Introduction into the
Science of Thinking
As long as I can think back, philosophy strongly attracted me, and yet, I never really bothered to learn more about it. In high school I was taught some basics, but the subject didn’t leave many traces in my memory except that the lessons, the text-book and even the teacher were mind-numbingly boring. After nearly thirty years I decided to give it a new try. Of course, I couldn’t just plunge into matters unprepared, so for a start I picked a cursory introduction into philosophy. The book of my choice was The Problems of Philosophy by Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) who received the 1950 Nobel Prize in Literature “in recognition of his varied and significant writings in which he champions humanitarian ideals and freedom of thought”.
Although the author published the book in 1912 to introduce some of the most important concepts of philosophy to the uninformed reader or undergraduate student, it’s far from an easy read. Already the first chapter dealing with appearance and reality is a bit of a challenge because it doesn’t forgive a single moment of distraction. The question dealt with is one of the best known of philosophy: what is a table? Does it exist separate from the individual’s perception? Is it what it appears to be? Or is it necessary to distinguish between reality and apparition? Is the table I see the same as yours? The most famous philosophers of all times have discussed it in depth as well as at length, thus it suffices to say that my mind was spinning when I finished the chapter… and it turned out to be the most accessible of all fifteen less the last! It’s true that I’ve often engaged in similar mind games as the philosophers whom Bertrand Russell cites, but I never was very consequent and thus never even guessed how far they can be driven, nor how controversial they actually are. I learnt a lot about philosophy and eventually couldn’t help wondering why highly intelligent people waste their time on problems that have no relevance whatsoever for daily life. The author foresaw this reaction and closed his introduction with a chapter about the value of philosophy that sort of reconciled me with the science of thinking.
I experienced The Problems of Philosophy as a demanding and interesting read although I didn’t get much of a chance to enjoy it because it was too cursory and quick-paced. As a matter of fact, I believe that I might have taken more pleasure in a thorough philosophical work on just one of the problems. Kindly Bertrand Russell appended a bibliographical note with special recommendations for further reading to learn the basics of philosophy because he too thought that it made more sense than studying handbooks. I fully agree with him.
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