September 23, 2013 by ethelfritha
I was looking for this book one night and found BtH on the couch with it. “How is it?” I asked, and he shrugged. “The thought experiments are pretty good, but his explanations of them aren’t that great.”
A byproduct of having spent 4 years wading through philosophical arguments is that we’ve been trained to analyze everything we read. No more glossing over iffy logic. No more relying on wishy-washy intuition to make a point. No more getting steamrolled by sophistry. This has its benefits; before I had that training I could never pinpoint where exactly I disagreed with someone’s argument and now I can, so debate is much more productive and far less frustrating. But it also has its disadvantages, namely, that it’s impossible to let anything go without getting hives about it. I no longer enjoy certain things that I enjoyed before. Falling into the chasm of intellectual pride is ridiculously easy. (Oh, I feel so sorry for all those little people who don’t know the Aristotelian categories. They’re so lost without his dialectical tools. Save me from stumbling into such a trap.) My point is that I think I would have enjoyed this book immensely if I’d read it in high school, but now I’m just kind of ehhhhh.
BtH was right: the thought experiments themselves are fine, although he’s of a better frame of mind than I am to ponder upon them. (He’s smarter than me, and anyway, I’ll be like, “are you still the same person if all your cells have been cloned? Maybe you are, because everyone else thinks you are…but maybe you’re not because the material is actually different…the baby’s chewing on a plastic bag.”) Maybe it’s specious of us to sit on our couch and judge Baggini’s explanations; he’s a PhD and we’re, well, armchair philosophers. But we were taught that it’s OK to judge Aristotle and Kant, for heaven’s sake, so I’ll go ahead and reaffirm our original position, which is, again, ehhhhh. Is it really appropriate to introduce an open-ended concept and then pontificate about it, going so far as to lead the reader into one direction or another? It’s Baggini’s right to do so if he wants; after all, it’s his book. But I was led to believe that the point of the book is so that we, the readers, can come to our own conclusions. So let us, please.