Keith Douglas' Web Page

About me Find out who I am and what I do.
My resumé A copy of my resumé and other documentation about my education and work experience for employers and the curious.
Reviews, theses, articles, presentations A collection of papers from my work, categorized and annotated.
Current research projects What I am currently working on, including some non-research material.
Interesting people People professionally "connected" to me in some way.
Interesting organizations Organizations I am "connected" to. (Some rather loosely.)
Intellectual/professional influences Influences on my work, including an organization chart. Here you can also buy many good books on philosophy and other subjects via amazon.com. I have included brief reviews of hundreds of books.
Professional resources Research sources, amazon.com associates programs, etc.
What is the philosophy of computing? A brief introduction to my primary professional interest.
My intellectual heroes A partial list of important people. Limited to the dead.
My educational philosophy As a sometime teacher I've developed one. Includes book resources.

Book Influences - Philosophy: Great Texts

Title
Author
Purchase / Enjoy Cover
Comment
A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge Berkeley A short work defending subjective idealism. It illustrates well why empiricism leads in that direction. On the other hand, it is not clear why Berkeley's empiricism allows him to infer the existence of "spirits" at all. (A point, of course, Hume was to take up.) This edition has some notes on the work and connections to other writings of Berkeley and others.
A Treatise of Human Nature Hume This is the young Hume's first work. True to his intentions, one sees an attempt to move what we now call the social and mixed sciences forward. A new psychology is what this is mostly, centered around "sentiment" as well as "idea" and "impression". Hume had read his forebears, but his contemporaries did not return the favour, at first, but the text is still worth reading even now for at least reminders of some of the topics one might want to address in investigating our human nature. This edition is an "Oxford Philosophical Texts" edition, and has been edited, annotated and wonderfully introduced by the Nortons. Also especially useful is their glossary.
An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding Hume This is a slender volume, one in stark contrast to the work of Hume above. It covers many of the same themes, but expresses more skepticism about religion, especially miracles. It is interesting also to note that we have a shift in meaning of "probability" from Locke's use (who seems to want to apply probability only to an argument) to something closer to one of the contemporary uses. It is also interesting to read how Hume considers his investigations of epistemology and metaphysics to be important to contribute to his "science of human nature", which is what he takes moral philosophy to be. I dare say this is an important lesson for today. This Dover edition of the work contains no critical or student-oriented apparatus at all; in a way this is for the best as the cost is certainly minimized that way.
An Essay Concerning Human Understanding Locke Locke's enthusiastic (in the modern, not the 17th century, sense!) book about the nature and scope of human intellectual powers. His discussion about how our names of substances reflect our superficial understanding just screams for a reply. So, I wonder if Lavoisier read this section.
Analects Confucius Confucius:China::Plato:Europe ? (Don't think that Confucius:China::Jesus::Europe is useful, since Confucius didn't found a religion, so even if there were a historical Jesus this analogy is unhelpful.)
Aquinas' Shorter Summa Aquinas The original title of this work is The Compendium of Theology. The change in title was chosen by the editor who wanted to create an accessible volume. Needless to say this is not a scholarly edition. In spite of this, however, it includes useful cross references and modernization of the Biblical references. Aquinas' use of Aristotle is deep and well worth paying attention to, as versions of this are still connected to official Catholic doctrine.
Basic Writings of Nietzsche Nietzsche, edited by Kauffman Nietzsche is a difficult philosopher to understand: not because of his ungrammaticality (like Heidegger) but because his aims are not exactly obvious and he doesn't seem adverse to making provocative statements that are substantially qualified later on. This collection includes some of Nietzsche's famous stuff.
Being And Nothingness Sartre Sartre's famous book illustrates why "great" in this section applies to the work's historical influence, not the merits of what is said. Turgid and metaphysically (metascientifically) dubious, to say the least.
Chance, Love, and Logic; Philosophical Essays Peirce A collection of papers by one of the greatest of American philosophers. I find some of Peirce's metaphysics very strange (his arguments for objective idealism are very odd), but aspects (including his resolute antinominalism) are congenial. His epistemology (except where "contaminated" by the above) and logic are well worth studying, however, as his grasp of science is better than many philosophers (particularly his contemporaries.) Warning: this particular edition is a very faint reproduction. The volume also includes a brief analysis of Peirce's work by Dewey and a list of the former's collected works.
