A selection of the best from recent issues of the Philosopher


Heavenly spheres The Penguin Dictionary of Philosophy 

The Philosopher's verdict: Cheap, and conveniently sized! 
The Penguin Dictionary of Philosophy
By Thomas Mautner
Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1997 xix, 641pp., £7.99 pb ISBN O-14-051250-O

 Anyone attempting to cover the vast reaches of a subject like philosophy within a single reference volume has a uniquely difficult task. Someone somewhere is bound to bemoan the absence of their pet favourite obscurity, or decry the brevity afforded to certain topics or personalities. Certainly this will be the case for those sympathetic to the objectivism of Ayn Rand, whose "so-called philosophy" is dismissed as extolling "selfishness and individual achievement" (p. 469). Given objectivists' tendency towards being argumentatively objectionable, however, this should not be a worry. 

Under Thomas Mautner's capable editorship, a formidable assembly of philosophical scholarship has gathered together a comprehensive reference guide to philosophical personalities and concepts which, for such a conveniently sized and cheap book, represents tremendous value. As well as providing biographical sketches of major philosophical figures, contemporary philosophers have been invited to submit self-portraits- Thus we can enjoy reading Isaiah Berlin, Richard Pony, John Searle and Willard Quine, among others, on their own life achievements and philosophical positions. 

To the credit of the editor and contributors the linkages between philosophers' thought and action are linked, if not always explicitly. 

Thus controversial figures such as Carl Schmitt, Louis Althusser and Martin Heidegger are not excused the indignity of the exposure of problematic facts concerning their personal actions. This is absolutely correct, in my view, as this century has witnessed all too often what happens when philosophy becomes disconnected from experience. 

No doubt readers will find gaps which will offer minor irritation. However, that is probably the most negative response one could expect from what is in reality a splendid achievement. 

Reviewed by Michael Keaney

Never mind what The Philosopher says -
Take me to the bookshop!