Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Five best introductions to philosophy

Nigel Warburton has taught philosophy at the Open University since 1994. He was previously a lecturer at Nottingham University. His latest book is A Little History of Philosophy.

With David Wolf at The Browser, Warburton discussed five of the best introductions to philosophy, including:
Causing Death and Saving Lives
by Jonathan Glover

Your next choice, Causing Death and Saving Lives by the English philosopher Jonathan Glover, is another work on moral philosophy.

When I was an undergraduate, this book made me think philosophy was really worth studying. It showed me that philosophy isn't nitpicking or school debating societies, but rather a subject that gets right to the heart of what matters. Like Peter Singer, Glover believes that your thinking about philosophical issues should make a difference to your life.

Is that view unusual among professional philosophers?

It's surprisingly unusual among academic philosophers – or it certainly was when he wrote the book in the 1970s. At that time, most moral philosophy was focused on very abstract questions in meta-ethics. Glover was an important part of a movement towards looking at real-life problems. This book looks at questions surrounding abortion, euthanasia, suicide and killing in war. The common thread is the theme of the morality of killing.

How does Glover differ from Peter Singer?

Glover is as likely to quote Dostoevsky, Orwell or other literary writers as he is to quote philosophers. There's an extremely humane feel to his work. He wants to combine the insights of utilitarianism with those of Kant – the idea that individual human autonomy is important and shouldn't be overridden. That latter point is sometimes overlooked by utilitarian thinking. Glover is very good on questions about the sanctity of life. A lot of religious people believe that all human life is sacred and that it's wrong to end a life ever. Glover's emphasis is on a life worth living. He argues that there must come points where, for some individuals, life simply isn't worth living.
Read about another book Warburton tagged.

--Marshal Zeringue