Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction by Dr. Edward Craig

by Daniel Ashworth

Philosophy A Very Short IntroductionA REVIEW

The A Very Short Introduction series of books, published by Oxford University Press, is helpful for gaining inroads into unfamiliar topics. These books are usually in the 120-150 page range and cover a myriad of topics, with new ones being published even today. In this review, I will take a look at Dr. Edward Craig’s Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction. Craig is a fellow with the interdisciplinary Churchill College at Cambridge University. He is also the general editor of the multi-volume Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, along with authoring other texts.

Many introductions to philosophy texts trend either one of two ways: either by giving an overview of philosophical issues or by cataloging profiles of noted philosophers. Craig in Philosophy attempts to do a bit of both which is a tall order and he admits as much in trying to write a short introduction to philosophy. There were times I wished he did not cut off so soon, or fleshed out issues more than he did, but overall I think Craig does a good job of whetting one’s appetite for further study. One could make a case the book could be stronger and more cogent if Craig had picked one way or the other from the above choices, but he decided to go a different way and so here we are.

I gained an immediate appreciation from Craig’s opening words in the introduction of the book, “Anyone reading this book is to some extent a philosopher already” (p.1). Through the introduction he seems to offer and support the idea that to be human is to be a philosopher (additionally we would say to be Christian is to be a theologian). Later on in the introduction he mentions, “philosophy is extremely hard to avoid, even by conscious effort.”

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Craig then mentions that those who try to dismiss philosophy are doing so on philosophical terms and “instead of rejecting philosophy they will have become another voice within it” (p.2). This defense of philosophy is expressed through the entire introduction before he introduces three main questions in the next three chapters: What should I do?, How do we know?, and What am I?

Chapter two is focused on “What should I do?” and Craig invites readers to pick up Plato’s Crito dialogue and read it before moving into the chapter, though one can get the gist of the chapters without reading the suggested works (I read the suggested works on my first reading to play along). The upshot of this specific dialogue is Socrates defending his integrity of going through with the death sentence handed to him and not bribing the guards and exiling himself to safer lands to preserve his life, as his friend Crito is trying to convince him to do…


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