Philosophy 2: Further through the subject

Written by A.C. Grayling.

Editor's Introduction

Study is obviously enough, a progressive enterprise; one masters the introductory stages of a subject in order to proceed to more advanced topics. But advanced topics themselves require some introduction; the student profits from being guided to the central concerns of a given subject and its essential literature, the better to continue independently thereafter. This volume aims to provide just such introductions to most of the important areas of philosophical inquiry beyond the elementary level.

The companion and, by design, precursor to this volume, Philosophy 1: A Guide through the Subject, introduces the standard range of core subjects on which this volume builds. It's not of course necessary that Philosophy 1: A Guide be the very book read before this one; and good introduction will do, for it is familiarity with the relevant does indeed count; without some preparatory knowledge of debates in epistemology, metaphysics, and philosophical logic, and an acquaintance with the history of philosophy, most of the following essays will be harder to appreciate, while with it they will be, as they are designed to be, valuable entrances to the advanced subjects they address.

As with its precursor, this volume deals principally with areas of philosophical debate important in 'analytic philosophy'. It is often pointed out that analytic philosophy is not a school of thought, but a style or method of philosophical thinking; in this volume's precursor I described it as 'a style of philosohizing which seeks to be rigorous and careful, which at times makes use of ideas and techniques from logic, and which is aware of what is happening in science. It is, in particular, alert to linguistic considerations, not because of an interest in language for its own sake, but because it is through language that we grasp the concepts we use, and it is by means of language that we express our beliefs and assumptions. One of the principal methods of analytic philosophy is analysis of the concepts we employ in thinking about ourselves and the world; not surprisingly, this is called 'conceptual analysis'. Most of the essays that follow - perhaps most especially those on philosophy of language, philosophy of psychology, philosophy of mathematics, philosophy of science, and the work of Frege, Russell and Wittgenstein - focus on questions essential to the concerns of analytic philosophy.

Analytic philosophy is mainly associated with the contemporary English-speaking world, but it is by no means the only important philosophical tradition. In this volume two other immensely rich and important such traditions are introduced: Indian Philosophy, and philosophical thought in Europe from the time of Hegel. Note that if an Indian text of philosophy devoted just one chapter to 'Western philosophy', one would find its vast range, long history, and many contending schools perforce treated with great compression. The same applies in this volume's single - chapter survey of Indian philosophical thought; but as with all the other chapters in this book, the aim is to stimulate readers to find out more on their own account.

The subjects introduced in this volume are various, and each of the chapters is independent of the others. The only unifying theme throughout is the approach: each chapter assumes that its readers have some grounding in the basics of philosophy, and (without attempting to be exhaustive: the bibliographies point the way to further study) offers an account of some of the key questions in the field under discussion. No area of philosophy is entirely free of connections to and overlaps with other areas, however, so it will be found that debate in one chapter throws light on debate in others in a variety of ways - as to which, more below.

Six chapters have as their titles 'The Philosophy of.....'. In its more advanced regions philosophy often consists in reflection on the assumptions, methods, and claims of an important area of intellectual endeavour. The 'philosophy of' chapters focus on crucial subjects: science mathematics, social science in general and psychology in particular, language, and religion.

Two chapters extend the study of Philosophy's history into periods often neglected in undergraduate study, the 'post-Artisotelian' period of later ancient philosophy, and medieval philosophy. Each is rich in intrinsic interest, and in importance for developments in later philosophy.

The high importance of political philosophy demands that it have a chapter to itself, which it gets here.

I have already mentioned the chapters that respectively survey Indian philosophy and Continental philosophy; as with the others in this volume, they are intended to be prefaces to the further study invited by their bibliographies, but this is a point worth iterating in their case because of their range.

The remaining two chapters discuss the work of individuals. One is devoted to a single individual, Immanuel Kant; the other introduces themes in the thought of three of the principal founders of twentieth-century analytic philosophy: Gottlob Frege, Bertrand Russell, and Ludwig Wittgenstein. The Kant chapter surveys the work of a seminal modern thinker whose views have been influential in epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, and aesthetics across several traditions of philosophical debate. The chapter on Frege, Russell, and Wittgenstein introduces a number of the most central questions of contemporary philosophy.

It was observed above that no areas of philosophy is free of connections to other areas. Although the debates canvassed in the following chapters illuminate one another, this happens in too numerous and sometimes too indirect ways to be detailed here. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that certain chapters naturally group with certain others. The Frege-Russell-Wittengenstein chapter can usefully be read before those on philosophy of language and philosophy of mathematics. The Kant and the Continental philosophy chapters can profitably be read in sequence, in that order. The same applies to the later ancient and medieval philosophy chapters, which, moreover, both relate closely to that on philosophy of religion. And interesting and important comparisons can be drawn between the chapters on the philosophies of science and social science.

Again as with its precursor, this volume originated in work done on behalf of the University of London in commissioning material to accompany undergraduate studies in philosophy. Students reading for London University's celebrated single-subject honours degree in philosophy turn, in the later stages of their study, to examine two or three advanced fields of thought (called, in the language of the rubrics, optional subjects); the essays in this volume introduce these advanced subjects. They do so robustly, and head-on, but with the needs of progressing students clearly in view. Along with its precursor, this book therefore constitutes, as it is designed to constitute, a major resource for continued philosophical study.