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Second Thoughts. Introducing the Introductions

Published onJan 01, 2021
Second Thoughts. Introducing the Introductions

1 • Introducing Philosophy

Philosophy, in its many forms and guises, has a broader relevance than many people realize. In societies where populism reigns, political philosophy can help you appreciate the meaning, value and importance of democracy. When conspiracy thinking becomes widespread, epistemologists and philosophers of science can help you understand what it means for something to be true and count as knowledge. One might even argue that the quicker the pace of our lives, our technologies, our news and our decision- making processes, the bigger the need for the kind of careful, systematic and critical thinking that characterizes philosophy.

Because that is exactly what good philosophy is: thinking slowly, reflecting critically, realizing that things may not be as obvious as they might seem at first hand, trying to figure out how things hang together from a broader perspective. Philosophy, we believe, is a verb. When you read good philosophy, this encourages you to actually do philosophy.

Doing philosophy might be confusing at first, introducing questions where you initially thought you had answers. However, an advantage of this journey is that you will end up on firmer ground. You will know better than before where you stand, why you believe the things you believe. But you may also come to know what you did not know after all. This last realization, strange as it might sound, might be valuable as well: it makes room for intellectual humility. Carefully weighing the arguments for different positions and views with respect to a certain issue and thoroughly examining the assumptions behind these positions and views help you grasp their complexity, how they relate to each other and why people may continue to disagree with each other. Once you grasp that things are complex, that there are many things we do not fully understand and that people may have very different approaches to the same issue, you can start to build up from what you do know, what you do grasp, and what you do agree on.

Thinking critically and questioning things thoroughly does not mean that you will end up with the view that anything goes, that there is no such thing as the truth or that mere opinion rules. Relativism, as the view just articulated is often called, is only one of many philosophical positions about truth and knowledge and whether we can attain those. This is, in fact, one of the topics discussed in the chapters of this handbook. Other questions addressed are: What exactly does justice require? What is the right thing to do? Is there something that unifies a culture? What is human nature? What do we mean when we say that something is beautiful? What are the limits of science? How exactly does language influence our thinking? Why is there anything at all? These questions matter, even if most of us live our lives without knowing the answers to them or fully grasping those answers.

Philosophy, in a sense, is about having second thoughts. When we have second thoughts, we allow room for doubt about things we thought we knew. As Socrates and René Descartes already stressed, doubt can be considered the eminently philosophical method. When we do philosophy, we doubt and wonder about what amazes and surprises us and we are led by our curiosity to see where our thinking may lead us. When we listen to scientists, journalists, politicians and, granted, also some philosophers, they all too often seem to be very sure of themselves, having all figured out how the world works, how we should act and what the truth is. This handbook, in contrast, aims to stimulate you to find out for yourself whether they are right! It all starts with having an open mind and being willing to question the preconceptions of yourself and others. Both in our education and in our societies at large, these philosophical attitudes and skills are valuable things to have.

Marcel Duchamp (1912) - Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 (French: Nu descendant un escalier n° 2)

The cover of the book is a painting by Marcel Duchamp that dates back to 1912 and is officially called ‘Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2’. When painting it, Duchamp himself claimed to be aiming for “a static representation of movement, a static composition of indications of various positions taken by a form in movement”. While in some sense static as well, this handbook aims to do the same thing: capture something that is inevitably and crucially in movement, namely our thinking about ourselves, our societies, our worlds and our thinking itself.

2 • Introducing the Handbook

This handbook is an open educational and open-ended resource for whomever is interested in philosophical thinking. Each of the chapters is open in the sense of freely available and accessible to everyone. You may be a student who wants to get some background on a specific philosophical sub-discipline. You may be a teacher who wants to assign introductory reading for students. You may be a layperson interested in reading an overview of philosophical thinking, written in a clear and accessible way. Each of you: feel free to browse, download, print and use the collection as you see fit. We believe that open access is the future and that academic philosophy as presented in this volume is of potential worth to many of you out there.

