Steve Cooke

measuring the boundaries of our nation by the sun

Hows and Whys

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I’m going to start this entry with a bit of back-story to help explain my next reading – which is from The Blackwell Companion to Philosophy.

A few years ago, having failed my first attempt at a degree (four years of English and Electronic Media netted me a Diploma in Combined Studies), I was living in the south of England, unable to work due to a bad injury, while my wife completed her MA. A combination of boredom and a growing interest in politics led to me attending a series of open lectures run by the politics department of Portsmouth University. Before long I’d signed up to study for a politics degree at the Open University and developed a passion for learning that remains with me today (needless to say, I did rather better at my second attempt at a degree).

The funny thing is that the more I’ve studied politics, the more I’ve come to regret no starting with philosophy. I began with politics because I wanted to understand how and why things are as they are, now I find myself more interested in the question of how and why things should be. These are questions for political and moral philosophy rather than the kind of politics I studied. Unfortunately, my route through education has left lots of gaps in my knowledge that I’m unhappy about – I’m hoping that my reading selections will fill those gaps and make me a more rounded thinker at the same time.

The first section in The Blackwell Companion to Philosophy is by John Searle and focusses on developments in late 20th Century Anglo-American philosophy. I am a little worried that, having just read Strawson’s piece in analytic philosophy (which is what Searle focusses on), I’ll be going over the same ground again. Fortunately, Searle takes a different approach and runs through historical developments (centred on the States) in philosophy. Searle acknowledges the debt owed to European analytic philosophy, before declaring America to be currently leading the world (a claim for which he provides no evidence). We are treated to discussions on Wittgenstein, Austin, Quine, and Kuhn – all very interesting stuff – before moving on to logical positivism and then more recent rejections of reductionist approaches. All though this is all pretty interesting material Searle starts to loose me after this – there’s a lot of space devoted to Searle’s particular interest in theory of mind, computing, and theory of language.

The deliberate omission of logic and particularly ethics had a lot to do with the boredom that crept up on me at the end. Still – the project’s definitely proving valuable and stimulating already. Picking a time when I have a couple of tight deadlines for book and paper reviews, a journal to edit, and a stack-load of exams to mark, to start a reading and blogging project was probably not the best idea however. May have to scale back my ambitions in the short term and stick to one reading per week.


Author: Steve C

I work in normative ethics, specialising in animal and ethics and political philosophy.

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