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by Nicholas Fearn

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Author: Nicholas Fearn
ISBN: 0802118399
Language: English
Pages: 256 pages
Category: Philosophy
Publisher: Grove Press; First Printing edition (January 16, 2007)
Rating: 4.8
Formats: lrf lit mobi azw
FB2 size: 1355 kb | EPUB size: 1759 kb | DJVU size: 1398 kb
Sub: Politics

The book's subtitle reads: The Latest Answers to the Oldest Questions

The book's subtitle reads: The Latest Answers to the Oldest Questions. The "interviews" are too poorly presented The book's subtitle reads: The Latest Answers to the Oldest Questions.

Answers to the Oldest Questions : A Philosophical Adventure with the World's Greatest Thinkers.

The Latest Answers to the Oldest Questions : A Philosophical Adventure with the World's Greatest Thinkers.

A Philosophical Adventure with the World's Greatest Thinkers.

Writers similar to Nicholas Fearn . The Latest Answers to the Oldest Questions: A Philosophical Adventure with the World's Greatest Thinkers.

Writers similar to Nicholas Fearn: Arthur Schopenhauer Christopher Hitchens. Books By This Author.

Philosophers' interpretations do change the world, in countless ways . Nicholas Fearn's Philosophy is an ambitious attempt to fill the gap - probably not a genuinely popular book, but well suited to the person who has some interest in philosophy but is too lazy to keep up. Like me. We’ll tell you what’s true. In What Should I Do?, Fearn talks to the late Bernard Williams about "moral luck" (is the driver whose momentary inattention kills a child more guilty than the driver whose momentary inattention squashes a tin can?), and to Peter Singer about animal liberation. Though Fearn is by and large even-handed, his own prejudices emerge.

com's Nicholas Fearn Author Page. The Latest Answers to the Oldest Questions: A Philosophical Adventure with the World's Greatest Thinkers Jan 29, 2008.

A great little book introducing important philosophical questions and some of the contemporary "answers" offered by modern philosophers. Claims to be a conversation with these philosophers but never really feels like it. Nonetheless, worth reading for those who want a short introduction without wanting the whole history of philosophy. spbooks, July 14, 2011. Written by a customer while visiting librarything. 0 0. Questions & Answers0 question. Get specific details about this product from customers who own it. Back.

Philosophy is a brilliant and compelling guide to the latest answers to the oldest questions .

Philosophy is a brilliant and compelling guide to the latest answers to the oldest questions, bringing to light what today's philosophers think about what it is to be human. Philosophy is a brilliant and compelling guide to the latest answers to the oldest questions, bringing to light what today's philosophers think about what it is to be human.

A highly original introduction to the world's most eminent modern philosophers and their answers to life's three great .

A highly original introduction to the world's most eminent modern philosophers and their answers to life's three great questions: What am I? What do I know? How should I live? . He has written regularly for a range of publications including the Spectator, the New Statesman, the Financial Times and the Economist.

The work of the classic philosophers is well known. But where can the general reader discover what today’s philosophers believe about what it is to be a human being? In his serious, challenging, and remarkably accessible new book, Nicholas Fearn turns to contemporary philosophers to ask the age old questions: Who am I? What do I know? What should I do? In a work that is part travelogue, part search for higher meaning, Fearn consults with thinkers from around the world (including John Searle, Martha Nussbaum, Daniel Dennett, Jacques Derrida, among many others) to create an impressive survey of recent thought. Variously, they believe that free will, identity, and consciousness are not what they seem; that the difference between virtue and wickedness can be a matter of sheer luck; and that, one day, we will all be vegetarians. Kearn discovers that the topics haven’t changed, though our world has. Or has it? Moving deftly from pop culture to the writings of Plato, The Latest Answers to the Oldest Questions is a brilliant and entertaining guide to the current state of the philosophical art.
Comments (7)
Todal
Most of this are not old questions. I thought it was too focused on artificial intelegence and too little on ethics, leading a good life and other age old questions.
SlingFire
The author spent more time covering his philosophical views than those of the "world's greatest thinkers" ----- assuming Fearn does not put himself at that level.
GWEZJ
Fearn joins the ranks of writers attempting to bridge "Established" notions of what constitutes "Western" thought and the new views challenging tradition. Although he's not the first to attempt this synthesis, his organisation and style place him among the leaders of such effort. With gentle precision, Fearn places the advocates in carefully constructed arenas. The book's three sections, "Who am I?", "What do I know?" and "What should I do?" provide the framework for his presentation. Within these arenas, the author introduces the reader to various thinkers through summations of their views. He adds a nice personal touch where he can in relating attributes gleaned through personal interviews. He must be very charming [or bears a charmed life], since he manages personal conversations with many major figures in philosophy. Not all of them are amenable to the "journalistic" approach.

