Asking the Big Questions

Ross Campbell asks:

I’m a graduate in philosophy and I wish to write a book in philosophy. The title I have in mind is “Why philosophy matters: Asking the Big Questions”. I’m looking for advice as to whether this is a good theme for a book and what topics I should include in the book. I welcome any advice. Thanks.

Answer from Craig Skinner

I applaud your ambition.

I answer as a potential reader, rather than as a writer. My own writings comprise scientific and medical papers and the occasional book chapter, and more recently, philosophy articles and editorials online. No book.

Your book sounds as if it’s intended for educated general readers. If considering buying your book, I would ask myself if it adds anything to existing titles. So I suggest you read (maybe you have) these 3 recent short books on the same theme:

Ultimate Questions (2016) Bryan Magee

What is philosophy for (2018) Mary Midgeley

What is philosophy and Why Study It? the Case for Relevance (2020) Max Malikow

Proceed if you feel you can add something or do it better.

As for title, it’s OK, a bit ho hum (yawn), Magee and Midgeley are snappier, but at least it tells us the content. Cynics of course will say, these people forever ask the questions, never answer them.

Content will include:

What exists?  matter, the external world, selves, God, free will, numbers, possibilities, causes etc

What can we know? what is knowledge, can we be certain, scepticism, limits (Godel, Heisenberg), logics etc

How should we live? ethics (meta-, systems, practical), philosophy as ways of life etc

Good luck. I hope you get a perspective from those who have written books, especially successful ones.

4 thoughts on “Asking the Big Questions

  1. Ross
    “questions asked” means “questions” no need for the second word. Never mind “some of the”

    Snappier is:

    Great Ideas in Philosophy: Exploring the Big questions.

    My comment as to your intended Chapter 8 simply meant that introductory or popular texts dont normally deal with philosophy and art. They normally include philosophy of science, as well as of mind and language. Talk of art is less common in analytic philosophy. Plato of course had views on (the dangers of) poetry, Aristotle famously wrote on tragedy, but art talk tends to be a Continental philosophy feature eg Schopenhauer and Nietzsche find art a source of meaning in a meaningless universe

  2. I like your Table of Contents, although 2. looks the same as 7. 8 is different from the usual intro to philosophy and would give your book a different spin on the ball. It seems to cover most things, maybe not metaphysics (which I think key). It’s a crowded market, but you have already made a start.You need to contact a publisher, offer them a sample (your 40 pages maybe) and see how it goes. Good luck.

    1. Hi Craig. Thanks for your comments on my posting. I don’t understand the point you make “8 is different from the usual intro to philosophy and would give your book a different spin on the ball”?

      You also mentioned that the title wasn’t great. I had doubts about it too. So I was thinking about a different title as follows:

      “Great Ideas in Philosophy Explore some of the Biggest Questions Asked”

      Regards Ross

  3. Hi Craig
    Thanks very much for your reply . Actually I had already written about 40 pages and have done a huge amount of research for the book for a year or 2. I didn’t know what theme to write about. Bertrand Russell said that ” it’s not the answers that philosophy gives but it’s in asking the questions that the true value of philosophy lies.” This is what inspired me to write the book. I came up with the idea from the fact from my own personal experience and my reading that philosophy is more misunderstood than almost any other discipline and is widely regarded by the layperson as largely irrelevant to everyday life. So I decided to write the book as a response to this popular misconception.
    Here’s the table of contents I wrote below. I’d be delighted to get your suggestions. Thanks a million. Much appreciated .
    Regards Ross
    Table of Contents

    1. For the Love of wisdom

    2. How should we live?

    3. Knowledge, truth and belief.

    4. The Human Mind.

    5. Thinking clearly and arguing coherently.

    6. Empowering individuals and communities.

    7. Finding a meaningful direction for one’s life.

    8. What is the purpose and nature of art?

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