Friday, August 04, 2006

A philosopher's favorite philosophy books

A good friend of mine who studied under Mary Warnock told me she once mentioned that her (famously dry) husband Geoffrey had to take a personality test before he began his military service...and he failed.

Lady Mary Warnock is a crossbench life peer, moral philosopher, and author of several books on philosophy, including The Intelligent Person's Guide to Ethics and an autobiography, Mary Warnock: A Memoir.

She is obviously a very smart woman with a fine sense of humor; I strongly suspect her late husband had his charms as well.

She shared a list of her favorite philosophy books with the Guardian. The list includes:

The Object of Morality by G.J. Warnock

I make no apology for choosing a book by GJ Warnock, though he was my husband. He was a master of style and clarity, high virtues in philosophical writing. Like Alisdair McIntyre, and like Aristotle, he invites us to look at the nature of that man-made structure, morality, and to contemplate the need we have for it if the world is not to be even more intolerable than it often is. Those who are inclined to deny that morality can exist without a religious foundation should read every word of this book.

And number one on Warnock's list:

A Treatise on Human Nature by David Hume

If I had to choose just one philosophical book, this would be it. It covers a huge range of continuing philosophical topics: knowledge, perception, imagination, personal identity, causation, emotions, the foundations of morality and justice. Hume is the most endearing of all philosophers as well as the most sceptical. His scepticism covers even his own conclusions but his thoroughly 18th-century down-to-earth good sense permits him to persevere. I would dearly love to have met him.

Click here for a free online copy of Hume's works and here for other "Great Books" online.

To read about Mary Warnock's other choices, click here.

Most, if not all, of Warnock's suggestions will require a great deal of time and serious attention. Interested in chewing on an important piece of philosophy that won't take too long to read? Try one of my favorites, Kant's "What is Enlightenment?" (Was ist Äufklarung? 1784).

Think philosophers have nothing to contribute to your more prosaic questions like, say, should the recently crowned Wimbledon woman champion have won as much as much as the men's champion? (She didn't: Roger Federer won £655,000, while Amelie Mauresmo won £625,000.) Mary Warnock shared her view of the matter before the men's final:
It is surely unnecessary even to raise the question: self-evidently, the women finalists should have been paid as much as the men will be today. The 'ladies', with their supposed delicate physique and inferior skills, have vanished from the face of the earth. The women have offered to play as many sets as the men, so their playing fewer sets cannot be used as an excuse for rewarding them less well. Actually, they are much better entertainment than the men, so they should be paid more; theirs is the subtle, thoughtful, beautiful game. The men's finals will, as usual, be a repetitive and overlong bore.
--Marshal Zeringue