I haven’t posted any book reviews recently because I was re-reading some books that I wanted to review together. Here they are:
Looking At Philosophy: The Unbearable Heaviness of Philosophy Made Lighter . Donald Palmer. Mountainview, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company, 1988. 401 pages
Does The Center Hold?: An Introduction to Western Philosophy . Donald Palmer. Mountainview, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company, 1991. 529 pages
Kierkegaard for Beginners . Donald D. Palmer. NY: Writers and Readers Publishing, Inc., 150 pages.
A New Porcine History of Philosophy and Religion. James C. Taylor. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1992. 64 pages.
As such, my taste in texts is often very much out of the mainstream. I thought I would share four of the titles that I have been re-reading recently. I say re-reading because I have read each of them at least two or three times previously.
The first book is not intended to be an academic text. A New Porcine History of Philosophy and Religion is just a fun book of pig comics drawn by James Taylor. At the time of printing, Taylor was teaching Old Testament at Phillips Theological Seminary. However, I believe that he no longer does so. The book is divided up into five sections:
1. Classic Greek Pigs
2. Pigs of the Ancient and Medieval Church (by the way, am I the only person who has to think hard every time in order to spell medieval correctly?)
3. Protestant Pigs
4. Modern Philosophical Pigs
5. Twentieth Century Pigs
Why Pigs? Allow me to quote the author;
“First, pigs are the wisest of all the farm animals, even as philosophers and theologians are (according to ancient tradition, at least, if not by modern evidence) the wisest of people. Second, theology is the most enjoyable of all human endeavors (with philosophy–one would hope–not too poor a second); since pigs have a greater capacity for enjoyment than any other animal, it follows that there must be something theologian-like in every pig (leaving for another time any debate over the corollary). Third, and most important, I find pigs easier to draw than most other animals.”
The old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words is very appropriate for this book, as there are not a thousand words in the whole volume. So, I was going to post a page scan for you. However, in light of THIS, I have decided not to.
This book is presently out of print. When I bought my copy back in 1993 I paid $4.95 for it. However, it has developed a bit of a cult following so the price for a used copy can be significantly more today.
It you are interested in taking a look at it, I recommend that you simply request it through interlibrary loan due to the rather steep supply-and-demand price.
The next two books are aimed at the lowest common denominator — a community college freshman. And, they are indeed intended as textbooks even though they are filled with illustrations that greatly resemble single-panel comic strips.
Both books were penned by Donald Palmer. And as the subtitle of one of the books indicates, they are attempts to lighten the load for those who are entering the world of academic philosophy for the first time. Towards that goal the author employs the “time-honored Medieval tradition, by illuminating the margins of the text.” You can click on the following page scan to see an example:
Palmer employs illustration and humor (and mockery) not because he does not take philosophy seriously. Just the opposite. Palmer obviously loves philosophy as an academic discipline and wants to share that love with those who may be predisposed to run a way from it. He applies these techniques as a veteran philosophy professor who knows the benefit of a variety of pedagogical tools. I commend him for his work.
And, I recommend these books by Palmer to you. You will not get the depth and breadth of W.T. Jones’ five volume A History of Western Philosophy or Frederick Copleston’s nine volume History of Western Philosophy. However, as an introduction to the field I find these volumes by Palmer to be interesting, fun, and usually quite accurate. I say usually because there is no one who can thoroughly and accurately portray the whole of Western Philosophy. There are just too many books and too many years for anyone to be an expert in it all. (In fact, while W.T. Jones five volume A History of Western Philosophy is often referred to as one of the best modern works, I agree with Ronald Nash who once said of Jones that he was “not a particularly astute observer of anything.”) So, while these volumes by Palmer aren’t perfect. They are useful.
Palmer’s first volume, Looking At Philosophy: The Unbearable Heaviness of Philosophy Made Lighter , begins with the Pre-Socratics and chronologically progresses up to the twentieth century. In Does The Center Hold?: An Introduction to Western Philosophy Palmer organizes his material by area of philosophical inquiry (epistemology, ontology, logic, ethics, aesthetics, etc.) and by school of thought (theism, existentialism, marxism, and a bunch more isms). Both are good books but I think that Looking at Philosophy is the more useful of the two.
And, finally the fourth book of philosophical illustration (that sounds better than comics). Kierkegaard for Beginners is also written by Donald Palmer. I wrote the article on Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard for the Biographical Dictionary of Literary Influences: The Nineteenth Century, 1800-1914 . I would not consider myself a Kierkegaardian expert, but I do believe that I can speak with at least a little bit of authority on the man and his literary and philosophical contributions.
As the old saying goes, he isn’t bad he is just misunderstood. Hegel is misunderstood because so much of his stuff is mere gibberish and therefore considered brilliant beyond understanding by those who aren’t willing to say that the emperor has no clothes. Nietzsche is misunderstood because he was brilliant but also a nutcase. More than a few philosophers have been misunderstood because they intentionally wrote to confuse in order to enhance their academic standing. Kierkegaard is misunderstood because his writings have so often been removed from the context of the man and his world.
Much of what I said about Palmer’s first two books would also apply to this book. It is not intended to be a comprehensive biographical or bibliographical work. As the title says, it is an introduction to Kierkegaard For Beginners. As such, I give it high marks. You will enjoy reading it. Click the page scan below for a sample page.
Well, those are my thoughts on the philosophical funny papers that I have been reading. Combine these books with Bill Watterson’s Calvin & Hobbes and you are well on your way to becoming a philosopher.
* * * * * * *
If you are looking for something more substantive on Kierkegaard you might want to read Short Life of Kierkegaard written by Walter Lowrie. But more than anything else, I recommend reading Kierkegaard himself. I think that most philosophers would probably recommend his Concluding Unscientific Postscript To Philosophical Fragments which contains his most substantive material on subjective truth. However, for the readers of this blog, I think you might find more enjoyable his Works of Love. And, you preacher types would be very challenged, and maybe a bit disturbed, by his Fear and Trembling.
And, a single volume history of Western Philosophy that is often discounted but that I like very much is Gordon Clark’s From Thales to Dewey which can be ordered from the Trinity Foundation. I hope to re-read it again over the summer.
* * * * * * *
* * * * * * *
I’m not sure how interesting my book reviews really are, so I thought I would spice things up with this Being Five cartoon strip on book review blogging: