Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Book Review: Introduction to Philosophy: The Perennial Principles of the Classical Realist Tradition

 Daniel J. Sullivan states:
"The choice before us, then, is not between accepting or rejecting philosophy since each of us-- whether he knows it or not-- already has one, but between holding it consciously or unconsciously. Unless we free our minds by becoming critically conscious of what we hold unconsciously and uncritically, we are liable to become victims of our own unconsciously held philosophy or of the philosophy of others, which may rule us all the more tyrannically because it is hidden and operates in the dark. What we hold implicitly, vaguely, confusedly, must be rendered explicit, definite and clear in the light of reason and the evidence of things. For in the words of Socrates, one of the greatest of all philosophers, 'The unexamined life is not worth living.'"
This is my favorite, and probably the most important, quote from the book An Introduction to Philosophy: The Perennial Principles of the Classical Realist Tradition.  I can only reflect on this dense book somewhat superficially here.  It is a great into book that looks a little at the history of philosophy and then explores the main themes of classical realist philosophy, one of the most common sense schools of philosophical thought.  The author of this book, being a Catholic Christian, also talks to some extent about the relation between faith and reason.  Books like this are more important than they seem at first glance and I highly recommend this great book.

This is a great book!  I will only address this book very superficially as the content involves hundreds of years of philosophy, thus one could write on it all day.  Also, the things addressed here are perhaps somewhat outside the purview of this blog.

As one might guess, this is intro philosophy book dealing with the classical realist tradition, meaning, as far as I can tell, that it presumes the existence of empirical reality and derives principles from there.  The book begins with a history of philosophy from the earliest Greek philosophers through Plato and Aristotle.  After this, it deals with philosophy and truth more directly, each section dealing with a different concern of philosophy.  I especially like the ending where he explores the proofs for God's existence.  The breakdown is thus:
Part I: The Historical Rise of Philosophy
Part II: The Meaning of Man
Part III: The Making of Man
Part IV: The Universe of Man
Part V: The Universe of Being
Classical realism is a great philosophy because it takes into account common sense and basic human intuition, unlike Descartes and some other philosophers who bent over backward to be skeptical about our sense experience that incessantly hits us over the head with its immediacy.  Sullivan notes multiple times that things like a deep skepticism about reality and moral relativism work in theory, but it is all but impossible psychologically to truly believe them.  As he goes through different ideas, you get the feeling that you intuitively "half-knew" a lot of what was in the book.  The observations here are progressive and logical and philosophy does not create anything, but merely discovers things.  It starts by merely labeling the obvious and then moving to the more esoteric.

The author of this book is a Catholic Christian so, at points, he talks about the meeting of faith and reason although he is careful to separate the two as well.  If both are true, they can not contradict.  Each has it place in bringing light to the human mind.

Why ever read a book like this?  Ideas matter.  As noted above, all people believe something.  You can't not have a worldview.  The last century of mass murder has shown us that ideas matter.  Those acts of evil sprang from a bad philosophy, a wrong view of humanity, a lack of virtue, an incorrect ethical system, and so on, all of these being areas dealt with by philosophy.  I truly believe that most people, unless you have already gone further in philosophy, should at least read this fantastic introductory book.

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