Given the potentially hazardous mix of considered thought and off-hand expression, this book comes off admirably. After some introductory material on how earlier thinkers viewed the "self", Fearn tries to show how views have changed - and why. He has no qualms about "hard questions", since he opens with the debate over how the human mind and computers can be compared. Jerry Fodor's "computational theory of mind" is given a good airing, but, as usual, the model is a bit overdrawn. Equating the mind too closely with a machine has led to questions ranging from brain "transplants" to the plausibility of "Star Trek's" transporter. Fearn, in his contact with Daniel Dennett, might have been set straight on this point, but he seems to have failed to ask the proper questions.

Fearn fares better in the second section, "What do I know?" The inevitable opening, "Is life merely an illusion" doesn't keep him long. He quickly moves to assessing "reality" through reasoning and common sense. More to the point, he recognises that knowledge of our evolution outweighs conjecture about mystical forces impinging on our consciousness. His dismissal of Alvin Plantinga's bizarre notions is nearly as entertaining as Michael Ruse's in "Darwin or Design", although not as knowledgeable. Once we accept there are things to be known, we ascribe "meaning" to them. How do we distinguish what is innate from what we derive during life? Can the distinction actually be made? Again, Fearn mixes ancient and modern views in attempting a synthesis. He ranges from Descartes and Kant to Hilary Putnam and Tyler Burge. The dichotomy of meaning being located within the mind or somewhere "outside" takes up much of the section. "Externalism", Fearn contends, shows that philosophical problems "are more than just disputes over words or arbitary definitions". Science can provide the definitions which takes them beyond just an individual's concept of what they are. Yet langauage, that supposedly uniquely human facility, keeps definitions at the edge of perceiving clearly what we know. Fearn demonstrates how far philosophers can stretch such concepts in his dismissal of people like Jacques Derrida and the "French School", which has prevailed in the US as well.

Nobody can write on philosophy without entering the quagmire of "ethics". In his concluding section on "What should I do?", Fearn introduces the concept of "luck" in moral questions. That unexpected element is what brings events in our daily lives into the realm of moral decisions. Was Gauguin morally correct in abandoning his family to live and paint in the South Pacific? Would the loss of his genius been worth keeping the moral code of "family responsibility"? How far such questions can reach is examined in Fearn's discussion of the life and work of Peter Singer. Fearn is just short of contemptuous of Singer's animal rights views, but fails to perceive the science underlying them.

For all Fearn's efforts, the "audit" is incomplete. His concentration on "philosophers" blinds him to the science replacing those classical outlooks. A good many of Fearn's puzzles might have been resolved had he been aware of cognitive science, but the term appears to have escaped his ken. He failed to enquire among researchers such as V.S. Ramachandran, Steven Mithen or Antonio Damasio, who might have expanded on this issue, but restricted his search to those dealing directly with more "classical" outlooks. He does introduce Paul and Patricia Churchland, but on an entirely different question. The humanities haven't been replaced by cognitive science, but philosophy can no longer afford to ignore its findings. He should have provided an overview of this research at the beginning of the book. It is, after all, what is helping us redefine "Who we are". [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
Gindian
The book is in three parts: "Who Am I?", "What Do I Know?" and "What Should I Do?" These parts correspond to philosophical conundrums about consciousness, epistemology and morality, respectively. Fearn's method is to interview contemporary philosophers on these subjects and to compare and contrast their views while referring to the views of philosophers of the past.