Classical Arabic Philosophy: An Anthology of Sources McGinnis and Reisman (eds., trans.) A collection of extracts from Arabic philosophers from the rise of Islam to the coming of a Persian tradition which melded with it. However, not all authors are Muslim - there are some Christians represented as well. Much like those who wrote in Latin in Europe, however, much of the discussion is Aristotle-like in flavour. So one finds four elements, four causes, tries to understand Aristotle-like souls, debates over the eternity of the world, etc. It is interesting in the latter case to see that Islam and Christianity diverged for a while on this issue. The only thing missing (other than more material - perhaps a second volume; I for one would have liked to hear more about Arab atomism, even if it was a minority view) is a pronunciation guide. Common Arabic terminology is transliterated and glossaried (in both directions), however.
Collected Dialogues Plato Hamilton and Cairns collection of Plato. Be careful with some of the translations, especially the Cornford translation of the Sophist.
Collected Writings Paine One of the most radical of the American revolutionaries, Paine is still worth reading, especially as a contrast to the theocratic and plutocratic excesses of current US governments. Paine, astonishingly, defends a welfare fix to structural unemployment created by moves to cities, advocates what amounts to a steep (up to 100%) rent tax, complains that the English have been brutal in India and elsewhere, analyzes the historicity of the bible and much else. An astonishing work, although he has little to say about many topics, what is there is still remakrable.
Complete Works Aristotle Barnes edition of Aristotle. Includes many of the likely inauthentic works; two volumes.
Complete Works Spinoza Spinoza: the metaphysician with a political philosophy. Or is that the political philosopher with a metaphysics? Regardless, this is a clearly translated collection of his life's writings, in addition to some letters to him. Spinoza is to be admired for his attempt at mathematical exactness in potentially squishy matters. At the very least, one can trace where he thought he was "working from" in each case. Also in this edition is the "nonexact" but still interestingly groundbreaking (though not completely novel) grammar of Hebrew. Students of the history of human thought can also thus consider this as a minor contribution to (scientific) linguistics and certainly to philology.
Critique of Pure Reason Kant Arguably one of the most infamous philosophy books ever written, it (particularly in this edition) needs a tripartite review. (1) The work itself is a glorious failure: an attempt to synthesize rationalism and empiricism which uses the wrong halves of both (a priorism and phenomenalism, rather than stressing the importance of ideas and their test). Also, the attempt to demonstrate "necesssary illusions" founders if only because the insistence that there can be only one way to approach synthesis and anthesis is the way given is massively implausible. The phenomenalism is the most entrenched, it seems, of these weaknesses and the most devestating: how does one avoid skepticism? How does one handle the fact that routinely we go beyond appearances? To be fair, sometimes Kant weasels a little and talks about "possible" experience, but as is well known this is difficult to use as a substantial improvement. (2) However, as a matter of historical influence, the CoPR is so incredibly important that even someone who finds Kant's work severely annoying and wrongheaded (as I do) it should be on every person interested in human thought's reading list. (3) This edition is a clear translation, for the most part, and has a long introduction and copious notes, including some about the translation. I am not qualified to pass judgement on the translation generally, but it appears that in several places the translators have made verhältnisse into the singular
"relation". I don't understand this choice - perhaps I am missing something. It does not seem to ever seriously change the meaning, however. One goal listed by the translators of this edition is to get away from the "interpretive" translations of previous work. I will leave it to others to judge if this admirable (though difficult to accomplish) goal has succeeded (to whatever degree).
Discourse on Method and Meditations Descartes Two of the most commonly read works of Descartes. Unfortunately, by themselves, they paint a very misleading picture of Descartes' work. Read his Passions de l'Ame, too (and Le Monde, remembering that it was suppressed out of fear by its author after hearing that Galileo had been threatened).
Essence of Christianity Feuerbach Feuerbach is often remembered merely as a subject of Marx's criticisms. This book contains his humanistic interpretation of Christianity. Feuerbach's work should also be regarded as a forerunner of Durkheim's in the philosophy of religion, as it addresses some of the same considerations.
Gorgias Plato I keep around some spare Platonic dialogues because these editions contain some notes which might be useful. (I am not too fond of the Gorgias, but it is an interesting source of information about the sophists.)
G. W. Leibniz Philosophical Texts Woolhouse and Francks (eds.) A small (vi, 313) collection of writings by Leibniz. Also includes some letters from commentators (Arnauld, Foucher, Bayle), extensive notes by the editors and an extensive bibliography of secondary sources. I suppose the New Essays weren't included because that would have likely vastly increased the size of the book; same for having the original untranslated works included too. Nevertheless this collection is good value.
