The author of the highly popular book Think, which Time magazine hailed as "the one book every smart person should read to understand, and even enjoy, the key questions of philosophy," Simon Blackburn is that rara avisan eminent thinker who is able to explain philosophy to the general reader. Now Blackburn offers a tour de force exploration of what he calls "the most exciting and engaging issue in the whole of philosophy"the age-old war over truth.
The front lines of this war are well defined. On one side are those who believe in plain, unvarnished facts, rock-solid truths that can be found through reason and objectivitythat science leads to truth, for instance. Their opponents mock this idea. They see the dark forces of language, culture, power, gender, class, ideology and desireall subverting our perceptions of the world, and clouding our judgement with false notions of absolute truth. Beginning with an early skirmish in the warwhen Socrates confronted the sophists in ancient AthensBlackburn offers a penetrating look at the longstanding battle these two groups have waged, examining the philosophical battles fought by Plato, Protagoras, William James, David Hume, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Richard Rorty, and many others, with a particularly fascinating look at Nietzsche. Among the questions Blackburn considers are: is science mere opinion, can historians understand another historical period, and indeed can one culture ever truly understand another.
Blackburn concludes that both sides have merit, and that neither has exclusive ownership of truth. What is important is that, whichever side we embrace, we should know where we stand and what is to be said for our opponents.
Blackburn (philosophy, Univ. of Cambridge; Think: A Compelling Introduction to Philosophy) wants to help readers attain a philosophical understanding of the concept of "truth." What does it mean, he asks, to make a statement that asserts this concept? The average person, perhaps, has no trouble doing so, but analysis of it goes to the heart of philosophical puzzlement. Blackburn reviews what philosophers, writers, novelists, scientists, and disparate thinkers have had to say about it, including Plato, Francis Bacon, Voltaire, Locke, Hume, Wittgenstein, William James, Rorty, and Nietzsche-especially Rorty and Nietzsche owing to their central and contrasting views. In this detailed consideration, Blackburn himself seems to favor objective standards for truth rather than the subjectivist, relativist position. His writing is fluid, highly literate, and deeply informed, but by its very nature it will be tough going for anyone who is not philosophically inclined and oriented. Highly recommended, then, for academic philosophy and literature collections.-Leon H. Brody, U.S. Office of Personnel Management Lib., Washington, DC Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.