Books - 20thC
Under the above heading I
give a series of important books and authors in
Western philosophy between 1901 and 2000.
I read a lot of 20th Century philosophy, and those who did the
same will notice that I have left out quite a few names of well-known 20th
Century philosophers, and that those I include all belong to the same
analytical and empirical tradition.
The reason I have not included - say -
Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre nor Marcuse or Foucault
is that I don't like them at all. Also, their prose - that of Sartre too,
when writing philosophically - is always boring and usually bad or very bad.
(For those who disagree, I have a simple challenge: Work through
Stegmüller and then explain why -
say - Heidegger is worth reading, other than as an example of bad bombastic
baloney. And those who like nonsense, are very much better served by e.g.
Lewis Carroll - who at least knew logic and mathematics, and knew when and why
he wrote nonsense, and did so very well indeed.)
Of all I will mention,
is most recommended, because one will learn most of it. It is not original
philosophy, but it is a very clear, competent and complete rendering of very
much that was done in the 20th C in logic, philosophy of science, probability
theory and analytical philosophy. Most of what was done in philosophy besides,
at least in the West, was strongly influenced by politics (Marxism,
especially) or religion (such as Thomism)
happen to have read most that Russell published. He had a very clear mind, a
very clear and pleasant style, and many interesting ideas about many subjects,
and was a brave and independent individual. There is much I could recommend,
but for the moment I limit myself to "The
Problems of Philosophy", which is also on this side with my comments; "History of Western Philosophy", which is
the only such history that made me laugh, and "Human Knowledge: Its scope and
limits", which is Russell's last serious long work, and less well known than
it deserves to be.
Whitehead and B. Russell cooperated on the 'Principia Mathematica', which was an
attempt - very serious, in several thick volumes - to derive mathematics from
logic. It failed in that the authors were forced to assume some axioms which
were rather clearly of a mathematical nature, rather than a logical one, and
for some other reasons, but it succeeded in laying the foundations of modern
mathematical logic, and it got quite a few things in mathematical logic
formulated clearly and systematically for the first time. At the time of its
writing Whitehead was a pure mathematician, but later he turned to philosophy.
His two most important philosophical books are "Science and the Modern World"
and "Process and Reality", of which the former is far more
readable than the latter, which is an interesting metaphysics of organism, but
difficult to understand.
Poincaré: H. Poincaré was first and foremost a
great mathematician and physicist, but he was seriously interested in
philosophy, and had a very clear mind and a beautiful clear style. Three of
his books from the beginning of the 20th C, that are still much worth reading
and indeed, unlike most other philosophy that was published, hardly have aged,
are 'La Science et l'Hypothese', 'Science et Methode' and 'La
Valeur de la Science'.
Broad: Broad had a fine mind and wrote a
clear style, and is less well read than he deserves to be. His most important
book is "Mind - Its Place in Nature", and anybody interested at all in the
subject should read it. Broad excelled in clearly analysing problems rather
than in proposing new solutions, and his "Five Types of Ethical Theories" is
an excellent survey.
Johnson: W.E. Johnson had some quite
original and sensible ideas about logic that are contained in his "Logic" in
three volumes. These volumes are not only worth reading for those interested
in logic, but also for philosophy of science and semantics.
Wittgenstein produced two distinct philosophies,
namely a kind of neo-positivism in the
linguistic philosophy in the Philosophical Investigations. The basic message
of the two philosophies is the same: Nearly all of - non-Wittgensteinian -
philosophy is nonsense: It attempts to say the unsayable by abusing language.
I am not a fan of Wittgenstein, and two books that give good reasons why are
Ernest Gellner's "Words and things" and J.N. Findlay's "Wittgenstein: A
Ramsey: F.P. Ramsey died before he was 30,
and had a great mind. He did very fine work in philosophy, logic, the
foundations of mathematics, mathematics, probability theory and economy, and
his papers are collected in "Foundations of Mathematics" and "Foundations",
that overlap in content but do not have the same content.
Carnap was the leader of neo-positivism and a competent but not a great
philosopher. Three of his books I like best are "Der logische Aufbau der
Welt", "Introduction to Logic" and "Meaning and Necessity".
