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Friday, June 12, 2015

David's List of Thoughtful Reading: Non-fiction Philosophy

Posted by David R.

Friedrich Nietzsche’s previously lost manuscript had been mistreated editorially by others, but the new Walter Kaufman translation sets the record straight about Nietzsche’s fundamental concepts and ideas. More of a writer than a structured philosopher, this volume shows Nietzsche working out his system of thought through witty and stingingly sharp observations about religious belief, individual will, and the nature of consciousness.

Exclusively exploring the issues of animal rights and animal treatment by the human race, Singer’s book seems to be uncompromisingly sentimental in its evaluation of the West’s insistence upon animal mistreatment and the consumption of meat products, but a majority of his points are (sadly) on target, and his trenchant look into the viscera of factory farming is nearly unnerving. Singer’s thought stems from the phenomenological viewpoints of Hegel and Marx, although his impetus for writing the book came from an incident at college when a friend asked the cafeteria lunch lady if the spaghetti had meat in it.

The World as Will and Representation by Arthur Schopenhauer
Maligned by academia (and later dismissed by no less a prominent thinker than Wittgenstein himself), Schopenhauer’s seminal work is available in two volumes by Dover-Thrift publications. It remains the complete fundamental exposition of his transcontinental philosophy, merging the values of the East with the impressions made by Western ideals as expressed through Schopenhauer’s imperishable aphorisms (next to Nietzsche, there is no better writer to be found in philosophy than Schopenhauer). A volume of Schopenhauer’s essays and aphorisms is available in the Penguin Classics line, and a collection entitled The Essential Schopenhauer: Key Selections from The World as Will and Representation and Other Writings is now available through Harper Perennial Modern Classics.

The Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant
Kant is the most difficult of 18th century Western philosophers and system builders, but his influence upon Western philosophy in the 19th century is undeniable. This volume is frequently republished as it remains a work of dire importance even now. Kant was the first Western thinker to awaken from his “dogmatic slumbers” and realize that the position of consciousness in man may not be as absolute as others once thought before him. Although a typically conservative book by today’s standards (and by Kant’s—he wanted to box up the minds of his era rather than turn them loose, creatively speaking), the volume was so radical and controversial at the time that Kant’s reputation (and academic standing) was immediately called into question. The text deals with what we may term the threat posed by the educated mind or, rather, what the dangers of the educated mind may turn out to be. But it is Kant’s view of what humans can know through the senses alone that distinguishes this text and makes it essential for understanding Kant’s view of epistemology.

Although Darwin’s reputation has achieved mythical status in modern universities (and has received both contempt and scorn by numerous groups, from the honest to the intellectually dishonest), he initially suffered the pangs of misunderstanding and cultural turmoil when his theoretical examination of the biological origins of human and animal (and plant) life were first debuted for the public. Although Darwin had lost his faith in any kind of literal religious belief, the book itself is not an attack upon such traditional dogmas, but rather a travelogue of ideas about the nature of biological development and the evolutionary branches of life. The story of Darwin’s thought does come with the equipment of the 19th century view of race, so be aware of this context as you read. Illustrated versions of the original work are available, but the preferred edition is still the Penguin Classics text edited by William Bynum.

Will Durant was a writer with a populist vision of the library and of philosophical ideas in general, and this volume proves, through its many excavations of the biographies of the major Western philosophers, that philosophy is a subject for readers and not mere logicians (unlike modern academics, Durant does not discount nor exclude the life and thought of Schopenhauer). Biographies of Spinoza, Bacon, Bergson, Russell, and even Dewey make this literate but accessible edition a must for anyone interested in learning about the men who created the foundations of philosophy.

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