I and Thou Buber If you like theology, maybe this is for you. Otherwise, it is difficult to see the point. (I suspect also it might be useful to know more about specifically Jewish theology before reading this.) On the other hand, Buber's mention of why he loves his wife in Kauffman's editorial notes is interesting ... It is also easy to see why the Philosophical Lexicon defines buber the way it does after reading this work.
Karl Marx: Selected Writings Marx, edited by McLellan A collection of Marx's writings, some excerpts. (Not surprising, since Marx can be quite verbose.) A lot of the famous quotes are in here, though not quite in the form one might expect. As one might expect, Marx is at his best analyzing problems than proposing solutions. Should be read by more Americans, because the Soviet horror has scared some of them off reading Marx, unfortunately.
Kierkegaard Anthology Kierkegaard as edited by Bretall Early in my philosophy education someone recommended this to me to better understand Christianity. I think this is correct: Kierkegaard is the most consistent Christian writer I am aware of. He is aware that the religion is absurd, though why he clings to it is never made clear. He basically says he does because it is absurd, though that doesn't seem like a motivation to me. (This remark, like all these comments, has to be taken as a thesis statement for something I could defend but don't here, as this is comments, not essays.)
Leviathan Hobbes Hobbes seems to have been terrified by the English civil war and wrote this tome as a response. The gist is that civil strife of that sort is absolutely undesirable, so anything whatsoever to prevent it from happening is justified. Whence the citizens owe absolute allegiance to their governments if they exhibit their sovereignty in the correct way. Hobbes is not exactly a complete antidemocrat strictly speaking; he thinks the sovereign could at least be initially democratically elected (i.e. what he calls aristocracy) or be formed out of all the citizens (democracy). What it is undemocratic is the totalitarian nature of what results, including the ability of the sovereign to choose its successor body. This much is known to many casual readers; what is perhaps not is that Hobbes spends many hundreds of pages (in this edition; dozens in the original) discussing religion and its history only to talk very briefly about the role of religion and the state. There he is a bit more progressive, claiming one cannot worry about being compelled, etc. It is all very odd (and seemingly out of place), since a lot of it is just (bad, by contemporary standards, somewhat remarkable for the time) religious history and biblical analysis. I think it is much more likely that THIS is what got Hobbes (and Spinoza, a generation or so later) into so much trouble, rather than the totalitarian political philosophy.
Little Prince Saint-Exupéry Star Trek (TOS and TNG at least) fans might recognize some of its flavour in this children's story. I cannot for the life of me remember if it is mentioned in Gene Roddenberry: The Last Conversation.
Meno Plato I keep around some spare Platonic dialogues because these editions contain some notes which might be useful. I even would consider teaching the Meno, so keeping this one is doubly a no-brainer.
Metaphysics Aristotle I keep around some spare works of Aristotle because these editions contain some notes and alternative translations which might be useful.
New Organon Bacon Bacon's influence as the father of modern science is misunderstood, but this work is an interesting one all the same.
On Certainty Wittgenstein The radical interpretations of this work seem to be misguided. I think Wittgenstein's "hinge propositions" work very similarly to the transient foundations of Bunge's weakly foundationalist epistemology, or have echoes in Susan Haack's "foundherentism". This edition has the English and German on facing pages, which is all to the good with translated works.
On Liberty Mill Mill's defense of free speech and liberal (in the traditional, not American sense) political systems. Of note is the emphasis on the crucial distinction between the state prohibition of some activity and the social sanction thereof. (For example, as an individual one might discourage someone from being publicly drunk but not legitimately pass a law against it, at least per se.)
On The Social Contract Rousseau This little book (sort of a more normative counterpart to its approximate contemporary De L'Ésprit Des Lois) was influential on the political thought of the next hundred years or more and touched everyone from the American revolutionaries to Marx. In it you find ideas of sovereignty, the general will, liberty and other key notions.
Pensées and Other Writings Pascal (translated by Levi) The Pensées is a collection of aphorisms, extended paragraphs from a work never completed, and isolated fragments. The other works in this collection are shorter but cover some of the same themes. These are the relations between faith and reason, the merits of Christianity and other religions, and the nature of humanity. Pascal is extremely keen on Jesus, as the saying goes. However, what I found historically interesting is that he feels the need to refute Islam - though he does not do so in any great detail. I also found it horrifying that someone could say that Christianity both makes you hate yourself and makes you happy at once. (As far as I can tell, this is often true of Christians - their faith both terrifies and soothes, but that's not a good thing like Pascal seems to think!) Finally, Pascal's famous wager is here, in all its badness. However, it is especially important in this case to realize that the text we have was never meant for others in its current form.
