This is an impressive book covering a very wide range of topics, although the links between them are not always apparent. However, the recurring theme is the demand that we think about these issues and do not allow ourselves to lead the ‘unthinking life’. The author asks that we lead the kind of life he did, which was to demand that those who preach obscurantism, masquerading as deep insights or beliefs, should not go unchallenged but be required to justify themselves and not retire behind the smokescreen of a comfort zone of belief, be it metaphysical or religious.
This does not mean that the author is content to be the constant ‘sniper’, the destroyer of the illusions of others; but as clearly demonstrated, for example, in Chapter Six on Euthanasia, he too can have a thesis to defend and a challenge to those who disagree to enter the debate. What would most offend this author is a refusal to engage; he welcomes, almost demands, discussion because what that reflects are thinking minds in action and in such a situation we, as human beings, flourish.
The author is also correct to point out the disparity between the enormous advances we have made scientifically, particularly in a technological sense, which sit uneasily with the lack of sophistication we display in our development as ethically and socially advanced human beings. What, however, is not certain is whether serious rational discussion of issues will lead to unanimity of ethical judgments. This is an old philosophical debate, but what is clear is that a failure to engage rationally is most certainly not going to advance the agenda of those who wish to see a parallel development in ethical insights.
The latter chapters of the book, in my opinion, sit uneasily with the earlier more analytical and questioning chapters. We seem to have lost the open and critical mind and are left with a discursive analysis of certain eastern metaphysical and religious beliefs. True, the enquiring mind is still present, but its crucial no-nonsense insightful edge is missing.
In reading this book you will be both entertained and stimulated. The author tries successfully to marry the informal with the formal and succeeds in producing a text which gains your attention and retains your interest. In my view, the overriding objective of the author is to stimulate the reader to think. Yes, he has things to say, points to make and theses to argue for which he thinks are important and hopefully you will agree with, but more fundamentally he wants to ignite enquiring minds, prepared to engage in rational debate and discussion. The author does not want disciples but fellow travellers, who see value in challenging conventions and commonly held beliefs and refuse to live the ‘unthinking life’.
Reviewed by Dr Terry McKnight
Retired Lecturer in Philosophy, Ulster University
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