the contextual life

thoughts without borders

from Descartes to Wittgenstein and back

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there are few more satisfying feelings than the one i get from finishing a book, which i just did this morning.

i picked up A Short History of Modern Philosophy by Roger Scruton the other week and started reading it right away. it never even touched my bookshelf, which is more than i can say for the scores of titles i have waiting for me.

roger scruton, according to his bio, is a leading conservative philosopher, which basically means that his chapter on Marx was full of smirky scoffing. other than that, i didnt find much in the way of total bias and i have to say, i really enjoyed this one.

it’s a basic overview of modern  philosophy – as the title claims – starting from Descartes (predictably) and ending with Wittgenstein, less predictably (at least for me). although it says one would think that it was an introduction, it was at times challenging – but not impossible. it was a satisfying read that boosted my philosophical vocabulary, introduced me to some new names, and hammered out some key concepts that had previously eluded me. it might be a bit daunting for a first-timer looking for an easy way to wade into the brain pool of intellectual giants but for someone with a bit of background – but really not too much – it is quite possibly what they’ve been looking for.

throughout the different sections – with names like ‘Rationalism,’ ‘Empiricism,’ ‘Kant and Idealism,’ etc. i found myself making mental – and physical – notes as to what i wanted to read next. i had a pretty decent list going until i got to the end and came across the section on phenomenology – founded by Edmund Husserl in the early 20th century. it was a surprising turn of events because up until the latter part of the 200 pages i was leaning more toward political philosophy. – i was looking forward to Althusser’s For Marx or Fromm’s Beyond the Chains of Illusion but instead, the broad realm of knowledge – of what we know, how we know it, and how we can trust that knowledge seemed much more interesting than theories of economics and The State.

one line that stood out – and possible the sole reason for the derailment of my future reading plans – was “Our attitude towards other people… is fundamentally distinct from and even opposed to the scientific attitude. We seek to understand their actions not by explaining them in terms of external causes, but ‘from within’, by an act of rational self-projection…” pg. 268 scruton goes on to say that we look for people’s reasons as to why they do things and in doing so, we attempt to view the world as the other person does. empathy is a decent way to explain this. you see someone get hurt and while you’re not feeling that pain, you can imagine the pain the other person is feeling so you can understand their tears, screams, etc.

pretty freakin cool if you ask me. so i’m going back to basics and have started Kant’s Introduction to Logic. stay tuned…

Written by Gabrielle

January 27, 2010 at 6:56 am

Posted in books

Tagged with ,

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