Philosophy and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy edited by Nicholas Joll – review in The Guardian
Douglas Adams: Analysing the Absurd by Margaretha Aletta van der Colff, A dissertation submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts
Now it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anything so mind-bogglingly useful could have evolved purely by chance that some thinkers have chosen to see it as the final and clinching proof of the non-existence of God. The argument goes something like this:
I refuse to prove that I exist,’ says God, `for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing.’
`But,’ says Man, `The Babel fish is a dead giveaway, isn’t it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don’t. QED.’
`Oh dear,’ says God, `I hadn’t thought of that,’ and promptly vanished in a puff of logic.”
The Iris Murdoch Society (no longer updated, but still good list of books and resources)
Interview in Paris Review: Iris Murdoch, The Art of Fiction No. 117
The Guardian, Bidisha: The moral brilliance of Iris Murdoch – The novelist and philosopher Iris Murdoch took on the most profound moral questions that we ordinary creatures grapple with.
“Iris Murdoch was a notable philosopher before she was a notable novelist and her work was brave, brilliant, and independent. She made her name first for her challenges to Gilbert Ryle and behaviourism, and later for her book on Sartre (1953), but she had the greatest impact with her work in moral philosophy—and especially her book The Sovereignty of Good (1970). She turned expectantly from British linguistic philosophy to continental existentialism, but was dissatisfied there too; she devised a philosophy and a style of philosophy that were distinctively her own. Murdoch aimed to draw out the implications, for metaphysics and the conception of the world, of rejecting the standard dichotomy of language into the ‘descriptive’ and the ‘emotive’. She aimed, in Wittgensteinian spirit, to describe the phenomena of moral thinking more accurately than the ‘linguistic behaviourists’ like R. M. Hare. This ‘empiricist’ task could be acheived, Murdoch thought, only with help from the idealist tradition of Kant, Hegel, and Bradley. And she combined with this a moral psychology, or theory of motivation, that went back to Plato, but was influenced by Freud and Simone Weil. Murdoch’s impact can be seen in the moral philosophy of John McDowell and, in different ways, in Richard Rorty and Charles Taylor, as well as in the recent movements under the headings of moral realism, particularism, moral perception, and virtue theory.”
There’s a number of Bertrand Russell books that have been influential in philosophy – his History of Western Philosophy is a great overview and has been mentioned by a few writers as an introductory text (such as Nigel Warburton, who mentions being influenced by it in his own writing – A Little History of Philosophy). You can even listen to the entire book via YouTube!
Recently the Brain Pickings site wrote about Bertrand Russell on Human Nature, Construction vs. Destruction, and Science as a Key to Democracy; you should also check out
I’m returning to reviewing books and suggesting resources – and this one is with huge thanks to Embiggen Books in Melbourne, whose site is always beautifully appointed with the very latest and high quality resources when it comes to… erm, embiggening the mind.
For some time I’ve been involved in supporting the Philosophy for Children methodology (so, warning – I’m biased!) – and this book has a slightly different take on that, as demonstrated on pages 7-8:
There are a number of ways of doing philosophy with children but what they all share is the use of enquiry that is open-ended – extended discussion using questioning and reasoning – for engaging classes. Some recommend enlisting the children to formulate and select questions (Philosophy for Children or P4C) and others recommend the use of carefully constructed questions that are put to the children, such as the start and further questions in this book. The Philosophy Shop can, in some cases, be used either way, but it should be noticed that many of the examples have been carefully selected for their philosophical focus. By allowing the children to choose their own questions the focus may be lost. Having said that, many more interesting philosophical questions may be discovered by the children when they formulate their own questions based on their concerns and interests. many of the more fleshed-out stories… have a good deal more going on than is covered by the prepared questions. A balance between the two approaches is probably the best, so that the focus is perserved but the participants guide the discussion within the remit of the focus.
For my part, I think this misses the important element of democracy and class interactivity that comes with children debating and clarifying a question that they will discuss further by using the P4C methodology, but I do like the way this book has a huge range of topics in a rather hefty volume. The problem is that there isn’t much support in terms of further teachers’ notes, which is something that Lipman and Sharp’s P4C did provide with their manuals. It does, however, have some great advice as to creating your own exercises and I think that this should definitely provide some inspiration for teachers when it comes to creating philosophical adventures in the classroom.
Overall, an interesting and inspiring read that is clearly aimed at children, but would generally be very useful for all ages as a introduction to and expanding critical thinking in classes. The book does recommend that teachers learn how to conduct discussions effectively – such as time management, facilitation skills – by referring to another book ( The If Machine: Philosophical Inquiry in the Classroom) and I would have included more on that in this book, along with the included ‘quick guide to running a PhiE (Philosophical Enquiry)’. I think this is a good addition to my library and although it’s not as highly recommended as (say) Law’s Philosophy Gym for my high-school and older classes, it’s encouraging to have a book that suggests creating activities for discussions using my own experiences.
How did you first become interested in philosophy?
I can remember as a very young child asking the question, “How does a baby learn to speak?” I wasn’t really satisfied with the answer my mother gave me – that you just point to things and say their names. I’m not sure I could answer the question now, but it was certainly of philosophical interest. As a teenager, I also picked out Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy from the local public library, which was one of the great inspirations for me. The library, that is, rather than the book. I think it’s the route out of suburbia for a lot of people. It opened up different sorts of reading for me. I would walk several miles to the local library and take out as many books as I could. Inevitably, sooner or later I got some philosophy books, along with all sorts of weird and wonderful ones.
Check out the whole entry, including book recommendations, over on http://thebrowser.com/interviews/nigel-warburton-on-introductions-philosophy
Today, to finish off Philosophy and books, I have a number of resources to check out:
Guardian Books podcast: Philosophical nonsense – the Guardian:
Two hundred years after the birth of Edward Lear, Michael Rosen celebrates his literary legacy, while we return to another classic of children’s philosophy, Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth.
New Books In Philosophy: New Books in Philosophy features peer-to-peer discussions with philosophers about their new ideas as expressed in their newly published books. The program is co-hosted by Carrie Figdor (University of Iowa) and Robert Talisse (Vanderbilt University). Between the two of us, we will be exploring new books in ethics, epistemology, philosophy of mind, metaphysics, philosophy of science, social and political philosophy, history of philosophy, philosophy of language, and many other subfields.
Philosophers in 90 Minutes – a pay-per-author series, with a number of subjects covered within authors.
Finally, some more Free Courses:
It’s a brand new month! And since I’m nearing the end of a week on Philosophy and books – how about a philosopher who has fascinated me for quite some time: Iris Murdoch on Philosophy in Literature, talking to Brian Magee.