Excerpted from Beyond Experience: Metaphysical Theories and Philosophical Constraints, by Norman Swartz. (Toronto: Toronto University Press), 1991, pp. ix-x.
Grappling with issues that are both inherently interesting and unavoidably controversial is the lifeblood of philosophy. A good introduction to the subject must convey the sense of excitement that characterizes lively controversies. Doing this well – avoiding the mock combat of straw men and artificial opponents – is far from easy, which is why relatively few good introductions are the work of one single writer. The present book is an exception to this rule. For Norman Swartz has managed to combine a good sense of the complexities that always lurk behind the surface of philosophical issues with an easy, nontechnical mode of exposition accessible to the interested nonspecialist. His book is at once readable, informative, and stimulating.
One can learn about philosophy by reading, but one can learn to philosophize only by thinking about the issues. But philosophical thinking requires recourse to problems, concepts, and methods, and these are obtained most efficiently and effectively via the printed page. What a book can do is to extend a congenial invitation to learning. The difficulty is finding books with the right combination of accessibility-with-profundity and of breadth-with-depth. In this regard, the interests of the beginner – student or interested reader alike – are well served by Beyond Experience which, I have found, provides constantly stimulating discussion of a wide range of challenging questions.
The very nature of philosophy is such that it is easier to pose problems than to enforce conclusions. Even the plausible data of the field – the deliverances of `plain logic', of ordinary common sense, and of science – are not of so fixed a character that they always resist the corrosive impact of critical scrutiny. Moreover the `data' of philosophy (whatever they are) underdetermine the conclusions: there are always alternatives that must be weighed by standards that we bring to our philosophizing rather than extract from it. To present philosophy in a dogmatic way is accordingly to betray the enterprise by impoverishing it – by putting out of sight concepts, issues, and problems that deserve and need to have their place in philosophy's complex terrain. In this connection, what is particularly appealing about this book is its undogmatic approach. Its author is more concerned that readers should appreciate the many-sidedness and complexity of the issues than that they take away a predilection for one particular answer. This insistence on readers thinking for themselves rather than pressing for the endorsement of one particular view is certainly one of the book's most attractive features.
Those who give Beyond Experience an attentive reading are in for a treat. They will come away not only with a better sense of what philosophy is all about, but will also experience the enjoyable stimulus of thinking philosophically.
University Professor of Philosophy
University of Pittsburgh
Transfer/return to Norman Swartz's homepage.
Transfer/return to online materials written by Norman Swartz.