In sum, cogito et al

Fundamentals of Philosophy - 101 Ethical Dilemmas
October 22, 2004

Fundamentals of Philosophy is based on a successful series of intermediate texts in central areas of philosophy. The editor of the series, John Shand, has compiled this introductory volume with an essay from each of the contributors intended to explain the basic issues in their respective areas.

The chapters are of a uniformly high quality and many are written by luminaries in their fields, although not all are completely introductory. Alvin Goldman's chapter on epistemology is quite hard and somewhat opinionated. Michael Jubien's essay on metaphysics, however, gently leads the reader into abstract subject matter and remains impartial throughout. There are then chapters on logic, ethics, political philosophy, philosophy of science, philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, philosophy of religion, aesthetics and continental philosophy. The most technical of these is the superb philosophy of language chapter by Alexander Miller. Moreover, there are three excellent historical surveys covering ancient philosophy, medieval philosophy and early modern philosophy.

Finally, Simon Glendinning is allotted the unenviable task of doing justice to all of continental philosophy in one chapter. As he says, the division of philosophy into analytic versus continental is unfortunate and artificial. Rather than selecting a few, he opts for a glossary of many continental thinkers, a schematic account of the main movements in continental thought and a reflection on the very idea of continental philosophy. This will serve to introduce readers to the contested nature of philosophy as a whole, and remind them that they are only scratching the surface of the discipline.

The book will serve well first-year students seeking an overview of the subject and will help them decide on options for the second year.

101 Ethical Dilemmas is a popularisation that may also be suitable for A level. The idea is to present a large number of problems to introduce the main issues in ethics and political philosophy. These are then followed by discussions that put the problems into a historical, social and philosophical context.

I doubt that many people teaching ethics find themselves short of examples to illustrate the issues, and it is advisable to reflect in some depth on a small number of examples rather than to charge through dozens.

The discussions often address the philosophical subject matter in a superficial and misleading way. Unwarranted and idiosyncratic opinions and verdicts are frequently pronounced, and the quips and epigrams scattered throughout are only occasionally amusing. Having said that, popular philosophy is liable to irritate a professional philosopher who will always prefer picking over a point of detail to a tour of the subject.

I imagine that 101 Ethical Dilemmas will stimulate some people to philosophical reflection who may not otherwise be interested, and Martin Cohen does a good job of weaving some intriguing stories and classic philosophical ideas and arguments into the discussions. It is an undisciplined book, but a lively and interesting one.

James Ladyman is senior lecturer in philosophy, Bristol University.

Fundamentals of Philosophy

Editor - John Shand
Publisher - Routledge
Pages - 445
Price - £65.00 and £17.99
ISBN - 0 415 209 7 and 210 0

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