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Through the Year with Master D: Philosophy

January 4, 2011 by Reader's Connection

If not for Mel and his systemMelvil Dewey, we would be shelving each book according to its color or odor, or the average number of IQ points that library patrons have lost while reading it. His Dewey Decimal System, for which I’m so grateful, provides a rational if Martian system for shelving.

He was born on December 10th, 1851. To honor his birthday in 2009, I put together a ten-pak of books, each volume from a different Dewey decade. But Dewey’s accomplishments deserve a year-long celebration. From the titles published in 2010 or 2011, I’m going to read a book each month. So here goes. Foraging around in the 000’s that appeared in 2010, I can’t find anything that interests me, at the moment, so I’m jumping ahead to the 100’s. 

The 000s. Generalities

The 100s. Philosophy & Psychology

The 200s. Religion
The 300s. Social Sciences
The 400s. Language
The 500s. Natural Sciences & Mathematics
The 600s. Technology (Applied Sciences)
The 700s. The Arts
The 800s. Literature & Rhetoric
The 900s. History & Geography


100 KEL

Three Questions We Never Stop Asking by Michael Kellogg

Three Questions We Never Stop AskingPerhaps you’re like me, and you haven’t spent much time in recent years with Western philosophy. You don’t feel that the mind games put forth by our philosophers afford much of a connection with life’s real center(s). A more intimate grasp of reality can be attained if you meditate, or read poetry, or drink lots of coffee.

But Michael Kellogg has written a zinger, in which he pairs six big names to deal with the three big questions mentioned in the title. Plato and Ludwig Wittgenstein ask “What can I know?” Immanuel Kant and Friedrich Nietzche wonder “What may I hope?” And Aristotle and Martin Heidegger puzzle out “What should I do?”

I’m cynical enough to think that millions of people stopped asking some of these questions years ago (I know as much as I need to know, thank you very much), but Kellogg brings the philosophical search alive. I’ve requested some titles by Wittgenstein. We’ll see how far I get.

I have to say that even if I didn’t have two special needs sons, I would feel emotional resistance to Nietzche’s divsision of the earth’s population into heroes and zeroes. Those are his terms, not mine. Omigosh, by his standards, I’m a zero, myself. And Michael Kellogg doesn’t help matters, while singing N’s praises, by citing my least favorite among the Saul Bellow novels I’ve read, Henderson the Rain King. I didn’t know,  while reading that book,  that Bellow  based some of his  story on a Nietzchean metaphor. But it’s still a silly book. Critic Leslie Fiedler wrote of its “unearned euphoria,” and I agreed; and I’m wondering if the same could be said of Kellogg’s treatment of . . .

You see how this goes? I express indifference to Western philosophy, but Kellogg writes this wonderful book and I’m all fired up. He has done  philosophy–and me–a great service.

1 comment »

  1. Steve Bridge says:

    I pretty much ignored books on philosophy until I ran across *The Consolations of Philosophy* (101 DEB) by Alain de Botton several years ago. It was entertaining and actually made the thoughts of dead thinkers seem highly relevant to my life. De Botton includes chapters on
    Socrates, Epicurus, Seneca, Montaigne, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche. I even bought a copy of the book and have just checked out a new book on Montaigne. Old dogs can still learn new tricks.

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