Wednesday, March 04, 2015

An Introduction to Philosophy by George S. Fullerton (Book Review #21 of 2015)

An Introduction to Philosophy (free at Gutenberg, sometimes for Kindle)
This book is not a history of philosophy, although Fullerton recommends such reading. (I have a history of philosophy text which I'll read in the coming weeks.) It's an overview of the problems that philosophy has tried to address for millenia. Fullerton writes of the Epicurians as well as the modern contributions by people still living in his day (1859-1925).  As I read this book, particularly his comments critical of mathematicians and physicists playing part-time philosophers, I find it hard to believe he's not writing from 2006 instead of 1906.

So, this book is an undergraduate-level introduction into the problems of philosophy. I learned much of the surface, which is the point. Here are notes I took:

We depend on senses to determine what and how things are. We relate our understanding of objects we know to objects we don't know. How can we be certain that these material objects exist? How do we know that a chair in my mind is the same form as the chair in someone else's? We use senses to determine what is real, can things exist outside our senses which are also real?

Space is necessary, it cannot be deleted arbitrarily. For example, we cannot eliminate the outside of a man's hat and leave the inside. Is space infinite, infinitely divisible? Likewise, is time infinite, and infinitely divisible?

Augustine wrote thought-provoking statements on time-- time cannot be measured but you can have memories and have a relative idea of length. There is always the problem of determinism when dealing with time.

What is matter? Where do physical matter and the spirit or mind meet?

Hume, Locke, Kant, Spinoza. Apparently terms associated with Kant were more in vogue in 1906 vernacular than today.
Dualism, monism, epistemology, metaphysics.

Can we know an object or just know the basic idea of an object by its characteristics as perceived by our senses?  Is the mind made up of material things or of ideas? What are ideas? The author makes it seems to all come back to Herbert Spencer.

Locke-- had serious contradictions.
    - "had no right to accept an outside world."
Can we know anything, if so, what?
What insights do psychologists give to philosophy, the mind? Those interested in metaphysics tend toward Hegel. Mathematicians lean toward logic.

Fullerton takes a shot at mathematicians and physicists who engage in philosophy "part time, after putting down their pens" in their designated fields of expertise. This is problematic and they make errors that give a bad name to philosophy. This reminds me much of Lee Smolin.

Logic is useful for the undergrad, so all students should study it. Our political discourse would improve if everyone were trained in logic (hear, hear!).

Without Socrates there would have been no Aristotle. Without Hume there would be no Kant, Hegel, etc. We learn from others and build on both their mistakes and their plausible theories. We should always be skeptical of any new theory or finding. Psychology shows we fall into camps and despise those in different camps. He doesn't use the term "Bayesian" but essentially that's what he's arguing-- assign a probability to something being true and adjust that probability appropriately with new information.

I give this book 3.5 stars. I have no idea how well it has held up over time. But it's free and accessible to any interested party.

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