Friday, July 30, 2010

Philosopher's Toolkit...

I am now half way through Julian Baggini and Peter S. Fosl's The Philosopher's Toolkit: A Compendium of Philosophical Concepts and Methods. I found it in a bookstore last week -the beauty of browsing- and I am finding it very useful in putting me in a critical state of mind when approaching texts for the PhD. It is basically a reference guide / encyclopedia of philosophy designed not so much to tell you about individual philosophers and their ideas, but rather to act as a guide to understanding philosophical arguments, methodologies and techniques. It touches on many of the topics that I covered as an undergraduate majoring in Philosophy, but it also reveals some of the more basic, yet unexamined, aspects (or tools) for argument, critiques and conceptual distinctions.

My favourite 'tool' so far is the ceteris paribus (all other things being equal) principle, a way to limit the scope of an argument or explicitly avoid considerations of factors not relevant to the argument/ topic. The thought experiment offered to illustrate this concept is brilliant:

Your brain is to be transplanted into another body, taking all your thoughts, memories, oersonality and so on. We'll call teh resulting person 'Yourbrain'. Meanwhile your body will receive the brain of another, and we'll call that person 'Yourbody'. Before this operations takes place, you are asked to sign over all your bank accounts, property deeds and so on to Yourbody and Yourbrain. Assuming that you are acting out of self-interest, which person would you choose? (81)

Its a great book for revision and would be useful for anyone who is already interested in philosophy, logic or the structure of arguments; while it is not a riveting read, it is clearly written, contains solid examples and references for further reading.

Today I am off to Uni to see a keynote address by guest lecturer Rita Felski, a Jr. Professor of English at the University of Virginia who is presenting on the "hermeneutics of suspicion", next week I am attending a symposium run by Professor Felski called "Everyday Aesthetics". I start my actual workshops/seminars for my PhD after next week!

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