Philosophy, ed David Papineau

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The Independent Culture

Philosophy has six sections – World, Mind and Body, Knowledge, Faith, Ethics and Aesthetics, and Society – and every one is written by a professor in the field. It is printed on thick, luxury-quality paper and lavishly illustrated, with colour pictures of famous philosophers and mood pictures of outer space, book-lined studies, running horses... It is a thing of beauty and a joy forever. But the inevitable result of squeezing all of philosophy into one book is a loss of detail: Kant is compressed into three pages (though he is referenced elsewhere in the book). Sometimes explanation is simply not there, as in: "It seems there can be infinities of different sizes". Seems? (The explanation is well-known in mathematics – the set of fractions is of a greater order of infinity than the set of integers, for the latter could not be mapped one-to-one on to the former).

Pitched well below undergraduate level, this would make a decent reference book for A-level students. For general readers, it's an enjoyable, accessible and very clearly written coffee-table introduction to the basics of philosophy. It's fun to dip into and, who knows, might inspire some readers to seek out the original texts.