Book Review: The Blackwell Companion To Philosophy

The Blackwell Companion To Philosophy edited by Nicholas Bunnin and E.P. Tsui-James

Reading this book of nearly 900 pages is a monumental chore, but it is one that is capable of granting the reader considerable insight into the state of contemporary philosophy.  This is not to say that the insight that this book provides is necessarily entirely intentional or flattering, but it is insight nevertheless.  The essential problem with this book is that the authors of the many entries that are a part of the book are of the mistaken impression that it is human beings who decide what is right and wrong and good and evil and wise and unwise.  The fact that these philosophers, both the subjects of the entries and the writers of the entries, believe that the path-dependent thinking and communication of philosophers sets them above the common herd of humanity but that it provides timeless and worthwhile insight that others need to recognize and respond to, yet at the same time not being accountable to God, suggests a certain amount of failure at the basis of so much of what is the philosophical enterprise, especially one that desires to be viewed as legitimate within the bounds of materialism.

This book is almost 900 pages long, divided into two parts, and containing 42 entries on various philosophical matters.  The book begins with two prefaces, one for each edition, some notes on contributors and then two essays that deal with contemporary philosophy in the United States and a second look at contemporary philosophy.  After that twenty-one entries deal with areas of philosophy, beginning with epistemology (1), metaphysics (2), the philosophies of language (3), logic (4), and mind (5), ethics (6), aesthetics (7), political and social philosophy (8), as well as the philosophies of science (9), biology (10), mathematics (11), social science (12), law (13), history (14), and religion (15).  After this authors tackle applied ethics (16), bioethics (17), environmental ethics (18), business ethics (19), feminism (20), and matters of ethnicity and culture (21) to demonstrate the wokeness of some contemporary thinkers.  The second half of the sprawling work discusses the history of philosophy in generally chronological fashion, beginning with ancient Greece (22), Plato and Aristotle (23), medieval philosophy (24), Bacon (25), Descartes and Malebranche (26), Spinoza and Leibniz (27), Hobbes (28), Locke (29), Berkeley (30), Hume (31), Kant (32), Hegel (33), Marx (34), Bentham, Mill, and Sidgwick (35), pragmatism (36), Frege and Russell (37), Moore (38), Wittgenstein (39), Nietzsche (40), Husserl and Heidegger (41), and Sartre, Foucault, and Derrida (42).  After this the book ends with a glossary, appendix, and index for the reader’s convenience.

This book is not something that I would think that a lot of people would find very appealing.  That is not to say that it is a bad book, exactly, but more to say that it is a book with very limited appeal because of the way that the volume is so large and so relentless in seeking to promote so many different niches of contemporary philosophy that are so objectionable on so many fronts.  Given that this book is extremely long and that about half the book is spent talking about objectionable trends in contemporary philosophy that hardly anyone outside of the realm of philosophy cares about and the other half consists of contemporary views of philosophers of whom few will be appealing outside of the academy except for Moore with his high regard for common sense approaches, a highly underrated trait among philosophers, it would appear, its appeal is strictly limited in nature.  This book does a fair job at expressing what it is that contemporary philosophers do, but few who are not involved in such matters will praise this sort of action or think that it should be celebrated or rewarded.  And if that is a great shame it is no more than anyone involved in this deserves.

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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