I may finally have found a genuinely readable—and digestible—introduction to philosophy: The History of Philosophy by A C Grayling. It takes me a bit further than the Monty Python Philosopher’s Song, which enables me to memorise some of the more obscure names. The book presents the subject in nice bite-size chunks, and does have some surprises. For example …
Generally, book-burning is the province of those characterised by extreme intolerance; one or two examples from recent history readily come to mind. But David Hume, an Edinburgh man generally regarded as one of the greatest philosophers of the eighteenth century, advocated burning books:
‘If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.’
Clearly, a polemic against theology and some of the more rarefied theories of philosophy. Hume’s view encapsulates the ideas of Logical Positivism, a system of ideas advocated by the ‘Vienna School’ in the 1920s and 1930s. Regrettably, that group of scholars were dispersed to the four corners of the earth by the regime that took over in Germany and Austria, and guess what one of their favourite activities was?
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