Book Review: What The Tortoise Taught Us

What The Tortoise Taught Us:  The Story Of Philosophy, by Burton F. Porter


It is difficult to avoid the feeling in reading this book that the author is an ignoramus and should be fortunate that breathing is an automatic function of the body that does not require the sort of insights this author is lacking.  This book makes several fundamental errors in its approach and treatment.  For one, it takes the author’s very biased and ignorant perspective as “the” story of philosophy rather than “a” story of philosophy, told by an idiot, signifying nothing.  The book is a clear example of the bad philosophy that supports the bad science of evolutionary worldviews and is quite frankly inaccurate on a wide variety of subjects, including the Bible and intelligent design, both of which it deals with rather shoddily.  The fact that knowledge claims depend on truth status, this alone is fatal for the book’s attempts to present knowledge since they are founded on inaccuracy on several different levels, including worldview error.  On a more tactical level, it would have been wise for this author not to have tipped his hand about his own worldview, because this book could have been enjoyable if approached from a less dogmatic perspective.  To err is human, but to err this spectacularly requires that one be a philosopher of the worst sort [1].

This book has about 200 pages of material divided into seven chapters.  The author begins with a discussion of the beginnings of reflection in ancient Greece, looking at the pre-Socratic philosophers as well as Socrates, and considerably understating the amount of shamanism and other bad religious practice that went into the basis of Greek philosophy (1).  After this the author looks at rational thought in Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics (2).  The author then makes his worst (but by far not his only) stumbles in looking at religious philosophy in St. Thomas Aquinas and what he views as Christian Agape (3).  The author turns then to issues of personal identity and human nature when he looks at the metaphysics of Descartes and Hobbes and Rousseau (4).  Then the author looks at the issue of epistemology through the eyes of Hume (perhaps the author’s favorite philosopher) and Bishop Berkeley (5).  After this the author looks at the ethics of Kant, John Stuart Mill, and Sartre (6), having some interesting speculations to make on their contributions to philosophy, before closing with a look at contemporary trends in linguistic philosophy, feminist perspectives (about which the author is not particularly fond), and thoughts on issues like abortion and racism (7), where the author appears to hold to some bogus views on trying to right historical wrongs and refuse to grant personhood to the unborn because it serves as inconvenient to his political views.

It is hard to give all of the reasons that demonstrate this author’s total unfitness for the task he has set out for himself, but a sample of his more egregious errors would probably be in order.  The author makes notable errors on questions of fact, even to the point of claiming that there are sixteen commandments in the ten commandments of Exodus 20.  Likewise, the author shows a puzzlement at the horrors of Nazi Germany, considering that society to be a rational one despite their irrational hostility to biblical religion and their wholesale adoption of Darwinism and critical views of the Bible, both of which undermine reason by attacking revelation.  The author’s inability to see the corrosive effects of these matters, and his blind support of numerous incorrect worldviews make him wholly unsuited to providing a definitive history of philosophy, or even to be engaged in merely competent work as a philosopher.  This is a book that can only be enjoyed, sadly, by those who have drunk the same kool-aid flavor as the author, and thankfully I am not among that ilk.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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