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Confessions of a Philosopher : A Personal…

Confessions of a Philosopher : A Personal Journey through Western… (edition 1989)

by Bryan Magee

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Title:Confessions of a Philosopher : A Personal Journey through Western Philosophy from Plato to Popper
Authors:Bryan Magee
Info:Random House (1989)
Collections:Your library

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Confessions of a Philosopher: A Personal Journey Through Western Philosophy from Plato to Popper (Modern Library Paperbacks) by Bryan Magee



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Bryan Magee is best known for his pioneering popularization of philosophy through television, radio, and literature, all of which is unparalleled in its accessible presentation of genuine intellectual substance. Confessions of a Philosopher is his literary masterpiece, a compelling, entirely captivating work of great readability that chronicles from childhood his personal philosophical development. It is not exactly an autobiography, as Magee's clarifies in the beginning: "This book introduces the reader to philosophy and its history through the story of one person's encounter with them. So it is about ideas: the autobiographical element is medium, not message." At the end of the book, he offers a clear description of his literary intentions: "In this book I have tried to show how life itself hurled fundamental problems of philosophy in my face, what I tried to do about it, how I discovered what the geniuses of philosophy had said about my problems, and what use they were to me. Although this has involved me, inevitably, in a lot of discussion of books and writers, this book is not about study or reading, or writing, or teaching, but about a lived and anguished absorption in the most important and difficult of all the non-moral problems that are encountered in a human life."

Disillusioned with the analytic philosophy that dominated Oxford during his undergraduate studies, Magee embarks on an existentially vigorous search for a philosophy that contemplates the traditional philosophical problems, such as the nature of perception, metaphysical reality, and the meaning of existence; fundamental philosophical problems which analytic philosophers and scientific theorists simply do not possess, thus are unconcerned with. Through his development, Magee occupies his time with writing books, political work (ten years in the British Parliament), and broadcasting in radio and television. Over a lengthy, diverse, and prolific career, he effectively manages a balance between individual pursuit of personal interests (intellectual, cultural, artistic, social) and paid employment. He insisted that his paid work could not interfere or compromise his personal work, the latter being held by him to be his real work and the former merely a means to support it. Though his very being is consumed with profound existential agony and uncertainty, he proves impressively resilient and reliable through many difficulties, both private (in terms of his introspective life) and public. The book maintains a challenging equilibrium of deeply personal introspection and recounts of various public experiences; challenging, because the reader is never allowed to rest comfortably (or uncomfortably, as it may be) with either side, a form of presentation that is the right choice for a writer who wishes his work to appropriately reflect the reality of lived life.

His experience at Oxford was frustrating particularly because none of the philosophy professors, nor any of the assigned philosophical readings, addressed his original philosophical problems. His time at Yale proved a refreshing experience, but it wasn't until he conducted his own exploration through the writings of the great philosophers that he began to find his deeply felt concerns adequately confronted. In London. he began work in radio and television broadcasting intellectually oriented yet accessibly conversational programs. His work as an anchor for British current affairs programs involved extensive traveling and allowed him to see first hand the reality of a variety of political circumstances. Though his political occupation was rooted in leftist leanings, he remained steadfastly objective and sincere in his political observations. A particularly significant moment in his intellectual progression was his reading of Karl Popper's Open Society and its Enemies. At Oxford, he attended a conference at which Popper gave a lecture arguing the origin of the Western tradition of critical and theoretical thought to be found in the teachings of Thales, resulting in the idea that knowledge develops through critical theory rather than by the collective gathering of information. Magee was thoroughly fascinated with this thesis because it posed a serious threat to centuries of philosophical assumptions, but particularly to the at-the-time dominant analytic philosophy, the leading practitioners of which were in attendance and willfully ignored the most critically damaging and therefore intellectually significant ideas of Popper's lecture. This was infuriating to Magee. who immediately wrote to Popper, and addressed areas where he thought Popper had gone wrong in the structure and emphasis of his presentation, resulting in a lengthy yet intellectually tumultuous friendship between the two. Magee also developed a close friendship with Bertrand Russell. His chapters on getting to know Popper and Russell are compelling in that he does a fantastic job of bringing these highly distinctive personalities to life through his detailed observations and descriptions of their peculiar characteristics.

Magee's books covered a wide variety of topics, including politics (The New Radicalism, The Democratic Revolution), social commentary (Towards 2000), homosexuality (One in Twenty), broadcasting (The Television Interviewer), music (Aspects of Wagner), and existential novels (Facing Death). In his mid-30s he experienced a profound existential crisis during which he struggled with the ultimate vanity of all human endeavor and was intensely driven to discover a deeper meaning in life. He writes about this experience reflectively but with passion and moving expression, demonstrating a clear and striking awareness of the human condition. It is the most compelling section of a very engrossing book. He spent the next few years reading the great philosophers and authors as if it were a matter of life and death, along with the writings of mystics and major religious texts, desperately hoping to find intellectual or spiritual deliverance from his inner torment. His most significant discovery was the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer, which made upon him a life-altering impact similar to the experiences of Nietzsche and Wagner when they first encountered the great German philosopher's work. Magee wrote The Philosophy of Schopenhauer, the best English-language study of Schopenhauer's thought yet published.