In the first part Fearn tackles the problem of the self, free will, artificial intelligence, and the dualism of body and soul. The modern consensus, as I understand it, is that the self (as the Buddha taught) is a delusion in flux that the evolutionary mechanism has found useful for instilling in creatures such as ourselves; that free will is an illusion we can't help but believe; that artificial intelligence will surpass human intelligence (but that may take longer than previously thought); and that the soul is pure information. For the most part Fearn's presentation of views and his comments are more or less in line with my understanding.

"Does the idea never thought exist?" would be my variant on Bishop Berkeley's old query about the tree in the forest. My answer goes to the heart of the next part of Fearn's book which concerns what we know, how we know it, and how much confidence in that knowledge we can have. I lie awake nights wondering where the idea never thought is. It's not on the ether wind and not in God's mind. WHERE is it? I refuse to believe that it doesn't exist.

Or is all of human knowledge merely a gigantic social construction (as the postmodernists would have it) forever distant from true knowledge? Clearly Fearn is not a postmodernist since he mostly diminishes this idea. Most philosophers and other thinkers that I have read, believe that human knowledge is an ever-widening sphere going out into a larger unknown. We learn more and more about ourselves and the universe we live in, but we have no way of knowing how distant or close to Absolute Truth we might be, or could possibly be. Furthermore, we cannot know with certainty that we know anything at all. Descartes might have thought he found something true in "Ego cognito sum," but actually he assumed the "I am" in the "I think" and proved nothing. And nobody, if I am reading Fearn rightly, has gotten any further than that.

In the final part there are some bits about "moral luck," e.g., Johnny got drunk, drove like an idiot but hit only an old tree stump and walked away with only a scratch, while Frankie, also under the influence, hit a child and killed it. Morally speaking Frankie is feeling kind of low while Johnny hasn't a clue. This is moral luck.

All in all this is a most interesting book, but to be honest, I think Fearn is a little short of a mature understanding of some of the questions. In particular I don't think he realizes that the subjectivity of the experience of color or taste or any sort of feeling is absolute. I can never know exactly how you experience the color red or the taste of black walnuts. I assume--and we all do--that your experience is closely similar to mine. So no problem. But when we get to the larger experience of consciousness in its bedeviling complexity, our assumptions may lead us astray. Almost certainly the consciousness of a dolphin or a whale is difference from ours in some very important respects and in ways we cannot know. But the philosophic problem of consciousness is really like the problem of "seeing" things smaller than photons: it's something that we can never do. Subjectivity is forever subjective. Or to use another example, we can never measure something so accurately that we can be sure that it is exactly one meter long. In fact, the every idea of exactly becomes muddled as we approach the limits of our senses and descend toward the Planck limit.

Fearn also seems a little askew when it comes to the "Swampman" thought experiment. Swampman is an exact replica of philosopher Donald Davidson. Davidson opines that Swampman, despite having exactly all the same molecules in exactly the same arrangements as himself, is different from himself because Swampman "can't recognize my friends; it can't recognize anything, since it never cognized anything in the first place." (p. 103)

Fearn goes along with this, not realizing that the play on words (recognize and cognize) has no meaning here. Fearn calls the memories that Swampman has "pseudo-memories" (p. 104). But where are the "real" memories that Swampman and Davidson have of the past? They are in, and only in, the brains of Swampman and Davidson, and they are identical!

This is a wonderful thought experiment that has been done many times in slightly different ways. What I think we can learn from such an experiment is that--hold on to the steering wheel--we don't really exist as we think we do! If Davidson is dissolved and Swampman comes home for dinner, clearly Davidson is not going to get anything to eat, but no one including Davidson will ever know the difference. Well, Swampman if he had been told he was a duplicate or had seen Davidson might know, but guess what? Swampman would remain convinced that he is Davidson.

Fearn includes this wonderful quote from Ludwig Wittgenstein: "Death is not an event in life; we do not live to experience death." (p. 208) Unfortunately Fearn goes on to miss Wittgenstein's meaning when he remarks that he can see beyond our experience of death and so it matters. But Wittgenstein's point (and that of Eastern religions) is psychological and very powerful; however it requires us to simultaneously understand that (1) we do not exist in a way different than Swampman; and (2) death is not an experience we ever have except in the anticipation.