The first attempts to give a precise and logical reconstruction of a
scientific metaphysics using the tools of mathematical logic; the second is a
good and clear introduction to the mathematical logic that one can find in
Russell and Whitehead's 'Principia Mathematica', and has the merit of
including also other things, like foundations of mereology (logical theory of
wholes and parts); and the third is an attempt to surrect a theory of meaning
using the tools of modal logic, which it also tries to surrect. All of these
are outdated now and contain mistakes, but are well worth reading, and
interesting introductions to the subjects they treat.
Reichenbach: H. Reichenbach was originally a
physicist, who worked in Berlin until he had to flee Hitler's dictatorship. He
is usually considered a neo-positivist, but since he knew more physics and
mathematics than most neo-positivists tends to be more sensible and less
dogmatical than possibly better known men like Neurath and Schlick. He publish
quite a lot, including books about the foundations of probability and physics.
His 'Experience and Prediction' is good.
Ayer: A.J. Ayer
was British, and for the most part a follower of Russell. He got rather
well-known when 26, with 'Language, Truth and Logic', which is a
capable and readable summary of neo-positivism of that time. (I had my fun
when 19 or 20 refuting almost all of this,
but in any case it is more readable than most neo-positivist writings, though
Von Mises 'Kleines Lehrbuch des Positivismus' is much better and
more original.) A useful late work of Ayer is "The Central Questions of
Popper is best known for two books, the last in two volumes: 'The Logic of
Scientific Discovery' and 'The Open Society and Its Enemies'. In
the first, he defends a philosophy of science that is based on the principle
of falsifiability, i.e. a scientific theory should be falsifiable to be taken
serious, as opposed to the neo-positivists who tried to base philosophy on the
principle of verifiability. I think both were mistaken, but Popper less so.
The other volumes are an interesting and worthwhile defense of liberalism, and
an attack on totalitarianism of all kinds.
Quine: Quine was
in his young years an admirer and pupil of Carnap and was American. He
published rather a lot, and most was written in a contrived English style that
is admired by academic philosophers. I like him far better as (philosophical)
logician than as a philosopher. If you are interested in Russell and
Whitehead's 'Principia Mathematica', his 'Mathematical Logic' is a fine
reworking of it, and if you are interested in set theory or the foundations of
mathematics, 'Set Theory and Its Logic' is nice. His best work is very
probably 'Word and Object' which concerns language and meaning.
Tatarkiewicz was a Polish philosopher, and one of the few of many brilliant
Poles that did not perish in the second World War. He was an admirer of
Aristotle; wrote a very clear style; had a lot of knowledge; and a fair
judgment. Two fine books of his are 'Analysis of Happiness' and 'The
history of six ideas'. Both are histories of ideas. The first concerns
ethics and the second esthetics.
Incidentally, since I mentioned many
brilliant Poles: It is a great pity so very many truly intelligent Polish
logicians, mathematicians and philosophers were killed between 1939 and 1945.
In all three fields Poland excelled between 1900 and 1939. Much work that
should have been preserved was destroyed when Warsaw was destroyed.
M. Bunge is an Argentinian theoretical physicist who published a lot about
philosophy. His best known book is 'Causality', which is a very good
summary of and introduction to the subject. Personally, I like his 'Treatise
on Basic Philosophy' a lot, which is what its title says, and takes some
10 volumes. To read them with understanding requires some elementary knowledge
of logic, that can be gathered from the next item.
W. Stegmüller is German, and his main work in German is in four thick volumes
or quite a lot smaller volumes for students ('Studienausgabe'), and goes by
the title 'Probleme und Resultate der Wissenschaftstheorie und Analytischen
Philosophie' i.e. Problems and results from philosophy of science and
analytical philosophy. This is an excellent summary of and introduction to
these subjects, which one should not miss if one is interested in these
subjects. It gives a fine survey, and explains a lot about the foundations of
logic and probability that is difficult to find elsewhere.
My own view is that
the most important philosopher of the 20th Century, in part because of his
logical ability, in part because of his clear and pleasant style, and in part
because of his wide scope, for he published 72 books about very many subjects.
The most interesting and useful books of
those I mentioned are by Bunge
and Stegmüller, because they cover so much and are
clearly written, by writers who were not only capable philosophers but also
qualified scientifically and mathematically (indeed like Russell).