ZENO AND THE TORTOISE: How to Think like a Philosopher

Nicholas Fearn, Author
Nicholas Fearn, Author . Atlantic Monthly $14 (193p) ISBN 978-0-8021-3917-7
Reviewed on: 04/01/2002
Release date: 04/01/2002
Paperback - 192 pages - 978-1-903809-61-7
Hardcover - 208 pages - 978-0-87113-847-7
Ebook - 130 pages - 978-1-84887-263-9
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This slick attempt to make philosophy accessible offers some basic information, but suffers from being either confused or obvious. U.K. journalist Fearn starts from the dubious, undefended premise that the "most enduring contributions of the great philosophers" are "thinking tools, methods and approaches" rather than "theories and systems." This premise becomes weaker as the book gets down to cases, including Fearn's reduction of Plato to someone who developed analogy as a tool, and his treatment of Nietzsche's "hammer" as though it were an identifiable tool at all. These and other selected philosophers from Thales to Derrida are surveyed in chapters that each focus on some "tool" that a particular thinker invented or wielded: the Socratic method, Ockham's razor, Descartes's demon, Hume's fork, etc. Many of these purportedly useful tools are essentially claims (such as Kant's account of noumena or Dawkins's account of memes) that, if false, are not useful, yet their grounds are only spottily examined. Readability is aided through pop references to the likes of Sting, Bill Gates and Batman, but impaired by capsule biographies that sound like encyclopedia excerpts and by philosophical meditations lacking in originality and force (as with some object lessons on now "common sense" varies across cultures and eras) The book may offer instruction for the novice, but is more likely to bore and mislead. Better to get a good philosophical dictionary. (May)

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