Philebus Plato Plato on wisdom and pleasure; I keep around some spare Platonic dialogues because these editions contain some notes which might be useful.
Philosophical Fragments and Johannes Climacus Kierkegaard More Kierkegaard. See the notes on the Kierkegaard Anthology for my take, though this one was first assigned to me in a course in 19th century philosophy.
Philosophical Investigations Wittgenstein I'm with Dennett and Wittgenstein. I'm a behaviourist in disguise, because my philosophy of mind looks behaviourist (as Bert Terzian told me). That said, there is a whole lot of other stuff in here which I don't agree with or have trouble evaluating. I would like to hear more about what might be called a Wittgenstein machine to wonder more about Chomsky vs. Wittgenstein on language. (This is partially how Jim McGilvray at McGill presented some of the material herein.)
Philosophical Remarks Wittgenstein This is another intermediary work between the Tractatus and the Philosphical Investigations. Written just prior to a round of revolutions in logic (though Wittgenstein would dispute this label), it somehow lacks something that the two famous works possess, though it is unclear what that is. The most interesting novelty here is an attitude towards algebra, specifically, that I do not remember detecting in Wittgenstein's other work. It seems that he held arithmetic as basic: this goes along with his theme of taking the every day as primary, and as such algebra and arithmetic (i.e., grade school level calculation) are held to be very different. This is connected to W.'s views on generality, though I am not sure which is the conceptually prior viewpoint, if either.
Philosophical Writings Newton, Janiak (ed.) Newton is of course remembered as one of the greatest physicists of all time, and rightfully so. What is wrong is to think of his accomplishment independent of the general philosophical tradition. This collection of correspondence, excerpts from larger works (including the Principia and the Opticks) seeks to remedy that situation. Unfortunately, excerpting from the latter makes for some redundancy for those of us who also own the full version of each. However, this is more than made up for by an accessible version of De Gravitatione (in English) and heretofore massively underappreciated letters directly between Newton and Leibniz. The former clearly shows Descartes as one of Newton's "adversaries" in his work and the latter shows that two traditional rivals might not have at least always been such, remarkably.
Physics Aristotle I keep around some spare works of Aristotle because these editions contain some notes and alternative translations which might be useful.
Portable Nietzsche Nietzsche, edited by Kauffman Nietzsche is a difficult philosopher to understand: not because of his ungrammaticality (like Heidegger) but because his aims are not always exactly obvious and he doesn't seem adverse to making provocative statements that are substantially qualified later on. This collection includes more of Nietzsche's famous stuff. Designed to go well with the Basic Writings of Nietzsche, above.
Presocratic Philosophers Kirk, Raven and Schofield The standard edition of the Presocratics in English. Includes much commentary and discussion, as well as the Greek (and Latin, in a few cases) originals.
Principles of Mathematics Russell Routledge reissue of Bertie's early work. Unlike Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy , this work is more than just about mathematics narrowly conceived - or its philosophy. Russell also considers the foundations of dynamics, the philosophy of space and time, causation, and a few other such topics of slightly more general philosophical interest. While some of this material is dated, it is still interesting to see - and wonder why Russell did not pursue these topics as much later on. This particular reissue of the work, however, is marred by strange changes in font size (I suspect due to scanning/OCR) and outright mangling of subscripts/superscripts. A shame, since this lucid and sometimes funny work is worth careful study.
Republic and Others Plato This edition of some works of Plato does not include the Stephanus numbers. Avoid.
Selected Philosophical Papers of Robert Boyle Boyle A collection of some of Boyle's (yes, that Boyle) more philosophical papers. Included are works on qualities, philosophical theology/philosophy of religion, philosophy of science and others.
Sources of Chinese Tradition, Volume One: From Earliest Times to 1600 de Bary and Bloom (eds.) This monumental collection (nearly 1000 pages) is a (like the KRS Presocratics volume, above) at once analysis and the great texts themselves. The title is a bit of a misnomer, since the texts go into the 17th century. Many, however, are only presented in outline with interspersed summaries. Also not included are more literary works (e.g. Odes). Nevertheless, for the sometime amateur sinologist like me, this is a wonderful book to have around. Reading all the (neo)Confucian classics found here makes it clear to me what the metaphysics in that tradition is, too. One thing which struck me is that "dao" (the way) got more and more personalized, despite the depersonalization of "di" (god - I'm not sure this translation is sensible, either).
