and obscure systems of thought. It did nothing to endear it to the man (and reader) in the post-Socratic agora.
Enter "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Philosophy (Third Edition)" by Jay Stevenson, Ph.D. (Alpha Books).
It is a delightful and structured excursion into the terrain more convolutedly trodden by "Sophie's World". It is a vade mecum in the true sense of the word. It gently holds you by the hand and unflinchingly introduces you to the one intellectual giant after another.
The author knows how intimidating philosophy can be. He, therefore, avoids professional jargon. He talks to the reader, rather than talk at him. The text is peppered with brief insets titled "philoso-facts", "wisdom at work" (how to apply what you have learned), "reality check" (where philosophers disagree with each other and with reality), and "lexicon". Two appendices comprise a glossary and further reading.
The book is an amazing feat. It covers all the major schools of thoughts and philosophers in c. 350 eminently readable pages. New chapters provide extended coverage of the latest developments in post-structuralism and post-modernism.
If this book does not make you fall in love with this tortured discipline - nothing will.
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