How to Think Like a Philosopher: Essential Principles for Clearer Thinking by Julian Baggini - review by Alexander Raubo

Alexander Raubo

Philosophy for the People

How to Think Like a Philosopher: Essential Principles for Clearer Thinking


Granta Books 314pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

For Aristotle, to think well is to live well. Julian Baggini shares this conviction and his guide to ‘clearer thinking’, based on twelve principles, frequently slides from epistemology to ethics. To think more like a philosopher is to ‘become the best versions of ourselves’, Baggini writes. Philosophy is, importantly, an activity rather than merely a discipline, and not all those who call themselves philosophers will be exemplary practitioners.

One of the aims of Baggini, a professed ‘virtue epistemologist’, is to create a complement to purely technical introductions to the subject – a category that includes his own The Philosopher’s Toolkit, co-authored in 2010 with Peter Fosl – by elucidating the practical skills required to use argumentative tools well. ‘I want to identify what sets genuinely good reasoning apart from mere cleverness,’ Baggini writes. The last words have been used to characterise Anglophone academic philosophy, the practitioners of which have often wished to turn it into a purely technical subject on the model of the mathematised sciences. Baggini, who occupies the unusual position of non-academic philosopher-journalist, draws on the large number of interviews he conducted with university philosophers as co-founder of the Philosophers’ Magazine both to illustrate his principles and to sketch a portrait of the discipline and the motley characters who make it into the profession. In addition to technique, what distinguishes the best philosophers is their attitude. Baggini’s comments on the latter prove far more entertaining than any dry accounting of fallacies.

How does one think like a philosopher? The first principle concerns a good in scarce supply: attention. Here, the lover of wisdom sets himself apart from the distracted, doom-scrolling masses, though not perhaps from Henry James, who exhorted novelists to be people on whom nothing is lost. The difference between

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