Philosophy Bites Back is the second book representation 'Philosophy Bites', the internationally famous podcast produced by Warburton and Edmonds. The book is a compilation of interviews from a variety of experts on their philosophical topics and covers an extremely broad range of topics of interest by current scholars and writers today.
Perhaps I'm cheating if I told you this, but most of the chapters in this book are transcripts from interviews which are freely available from the Philosophy Bites website. Purchasing the book does however support the very noble project that has gone on for the past 5-6 years. Philosophy Bites has had varying levels of financial support over the years, as of October 2013 the podcast is currently unsupported by any institutions, and donations from public benefactors and purchases of this book support this project. The book feels to me like a commercial challenge, the sort of thing that a philosopher would cook up as a thought experiment: would a consumer purchase a book that they could essentially get the content of for free, in audio format? I suppose the answer to that would be on how many sales this book gets! Perhaps the rest of this review will read as a way of trying to convince you to get this book. In reviewing this book, I am not just reviewing the content of what is between the pages, but the form of it as a physical book.
This book is physical, it is text and something you can hold in your hands. The idea of a philosophy podcast is a medium of philosophy which perhaps has more fidelity to the Socratic way of doing philosophy, namely, through actual physical conversations rather than an exchange of journal articles, letters and lengthy treatises. This book is an accessible and has a very easy-to-read set of conversations on extremely diverse topics. This book is great for anyone who doesn't know anything about philosophy but would like an idea of what current scholars are interested in. This book is great for anyone who has a very specific idea of philosophy, whether that is of the Socratic Dialogue, the Early-Modern grand theory of the world, the existentialist literary masterpiece, or the quasi-scholastic jargon discussions going on in journals. There is something to challenge everyone's idea of philosophy.
The spread of philosophical topics was veritably eclectic. I was especially impressed by the interviews on Political Philosophy, especially the eloquent exposition of Rawls' Theory of Justice from Wolff, and the discussion about people typically considered as 'politically conservative' philosophers as Burke (discussed by Bourke) and Hayek (discussed by Kukathas).
Due to the extreme breadth of philosophy not every topic can be addressed in a book that is aiming to be an overview. The topics do largely reflect the particularly culturally European-American focii of Western Philosophy in canonised manner that is taught at universities today. That being said, some figures which are often ignored at universities such as Kierkegaard and Montaigne are given due attention in this book. There's no discussion on say, Arab-European medievalism, African or Vedic Philosophy. This is not a criticism of the book but more an accurate reflection of how most philosophy in university circles today orient their academic attention.
In the introduction of this book, various philosophers were asked who their favourite philosopher is. The answers are varied. There are the predictable responses, such as Kant, Hume and Wittgenstein. Some answers come from leftfield; when asked who her favourite philosopher was, Catherine MacKinnon's response was : "Oh, the last woman I talked to, whoever she is". There are others who in their response refuse to accept the premise of the question such as Dan Sperber.
On balance, the interviewees are fairly diverse. There's a pretty good gender mix of interviewees as well as their academic backgrounds. In the introductory chapter, figures outside of academic philosophy such as Alain de Botton (Writer, broadcaster) and Tariq Modood (Sociologist) speak about their favourite philosophers. Many of the interviewees do not fit the standard profile of a philosopher as university lecturer. Mary Warnock who discusses Sartre, is a member of the British House of Lords; Sarah Bakewell (who speaks about Montaigne) has a background as a novelist and archivist; Richard Reeves is a Government advisor and part of a think tank. I think that the choices of interviewees and topics very much reflects a sense of 'measurable impact' (to use the politicised terminology of university administrations) of academic philosophy.
The ordering of the chapters is particularly of interest which would be something that you wouldn't get through an RSS feed of a podcast. Juxtaposing Hugh Mellor on Frank Ramsey's work on truth with Rowland-Smith's chapter on Derrida, reflects historical and intellectually divergent ideas about what philosophy is. Many of the interviewees speak about a philosophical subject on its own historical terms, and then speaks about its relevance for philosophy today. Some of the topics (particularly on ethics and politics) are very helpful for framing and understanding our social and moral lives today. It is particularly notable that while many of the interviewers are experts and advocates of the philosopher they are thinking about, they do not always agree with their positions.
In the age of the podcast, philosophy has adopted new forms of expression. The book serves well for those book readers who value the book as a presence on a bookshelf, or may not have yet adopted the new fandangled medium of the podcast, or as a companion to the podcast. This book is recommended for anyone with a general interest in philosophy.
© 2013 Michael Pereira
Michael Pereira has an MA in Philosophy and a BSc in Sociology and Philosophy. Michael has given talks on various topics from Kant's philosophy of science to the philosophical underpinnings of ecology. Michael's main blog is 'Noumenal Realm'. Michael's academic areas of interest are Kant's theoretical philosophy and Kant's (supposed) relevance to contemporary philosophy of science.