If you are a student of philosophy seeking an introductory reference to the subject, then this book is for you. Philosophy is not easy when you first take it on. You may have to read paragraphs over before you can begin turning pages. Reading history, science, and literature is much easier. But philosophy — it's a different matter altogether.
Philosophy takes nothing for granted. Philosophy turns reality upside down and shakes out its pockets. The answers that others assume are correct in discussing God, morality, political issues, medicine, art, business, and sports are scrutinized more thoroughly by philosophers. In this way, they hope to arrive at a deeper understanding of some issue.
Even for people who have been teaching for years philosophy is not easy. If philosophy seems easy to you at some point, it might be that you're missing something. Maybe you're not raising one more essential question, or you've failed to consider another way of examining an important issue. While on trial for his life Socrates said “The unexamined life is not worth living.” It may well be the most recognizable sentence in the history of philosophy. Not everyone would give up his life rather than cease philosophizing. Even so, Socrates' seven-word thought captures the spirit of philosophy.
If you are just getting started in philosophy, then this book should work for you. Key ideas are explained thoroughly, leaving nothing to chance. The book is also complete enough for you to get a history of the subject, as most of the major figures are covered.
Naturally, there is no way to include every figure of Western philosophy from roughly 600 B.C. to the present. Still, it seemed important to include all the major philosophers and the most influential ideas. Without them, there would be no way to see the development of the subject and the connections from one era to another.
Philosophy is a love of wisdom, Pythagoras said. You look at the deeper reality of the world and philosophy draws you in, summons your curiosity, and refuses to relax its tight grip. A century after Pythagoras, Socrates said that philosophy was the pursuit of truth. People seek answers and pursue the truth as if truth were a fugitive trying to elude them. You likely come into philosophy seeking answers to fundamental questions about morality, God, immortality, freedom of the will, and other matters. But you soon find out that philosophy suggests as many questions as answers. Socratic questioning helps in eliminating bad answers. But the task of finding truths for the most fundamental questions never seems complete.
So it is best not to assume that philosophy will serve up final answers for its students the way math and the sciences may. The activity of philosophy is an unending give and take, an eternal conversation that allows readers to turn issues over and over in their minds. You end up knowing it better. You should not conclude that your answer is a final one. But at least you have a fuller appreciation of what the issue involves.
Philosophy rewards a vigilant search for truth. Even if the answer does not arise, the inquirer undergoes a significant change in the process of seeking it. In a word, the inquirer — whether student, professor, businessman, or layperson — has joined in the search for truth.