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In 1984, I decided to move to Glebe, in Sydney's inner-west - lured by the promise of late-night philosophical discussions in smoke-filled coffee-houses. Instead I found appalling and expensive menu-items in trendy cafes, and talk about which parties to attend on the following weekend. I didn't stay there long.

Despite the reams of books, lectures and notes that have been written on the subject over the ages, the three most useful clues as to the nature of philosophy that I have ever read are the following:

  1. the 'philosophy' entry in the Funk & Wagnall's encyclopaedia;
  2. a little book called 'Teach Yourself Philosophy' (from the 'Teach Yourself' series);
  3. 'Philosophy for Beginners' (profusely illustrated, with all the big names and theories); and
  4. a line from the 'Tao Te Ching' which says: 'Look at the Universe as Universe'.

In contrast, I've had Jean Paul Sartre's 'Being and Nothingness' sitting on my bookshelves for the last fifteen years and find it simply unfathomable. This isn't because I'm stupid, but because I insist on a certain relationship between the length of a written work and the complexity of the idea that it is trying to convey. To put it another way, "it's not what you think, but the way that you think it" (original quote).

Philosophy is still a leading-edge subject in the intellectual life of our age (or what little there is left of it). The work of Karl Popper springs to mind as an important voice, whose ideas on the philosophy of science should be spread more widely. If only we weren't sitting so contentedly on our fat assumptions. Not to mention our opinions - which can never be anything else beyond that.

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URL: http://homepages.tig.com.au/~avanstar
Alex Van Starrex