I am 65 years old and still struggling with philosophy.
I started with Father Copleston’s volumes on The History of Philosophy — struggled.
Thinking about taking a course with the University of Edinburgh — time is running out to decide. Please help me with a book that will help me to understand and help me progress with other books or courses. Please help!!
Answer by Geoffrey Klempner
Every student starting out with philosophy is different, so I am not going to recommend a specific book for you to read. Age is not an issue. (Craig Skinner , one of the members of the Ask a Philosopher panel, gained his Philosophy BA in his 70s.) However, you could start by looking at our Pathways to Philosophy Introductory Book List. Use the comments as a guide and look up the reviews on Amazon — just to get a sense of a selection of books you might like.
I have never attempted to read Copleston, although this evening I did look up the article in Wikipedia which states:
“Throughout the eleven volumes Copleston’s Roman Catholic (Thomist) point of view is never hidden. All the same, it seems generally accepted that Copleston’s treatment is fair and complete, even for philosophical positions that he does not support.”
It’s not that I have anything against Jesuit Priests. Life is too short. Eleven volumes! But I totally understand the desire to tackle something ‘big’. I started off hunking Benjamin Jowett’s Collected Dialogues of Plato and Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason from Swiss Cottage Library, London.
I didn’t read the tomes. I dipped. I picked things that looked interesting. They gave me a sense of what an incredible, huge subject Philosophy is. Endlessly deep, seemingly impossible to master.
As I seem to recall, the first book I actually read all the way through was A.J. Ayer Language, Truth and Logic. It’s a young man’s book, published when Ayer was just 26. I was 21, so there was a connection there. I’m not saying it wouldn’t be a book for you, but you might see it in a different light. (Still worth a look, though.)
But why even make the effort to tackle a subject, if you know in advance (or fear) that you will be struggling with it? Maybe you won’t be the best philosophy student or get a First Class BA, but would that be so bad? I have interests that I pursue, knowing I will never ‘get good’. But that doesn’t deter me from enjoying the challenge.
Take the University of Edinburgh course. You will not be the only one struggling, I promise. What you will gain is a sense of cameraderie that only philosophy students know. There is nothing better or more worth doing than philosophy. Without philosophy, all the learning in the world would not be worth a damn. (That was said by some famous Greek — I don’t remember who.)
Whatever philosophy book you pick, you will struggle. You had better struggle, because otherwise it’s almost a foregone conclusion that you’re missing something. That’s why books that seem easy to read can sometimes be the hardest. You skate over the ideas, but none of them really grabs you.
As time is short, I would pick a shorter rather than a longer book. Something you can read in a week or two, if you make the effort. — Go for it!