1. Poziga

    Poziga Contributor Contributor

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    Credibility of old books

    Discussion in 'Book Discussion' started by Poziga, Feb 17, 2018.

    Hey. :)

    I am reading John Locke’s Essay on understanding human consciousness and as I was ploughing through it I started thinking how important this (and consequently other books) book isnin terms of credibility in today’s world. Some of his points seem to me now quite obvious - of course still interesting - and so a question occured to me, how worth are these books to read now in terms of substance, since we as a conscious species have advanced.

    I think books like these are if not else still a great starting point to philosophy, and help the reader understand what was going on in the heads of humanity’s greatest minds.

    So what do you think? Do you think a lot of famous old (non-fiction) books are being read just because of their status even though the content might not be that illuminating anymore? And which of these books are like that (give me some titles) and why?

    Thanks (and I hope I explained my question clearly). :)
     
  2. thirdwind

    thirdwind Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Considering that a good portion of the US Constitution is influenced by Locke's works, I'd say it's still relevant (I think some politicians would benefit from reading Locke actually :p). Furthermore, a lot of philosophical ideas on logic, law, punishment, and math were developed back in ancient times and are still relevant today. Some of the questions posed back then are still being asked today, though perhaps with a modern twist. Finally, I think it's important to read these texts to understand how they helped shape modern philosophical thought.

    Honestly, it's hard to go wrong with any of the famous philosophers, even going as far back as Plato, Socrates, Confucius, etc. I would argue that they're famous because they're still relevant in some way. History has a funny way of casting aside philosophers that are no longer relevant.

    There may be one exception to all of this, and that is the philosophy of science. Given how quickly science advances, it's only natural that some philosophical implications may become obsolete. Even so, I still enjoy reading these things out of curiosity, but that's just me. :read2:
     
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  3. surrealscenes

    surrealscenes Senior Member

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    Being someone that loves history/sociology, I feel almost everything from the past is worth reading. If you can see, the older works show our evolution in thought processes. If more read, and saw, there would be much less idiocy in society in general.
     
  4. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Benevolent Ochlocrat Staff Supporter Contributor

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    It's interesting to see how standards of credibility (and credulity) have advanced over time. I have started to read (and admit that I will probably never finish) the Histories of Herodotus and Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Herodotus, IIRC, treats the intervention of gods and goddesses as factual events. Gibbon, on the other hand, took at face value the assertion that one barbarian chieftain was eight or nine feet tall (possible but very unlikely) and seems to have believed that the mythical Blemmyes did have their heads below their shoulders:

     
  5. Oxymaroon

    Oxymaroon Contributor Contributor

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    Many classic writers - that is, whose work has survived for more than a century - were more subtle in their thinking than modern writers are. They didn't care so much about obvious as being thorough. I find the minutiae tiring, too, but not less credible.
    No, we have not. If anything, over the last hundred or so years, we have regressed in the rigor of our logic, the maturity of our understanding and the sophistication of our language. This is mainly because education is now far more comprehensive: geared to an industrial work-force of all aptitudes, rather than to a minority of economically and/or intellectually gifted scholars. Writers used to aim their argument at their peers; now they're aiming at a mass market.

    Ideally, you should start with Gilgamesh or ancient Chinese and Indian scrolls, and work chronologically through all available schools of philosophy (just their originators, not all the I'll-explain-what-the-master-meant tomes).

    It depends on the subject. Outmoded science and geography books, you read for the perspective of how progress was made, how one idea led to the next., not for the conclusions. Math hasn't changed since it was invented - there is just more of it. History is important to see from the immediacy of contemporary sources, as well as the more objective view of later historians - just not all from the same empire! Political and social issues differ with the world-view and culture of the author: the more points of view you read, the better judge you will become of what ideology suits you - and you'll be able to defend that conviction.

    I'll have to think on this and look over my shelves.
    Some books I can recommend immediately : The Voyage of the Beagle by Darwin, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, by Gibbon (He may not have had access to Wikipedia, but he was nobody's fool!) Van Loon's Lives, and What Is Man? by Mark Twain
     
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2018
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  6. Poziga

    Poziga Contributor Contributor

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    Thanks for your replies. I opened this thread because I was struggling with Locke and the question came to me and I wondered what you people thought.

    @thirdwind I read De Anima by Aristotle but I have to admit that it went completely over my head, I understood nothing:oops:. I did like Descartes though, I will probably return to him. And some friends mentioned that Kant is interesting and that his style is not too complicated (that's what bothered me with Locke, sentences way too long for me).
    I was listening to a couple of interviews (mostly by Sam Harris) about the morality of AI and I find this topic quite relevant. I remember guests talking about some questions that should be taken into account before developing AI too fast. What topics do you mostly like to read in the philosophy of science?

    @Oxymaroon Yes, I actually read a while back that manking reached its intellectual peak with ancient Greeks, because that's when the whole variety of fields still important today emerged and foundations for different approaches to philosophy were set. I don't remember who said this, though.
    I do want to read more of philosophy, but I am much more interested in psychology. Still, old philosophers deal much with psychology and sociology so do you have any ancient/old books recommendations that deal a bit more with psychology?

    Yes, that's why I'm rolling my eyes. Philosophy and many other fields should be enjoyed from the beginning but that is too many books! :p
    Plus, English isn't my native tongue so I read these books slower than you probably.
    I did find this page though, does anyone know if it's good? Or are the essential elements too blurred because of tinkering with the texts? http://www.earlymoderntexts.com/
     
  7. Oxymaroon

    Oxymaroon Contributor Contributor

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    To my shame, I have not given it very much thought. I'm no a big fan of philosophy as a discipline; I rather think of it as the self-indulgent hobby of men with no real work to do. I know that's unfair; I know there were and are serious thinkers with serious contributions to make. But on the other hand, quite a lot of the ever-so-solemn philosophizing I've read was transparent BS. Of course, I may have been prejudiced from the start because the first one I actually read was Nietzsche. Still a big hit with modern young men, I understand.
    Steady! Deep breath.
    Okay, I think if you want to understand ancient Greek philosophy, you should read their myths and poems and plays. It's all there, accessibly.
    (Thing about the Greeks. They might not have been smarter than we are, or than Europeans were in the seventeenth century, but they had not yet had their minds hobbled by institutional Christianity. They were open to ideas, even radical ones, in all areas of investigation; they were able to accept human nature, and therefore could observe and describe it accurately; they could appreciate sensual pleasures as well as intellectual ones. )
    If you want to understand the world-view of the Inuit or the Maya, read their folklore; look at their art.
    Poetry and instructive fiction, in any culture, give you a much better idea of how people think and what their values are than a philosopher's analysis: most of their contemporaries never read, or heard of, Descartes* or Kant.

    (*he and Saint Paul are, to me, two of the most destructive forces in European thought. They established and rationalized, respectively, the arrogant anthropocentric attitude that was already bad enough in civilized societies, and that is killing the world, even as we type. )
     
  8. thirdwind

    thirdwind Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I really enjoy reading about the philosophy of modern physics. The early 20th century was an interesting time because a lot of scientists and philosophers were working together to understand the implications of quantum mechanics. I have also read some interesting stuff on the logic and assumptions behind the scientific method. Actually, Aristotle wrote one of the earliest works on this, Prior Analytics, which I would argue is still valid today.
     

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