This is a highly rewarding and memorable reading experience. It will prove particularly special for the reader who rejects analytic and linguistic philosophy in favor of classic 'big-question' philosophy, has gone through an existential crisis, discovered profound value in Schopenhauer's philosophy, or simply enjoys reading about the experiences of others who have embarked on their own philosophical journeys. Like all of Magee's work, it is accessible without sacrificing intellectual depth, motivated by a genuine interest in communicating ideas in a presentation that harmonizes with and reflects lived experience.
1 vote AMD3075 | Feb 23, 2014 |
The book is a biographical sketch of Magee's intellectual life. I began by reading the chapters on Kant and Schopenhauer and liked Magee's writing so much I read the rest. Magee is entertaining and candid. The book should be an encouragement to anyone who enjoys studying philosophy. ( )
  galacticus | Aug 10, 2013 |
Confessions of a Philosopher began slowly for me, but my perseverance was rewarded. After the initial chapter the book felt more like an engaging conversation with a brilliant friend. It is to Magee's credit that his musings on specific philosophers (Wittgenstein, Popper, Hume, Kant and Schopenhauer) whetted my appetite to read their original works. ( )
  pmackey | Jun 22, 2011 |
The author of this book has had a varied career as a TV personality, and scholar of philosophy. He doesn't mention his origins, but seems to be quite upper class british, studied at Oxford and found immediate work as a TV professional despite training in philosophy. It seems to me that he must have had a mentor to get him that job. He was also a member of parliament, and the author of several previous books on philosophy.

He claims at an early age to have been worried about the problems of existence, proving that there was a real world and that the real world was knowable. He was therefore drawn to metaphysics of Kant, and especially Schopenauer, who discussed these topics in great detail. I didn't wrap myself completely around the arguments for the problem of existence, finding the contradiction between the universe as experienced and the universe that exists rather obvious given the biological underpinnings of sensation. I also remember reading some Schopenauer and finding him incomprehensible, although Magee finds him exceptionally lucid.

Magee had grown up with logical positivism at Oxford, and has very little good to say about the positivists and linguistic philosophers like Wittgenstein, finding the elaboration of logical schemes about meaning to be empty. He was a friend and great admirer of Karl Popper, who has attracted my interest by his doctrine of falsifiability applied to the philosophy of science.
This is a book perhaps to read again, and stimulated me to read further in philosophy. ( )
  neurodrew | Oct 4, 2009 |
Magee is very good at untangling difficult concepts and giving you just enough on each philosopher so that you feel you know in essence what they were about. His enthusiasm is utterly infectious so that you want to read, or re-read, some of the philosophical works he discusses. He writes with great fluency and clarity, and makes you feel as if philosophy is something to do with your reality.
1 vote antimuzak | Aug 18, 2006 |
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» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Bryan Mageeprimary authorall editionscalculated
Dohmen, JosTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jonkers, RonaldTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Visser, WillemTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375750363, Paperback)

Confessions is a somewhat misleading term in this context: you won't find any lurid tales between these covers. Bryan Magee's memoirs-cum-histories of philosophy aren't even "confessions" in the self-flagellating tradition of St. Augustine and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

So what is Confessions of a Philosopher, then? It's a fascinating excursion through 2,000 years of wondering about the basic nature of existence and reality. As a 20th-century philosopher, Magee has a lot to say about his peers, and he spares no feelings. The "Oxford philosophers," who decided that philosophy was not about the nature of existence but about the nature of language, yet refused to give any consideration to fiction, are particular targets of Magee's intellectual scorn, while the late Karl Popper, a personal acquaintance of the author, is celebrated as a man who persevered in philosophy's true duties in the face of widespread academic frippery.

If you've ever wondered why we exist, you have what it takes to be a philosopher ... or at least to understand one. Bryan Magee's Confessions are thoroughly engaging proof that you don't need a degree to be a deep thinker.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:06:07 -0400)

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In this book, Magee tells the story of his own discovery of philosophy and not only makes it come alive but shows its relevance to daily life. Magee is the Carl Sagan of philosophy, the great popularizer of the subject, and author of a major new introductory history, The Story of Philosophy. This book follows the course of Magee's life, exploring philosophers and ideas as he himself encountered them, introducing all the great figures and their ideas, from the pre-Socratics to Bertrand Russell and Karl Popper, including Wittgenstein, Kant, Nietzsche, and Schopenhauer, rationalism, utilitarianism, empiricism, and existentialism.--From publisher description.… (more)

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