Sunday, 13 March 2011

The Problems Of Philosophy, A Review

I heard about this book from a friend of mine, who mentioned it to be a quite simple introduction to philosophy and philosophical thinking. I was planning to do this review two weeks ago, but instead I decided to spent some more time on rereading it again, to have a clearer picture and understanding of the whole thing.

I had read one book each from the likes of Immanuel Kant, Francis Bacon and David Hume. It was not surprising that this literature, by Bertrand Russel is more accessible to any average Joe's, and easier to be understood and related to, as its author was fairly recent (1872-1970). Its language style is not as archaic as Bacon's, as I could hardly understand anything that he had written in The Advancement Of Learning.

The book was relatively thin, about 200 pages long and was divided into 15 chapters. In each one of them, Russel tried to convey, and teach how philosophers view the world. He started with how you see the world from you own senses, but in somehow different perceptions. He gave a simple example of a table. If it were to be seen from different angles, then a table would indeed look very different in each one of the realisations. However, all the slightly different images doesn't refer to a totally different thing.

He progressed further with the question of how "real" is the reality? Might it then perhaps be that, our life is just a long sequence of a dream? As all knowledge have to be derived from previously known knowledge, there will be a point in time when there's no causality of the first knowledge. Knowledge in this case can also be seen as the "truth".

You believe in something, because you hold them dearly against more solid beliefs beforehand. Something that you are almost, totally confident is true, but how do you assure yourself when it comes to the first realisation of the truth? Russel pointed out, that as sometimes even in science we have several hypothesis to explain a certain phenomenon, would it possibly then perhaps, several version of truths independently exist?

According to him, philosophy is meant to be studied for the uncertainty and baffling nature of itself. Once a branch of philosophy attains a threshold of certainty with the strong backup of convincing arguments and proofs, it will then become a part of science. Just like how mathematics, astronomy, psychology and sociology were born out of philosophical realm.

However, once philosophical thinking is applied to its greatest extent, sometimes you just cannot help but to question everything that you can see and touch. Triviality can then be seen as utterly complexity, at a few odd times. Sometimes, you will wonder if indeed you are awake or actually dreaming to be awake. You question too much, at one point you are never quite sure what is the meaning of the questions.

Russel mentioned a bit about religious facts and beliefs. This is one tricky part of the equation, as until now there are still a few things that you are just expected to believe in, without any solid rationale or explanation behind it.

Quoting the very last paragraph of this book.

Thus, to sum up our discussion of the value of philosophy; Philosophy is to be studied not for the sake of any definite answers to its questions, since no definite answers can, as a rule, be known to be true, but rather for the sake of the questions themselves; because these questions enlarge our conception of what is possible, enrich our intellectual imagination and diminish the dogmatic assurance which closes the mind against speculation; but above all because, through the greatness of the universe which philosophy contemplates, the mind also is rendered great, and becomes capable of that union with the universe which constitutes its highest good.
Highly recommended to anyone who is interested in philosophy. Get it from Project Gutternberg for free.

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