Edward Craig

Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction

I recently bought a few of these ‘Very Short Introductions’ to see what they’re like. It’s always nice to be able to explore a topic without committing to a large amount of material, so these are quite nice in that respect. However, I guess you could just read the Wikipedia page if you wanted to save the money.

I picked up the philosophy one because I wanted to explore more introductory texts and ways to tackle philosophical works. As you probably know, most philosophy, especially classic works, aren’t the easiest reads. On top of that they’re quite large commitments, so I’m not sure if I’m reading this book out of laziness. With philosophy there’s such an enormous range of material so I guess sometimes it’s useful to read the classics, given a lot of them have sort of stood the test of time, but also finding works and topics that you’re genuinely interested in.

The book starts out with three chapters each covering a different text. The first text is Plato’s Crito and focuses on the argument between Socrates and Plato, concerning Socrates rejection of attempting to escape his death sentence. Craig does a good job of breaking down the ways to tackle a text and the key questions to ask when reading, both philosophical and historical. He goes on to address Hume’s ‘Of Miracles’ in the next chapter in which he gives good summaries of the key themes in the text as well as further reading on the topic. Hume is arguing that miracles are impossible to prove and focuses implicitly on the idea of religious belief and the resurrection of Christ as something that cannot be proven. The third and final text Craig covers in relative detail ventures into Eastern philosophy and Buddhism, with an analysis of King Milinda’s Chariot. This text focuses on the nature of the self in which King Milinda has a discussion with a Buddhist monk about essentially having no-self and it’s presented as a back and forth between the two.

They’re good introductory texts and Craig summarises them in an easy to understand way. I would say it’s better to have the texts on the side to follow these chapters as some parts are quite hard to follow, because from what I remember he references specific lines and sections in the text frequently.

The following chapters address key themes and ‘isms’ within philosophy such as ethical consequentialism, dualism, relativism, political theory and contract theory. It’s a short book so he covers them very briefly but it’s enough in order to get the general idea, and the bibliography contains resources to further explore topics of interest. Craig ends with some of his personal highlights, which is my favourite part of the book. He summarises his favourite texts and offers his perspective on why they’re notable. Some of these include - Descartes Discourse on the Method, Hegel's Introduction to the philosophy of history and Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals.

Obviously philosophy is a rather expansive topic but Craig covers a fair amount in this book and gives a good foundation to the topic, as well giving practical ways to tackle philosophy. I quite enjoyed it given that it was a quick read although I probably would have read it alongside the texts in order to get a better understanding of some of the points.

I’d definitely recommend if you’re interested in philosophy in any way. It allows you to venture through some key texts and builds up fundamental knowledge of ways to get the most out of reading philosophy. Even if you’re well read on the topic it probably doesn’t hurt to go back to basics, you’ll most likely always find something of value.