Philosophy as it Is: General Introduction & Essay Introductions
Honderich (Ted) & Burnyeat (Myles)
Source: Honderich & Burnyeat - Philosophy as it Is
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General Introduction Full Text (Excerpted)
  1. The best introduction to philosophy is philosophy itself. This is not an original thought, but it is not common for it to be taken as literally and as seriously as we have taken it in bringing together this volume of essays and introductions.
  2. Good philosophy is rigorous, and has been since Socrates and before. The quality of rigorousness is not preserved in dilution. Reflection on philosophy (by which we mean attempts to introduce it or describe it or survey it or explain its nature), as distinct from attempts to do it, may be more or less instructive. Some books on philosophy, as contrasted with books of philosophy, are excellent. At its best, however, this sort of thing still lacks an essential quality of its subject matter. There is not much less difference between reading philosophy and reading about philosophy than there is between reading original history and reading about the writing of history or reading a second-hand survey of the results of historical research.
  3. Good philosophy is also in several ways imaginative, and this again is a quality which is best appreciated in original work. It does not come across well in paraphrase or in generalities about the philosophical endeavour.
  4. It is no accident that rigour and imagination should be two prime characteristics of good philosophy. They are qualities called for by the nature of the questions with which philosophy deals. The questions of philosophy are fundamental ones about our understanding of ourselves and the world, questions of a kind for which we lack settled and defined methods of answer. They are often highly general questions, but they are not on that account distant from the real world. Many of them are questions about the very same reality which is the subject-matter of the sciences; philosophy traditionally has as one of its functions the attempt to reach a synoptic understanding of the results of other fields of inquiry. Many of the questions are also within the practical world, indeed the world of personal, social and political struggle. Many of them, finally, are questions which enter into the very stuff of the wider culture of our society; they contribute vitally to the shared fund of ideas on which action and reflection of diverse kinds can draw.
  5. Our first concern, then, as editors of this volume, has been to provide examples of good and therefore rigorous and imaginative philosophy as it actually is. The papers, lectures and sections from books which are reprinted here exemplify the kinds of philosophical inquiry which are taken seriously by those who teach and learn philosophy in the English-speaking countries of the world. A good number of the examples have proved to be seminal contributions of the kind which carry their subject forward and become the focus of ongoing discussion.
  6. Our second concern has been to represent the whole range of philosophy. One has something less than philosophy as it is if one or more of the major parts of the subject, perhaps logical theory or the philosophy of science, is left out as being too specialized or too challenging for the general reader. What is missing is not just a portion of the subject, but the essential interconnectedness of the problems of philosophy and of the subject areas into which they are conventionally distributed. This interconnectedness is an important part of what one leams from an education in philosophy. Equally, creative work in philosophy is often hard to classify by the conventional lines of division because it trespasses, fruitfully, into more than one branch of the subject.
  7. We have therefore included logical theory, philosophy of language, epistemology, metaphysics, philosophy of science, philosophy of mind, aesthetics, moral philosophy, political philosophy and the philosophy of religion. But the diagrammatic map following the table of contents displays the fact that many of the contributions resist easy classification under these headings. We have regretfully omitted outlying subjects such as philosophy of history and philosophy of law. We have also omitted philosophy of education, which has not since John Dewey been in touch with the mainstream of philosophy.
  8. An omission of a different order is the history of philosophy. It is noteworthy that a good number of the contributors to this volume have done distinguished work in the history of philosophy. Philosophy has a peculiarly close relation with its own traditions. The problems and arguments of the great thinkers of the past are a permanently present element in the contemporary debate. At any time a significant portion of the best work in philosophy is historical, enriching the current practice of philosophy with ideas arrived at by thinking through and reassessing the work of one of the great philosophers in the near or distant past. If, then, we have omitted to represent the history of philosophy, this is because it is too large a dimension of philosophy to represent adequately here. It needs a companion volume to itself.
  9. Our third concern has been to find a representative selection of recent work, as philosophy understands 'recent'. The contributions were all written within approximately the last ten years, during which time philosophy has been developing rapidly on every front. There is more adventurous thinking and imaginative construction in this collection than would have been apparent ten years ago; at the same time, the concern for careful argument is, if anything, more pronounced than ever. The problems discussed are a fair balance of the traditional and the new, but all of them come from among the central concerns of the several branches of philosophy listed above. Taking the problems more or less by the order of that list, starting with logical theory, the contributions have to do with meaning and truth, necessity and identity, perception and the physical world, knowing, possible worlds, causation, freedom and determinism, the acceptance of scientific theories, the nature of mental events, personal identity, love, art and the idea of a form of life, the objectivity of moral judgements. Utilitarianism and moral integrity, justice in society, God and the problem of evil.
  10. It may be that at this point a member or two of the class of 'general reader' will consider that our book offers too bracing a challenge. We very much hope not, and with reason. It is not, of course, that the book offers no challenge. It seems sometimes to be supposed that the reading of philosophy can be, or ought to be, as straightforward as the reading of a novel. It cannot. The way of philosophy is not the way of literature, or the rest of literature. Philosophical arguments are not for drifting through, and never have been. (Descartes once suggested that the reader should ponder the first of his Meditations for weeks, even months, before continuing further.) For the reasons already given, however, this should not be taken to justify giving the reader potted philosophy or philosophy-made-simple, or for weighting the selection towards more tractable issues which are peripheral to the mainstream of philosophy. The right response, we believe, is to offer material which is deserving of the sustained, careful attention that philosophy requires, and then try to provide help and guidance for the reader with little or no experience of these matters. So this has been our fourth conccm: to provide help and guidance to lead the reader into a series of challenging but rewarding discussions.
  11. In accepting the challenge, to ourselves as editors, of this fourth aim, we have tried to select, so far as was compatible with our other aims, work which is within the reach ofthose who have not previously studied the subject. We looked for clear, reasonably untechnical writing, and for the most part we have found it. Where the going gets tough, technical or obscure, we have said so. Better to share in the experience of difficulty, which for anyone, professional and amateur alike, is a normal part of doing the subject, and to appreciate where technical knowledge comes in, than to be fobbed off with easier, less representative material. Better too to be aware of what also exists - a fair measure of controversy and sharp disagreement.
  12. We have furnished each piece with an introduction, often quite a long introduction. The aim of these introductions is pedagogical. In most cases they are summaries or abstracts of what follows, highlighting the main themes and arguments. If, as a result, the reader finds himself taken through two different presentations of the same argument, our hope is simply that this will aid his understanding of the author's original.
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  14. These, then, have been our four intentions - to represent philosophy as it is; to represent the whole range of its concerns; to represent recent developments in the subject; to bring the reader by way of the introductions and by choosing clear, reasonably non-technical selections to a decent understanding of arguments. The philosophy of which we speak is philosophy as it is carried forward by professional philosophers in the universities of the English-speaking countries of the world, and some others. (It is sometimes labelled 'analytic philosophy' in contrast with the various traditions of Continental philosophy.) We have aimed to present the best aspects of that philosophy. Indeed, to a large extent the book is the distinguished work of distinguished contemporary philosophers. It comes about as close as a single book can, we feel, to recording the achievement of ongoing philosophy in the English language at this time.

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