Sources of Chinese Tradition, Volume 2: From 1600 Through the Twentieth Century Bary and Lufrano (eds.) The sequel to the above volume. From c.1600 on China was in more or less continual contact with Europe (and later also with the United States). This external influence and what to do about it is the perennial influence throughout the period (and indeed likely to this day). Reactions against the influence, adopting European-derived views and all matter of syncretism is found. In the latter case, the influence of pragmatism - particularly Dewey and a little of James - is particularly noteworthy.
Tao Te Ching Lao Tzu A difficult to understand Chinese classic. Some day I think I should study it in more detail.
The Analysis of Mind Russell Russell's metaphysics of mind in this work is that of neutral monism. This is the strange Spinoza-like view that mind and matter are manifestation of some common underlying "stuff". Nevertheless, there are discussions of consciousness, instinct, memory, will, psychological laws, etc. This diversity of topics is welcome in light of much contemporary narrower foci in philosophy of mind.
The Blue and Brown Books Wittgenstein This compilation of some of Wittgenstein's notes is labelled by the editor as "preliminary studies for the Philosophical Investigations". This description is accurate. The material is also easier to follow being less aphorismic and more discursive, but also addresses fewer topics.
The Essential Epicurus Epicurus This is a small collection of Epicurus' work, such as it survives. Included are the Letters, Principal Doctrines, Vatican Sayings and Fragments. Epicurus stressed the importance of science for a good life, and so do I. Here's what he said, approximately 2300 years ago: "It is impossible for anyone to dispel his fear over the most important matters, if he does not know what is the nature of the universe but instead suspects something that happens in myth. Therefore, it is impossible to obtain unmitigated pleasure [in a sophisticated sense - KD] without natural science."
The Prince Machiavelli A classic historico-polical analysis about how to maintain and obtain power.
The Trial Kafka Although it is meant to, the dragging on of this novel is a bit much. We get the point fairly early on. Of course, with the US (and to a lesser extent other) government acting the way it is, maybe repetition of themes of oppression, state secrets, corrupt courts, etc. is to the good.
The World As Will and Representation, vol. 1 Schopenhauer This is the first, and primary, volume of the work for which Schopenhauer is likely best known. In it, he espouses a weird Kantianism, criticizes what he takes to be some of Kant's weak points (e.g. about the thing in it itself), bashes Fichte and Hegel, says a few ignorant things about science (e.g. that forces will never be reduced to one another; little did he know about the relationship between electricity and magnetism, etc.), develops a novel aesthetics based on the notion of will, and inconsistently espouses a subjective idealism. This Dover edition also has a few translator's notes.
The World As Will and Representation, vol. 2 Schopenhauer This volume is sort of an extended commentary on Schopenhauer's own vol. 1, above. As usual, Schopenhauer is clear enough to be clearly wrong about many things, a decent but not terribly exciting virtue. In this volume, the most side-splitting such error was the crystal clear pronouncement, a priori, that brain injuries could never affect character. On the other hand, we get clear sources for some of Freud's ideas here. (Exposing the lack of originality of Freud is part of demystifying this most successful of all pseudoscientists.)
Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus Wittgenstein A very oracular, scattered book. Nevertheless, there are interesting remarks and (something like) a system. However, understanding its point is difficult, especially as the last few remarks "take the whole thing back". In it one can find positions that Wittgenstein would later repudiate and yet also ones he would stick to. Also included is an introduction by the translators and one by Russell.
Treatise Concerning Eternal and Immutable Morality Cudworth Robin's doubletake when seeing the title of this work was amusing. It is approximately the same age as Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding and unfortunately is written far worse. When Locke talks about "no innate ideas", some of who I suspect he has in mind as targets are the Cambridge Platonists (who are little discussed in most philosophy courses). After all, Locke specifically targets those who claim morality is innate. (Both are as far as I am concerned mistaken, but that would be presentism on my part.)
Two Treatises of Government Locke A criticism of absolute monarchy and other tyrannical forms of government. What is also interesting (at least partially historically) is the economic factors involved - Locke founds government on property rights. However, this notion of "property" has to be read correctly - it does not ONLY mean goods. In fact, one of the hard to understand parts of the book is whether Locke is being equivocal or not on this key term. (Note: Amazon.com has many editions of this work: the one linked is the one I have.)
Utilitarianism Mill Here's a small classic of ethics. Not surprisingly - given the innovation it represents - the distinction between utilitarianism and other branches of consequentialism is not fully explored. Yet we have glimmerings of the recognition that there might be such a useful distinction. One such key place (which is interesting for other reasons) is when Mill accuses Kant of being a consequentialist in spite of himself.

 

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