Preface (Full Text)
- In this book, I attempt to introduce philosophy, as it is currently practised in the English-speaking academic world, to those with little or no background in the subject, and also to those already embarked on some course of philosophical study. The issues I deal with are, I believe, such as to be of interest and importance to any reflective person. What there is, what we can know, how language relates to the world, the nature of human beings and how they should organize their lives, individually and socially: to wonder about these things, and to attempt to do so rationally and systematically, has been part of our culture, and one of its glories, since the time of classical Greece.
- In the academic study of these matters, as in any academic study, there is both gain and loss: gain through the concentration of intelligence and mutual criticism academic study permits, loss in the way the almost inevitable growth of technicality and sophistication renders the results of a study that much more difficult for the uninitiated to penetrate. My brief has been to guide the beginner into some of these complexities. I have not tried, in the first instance, to expound my own views, nor to suggest that issues are more closed than in fact they are. I believe that the work of contemporary philosophers is not known as widely or as well as it deserves to be, so my primary aim has been to survey the subject as it now stands. My survey is inevitably somewhat subjective, reflecting my own assessment of what the important themes are, but I hope that my professional colleagues will not find it wholly idiosyncratic.
- In writing this book, I have drawn on the work of many people, reference to whose writings will be found in the text and in the suggestions for further reading. I am grateful to all these people for what I have learned from them. But I should also like to thank more directly those who have generously read the manuscript, or parts of it, and commented on it: David E. Cooper, Sir A.J. Ayer, Mark Sainsbury, Jonathan Glover, Richard Lindley and Brenda Cohen. Their help and support, along with that of Ted Honderich, advisory editor on philosophy to Penguin, has been invaluable. I must also thank my Workers Educational Authority students at Spelthorne in Middlesex, on whom I tried out the chapter on metaphysics, and my tutorial students at Bedford College, London, from 1982 to 1984; many from both these groups have, unknown to themselves, contributed improvements to the first three chapters.
→ A.O'H. May 1984
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