In this open-ended handbook you find two kinds of chapters. First, there are chapters that provide a broad introduction into a specific philosophical sub- discipline, such as political philosophy, epistemology or metaphysics. As this collection covers most of the sub-disciplines currently taught at Western philosophy departments, you can legitimately claim that you have been introduced to Western ‘philosophy’ as a whole, understood rather canonically, after having read the entire handbook. Second, there chapters that introduce slightly more specific topics or philosophical approaches. You will always be able to know the focus of each chapter by looking at its subtitle.

The open-ended nature of this handbook, means that new chapters will be added in the future. We hope that philosophy will change and grow with time to become more diverse and inclusive and that this handbook will do so as well. We think of philosophy and its evolution as an organic process, as a tree that branches out in many different directions, adding new directions as it goes along. In this handbook, we organize the wide variety of topics that philosophers discuss into four main branches, which represent important subject areas that philosophers have covered.

First, there is ‘thinking about societies’, which includes chapters that cover philosophical approaches to matters of obvious societal relevance. How should we organize our societies? How should we treat others? What exactly are cultures and what role do they play in a globalized world? This branch covers philosophical discussions, theories and views on what binds and divides us as societies and communities.

Second, there is ‘thinking about humans’, which includes chapters that zoom in on people, the members that make up those societies. Is there something like human nature and what does that look like? How do human minds and bodies relate to each other? Are we free or not? This branch covers what one could broadly call ‘philosophical anthropology’: philosophical discussions, theories and views on what it means to be human.

Third, there is ‘thinking about thinking’, which include chapters that focus on the ways in which humans can relate to the outside world. How can we come to know things about that world? What is truth exactly? What are the values and limits of scientific understanding? How do we reason and argue and how do we do so properly? This branch covers philosophical discussions, theories and views on how humans come to believe things about themselves and the worlds they live in.

Fourth, there is ‘thinking about reality’, which includes chapters that investigate those worlds in more direct ways. Do things have an essence? What do we mean when we say that some things exist and others do not? How can language help us access the reality out there? This branch covers philosophical discussions, theories and views on the world we, as humans, find ourselves in.

If you like what is on offer in this handbook, you can let us know on the website and register for updates, for example when new chapters are added.

Consider each chapter as a first and stand-alone introduction to the exciting and thought-provoking world of a specific branch of philosophy. The same will be true of future chapters. Like the chapters already included, these future chapters will be accessible for readers without any specific prior knowledge. All you need is curiosity, an open mind and a willingness to think twice.

3 • Acknowledgements

Like philosophy, this handbook has its own history. Its roots lie with Martin van Hees and Lodi Nauta, who planned for a collection of introductory chapters that would together make up for a philosophical handbook introducing readers to academic philosophy. While their plan did not, for a number of reasons, materialize, they gathered a lot of the authors who now fill these pages of this first edition, as we could call it, of this handbook. We thank them for their work and the collegiality when the project was handed over to us.

We also want to thank the authors of this first edition for their contributions and their patience in this process. When we took over as editors, their chapters were read by yet another pair of eyes and all authors gracefully collaborated with us to see things through. While each has their unique voice, the collection as a whole, we hope, is coherent in terms of style, accessibility and setup of each chapter.

We also want to thank everyone involved in reading the chapters. That includes, again, Martin van Hees and Lodi Nauta, but also the many colleagues and native speakers who you will see mentioned in the first footnote of each chapter. We thank Ronja Rönnback for assisting us in the early stages of our project.

Last but not least, we want to thank Daan Rutten for offering us the opportunity to publish this in what we believe should be the future of academic science and education: fully open access. If you now have this freely available and interactive PDF at your disposal, this is in part due to Daan’s efforts to promote open access. As editor of Open Press TiU, he has also been extremely helpful in the final steps of this process: editing, typesetting and designing the manuscript that you are now looking at. and register for updates, for example when new chapters are added.

Consider each chapter as a first and stand-alone introduction to the exciting and thought-provoking world of a specific branch of philosophy. The same will be true of future chapters. Like the chapters already included, these future chapters will be accessible for readers without any specific prior knowledge. All you need is curiosity, an open mind and a willingness to think twice.

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