Books I like

Non-Fiction

Popper: The Open Society and its Enemies

Philosophy can be quite dry. Poppers work on political philosophy is not of that kind. The rant on the political philosophy of Platon and Hegel, gives you stuff to think about while being well to read. Instead of just critizizing he proposes another way to think about politics and political leadership: Instead of finding the »right« people to lead he suggests that it is more important to ensure that we can get rid of people who do bad. (This turn-the-question-around solution seems to be a very Popperian way of solving problems). Nevertheless his critique is intrigueing too: He critizises Platos ideas of essentialism (Every thing has a true form), in particular that there is such an essence for a society, arguments agains (elite) philosophers and the idea of constant decay. The critique of Hegel is less gripping but very interesting. And while Popper is a self declared Anti-Marxist, he seems to think highly of him (at least of some aspects of his work and in particular Marx’ assumed intentions), but fights against the way Marx’ ideas were interpreted and used.

Popper: The Logic of Scientific Discovery

Philosophy of science. I like that it is very bold and still relevant for today. Preregistration e.g. is pretty much forcing people to work after a pattern like the one layed out by Popper. Historically, his ideas have been an attack on Positivism, the idea that science should be based on proven facts based on which natural laws are discovered. Popper turns it around and says, that it rather should be based on what has not been shown as wrong, thus, not verification but falsification is the core of scientific practice. While nearly everybody in science wants to proove one’s theories, science moves forward as well when people fail to do so.

While Popper was very strict about his method, his ideas have a very wild part too: According to him, theories must not be based on (according to him, non-proovable) »facts« but can be boldly invented.

Stuff for thought, even today, for science affectionados or criticizers (not mutually exclusive)

Focault: Discipline and Punish

At my university there was a course on media philosophy. I needed to take some lectures there and I was quickly fed up with the abstract, vague and stereotypical texts of the postmodernist freudomarxist philosophers. While Focault is a »Postmodernist« too and was read there as well, he has a rather different style that many in this area. He collects a great amount of stories, evidence and reports and uses these to create a coherent argument to support his thesis. His arguments are bold but tracable and critiziable. I suppose if he would have made films they would have been pretty much like Adam Curtis’.

Lakoff, Johnson: Metaphors We Live By

Do you feel down? Just push yourself and carry on!

Metaphors are not mainly a fancy poetical way of elaborate expression in art. Metaphors are everywhere in our language. Directions, relations and effects are particulary frequent, and they may form coherent groups of metaphors based on the same principle. The basic idea is that we use metaphors to ›project‹ abstract concepts to a more embodied form: If you »Feel down«, a feeling is projected to space.

Wikipedia on Conceptual Metaphors

Pinker: The Stuff of Thought

While in much modern philosophy, language is presented as the foundation of thought, Pinker goes the other way and examines thought by analyzing language. I particulary remember that much language is patterend after our reasoning about cause and results.

Sacks: The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat

Sacks tells brief case stories about people who happen to have particular, often rare neurological conditions. They are interesting, often absurd. But he does not make fun of the patients. They carefully described. Not as a medical issue with a person attached, but as human beings whose condition makes them struggle, adapt, think and feel in their particular ways. It manages to capture the medical unusual as well as showing that these patients are in many ways not very different from you.

Fiction

Orwell: Animal Farm

This impressed me being aged 14 or so because it’s play with claims in the animals politics ("all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others"). Later I learned that is is a parable on the russian revolution. It is funny and sad at the same time in a slightly unusual way, since the animals and their habits as well at the narration creates some distance, still you feel with the characters.

Kundera: The Unbearable Lightness of Being

A book about a difficult love. One one hand it is very poetic and emotional, on the other hand all this is intertwined with philosophy and politics. If not the whole book, read the first few pages, I find they are a gripping tour de force on philosophy, politics and almost anything else.

Satre: No Exit

Four characters in a room. Seemingly, that room is hell. But there seems to be no fire, no torturer. But due to the wicked constallation of the protagonists, »Hell is other people«.

Satrapi: Persepolis

In both, comic or film, it is a very personal, funny and moving story: Marjane grows up in Teheran and wants to be a prophet. Narration as told by drawings and words capture the changing world view of the character; as a child fun oriented, wise and seemingly absurd; describing the wired changes in puberty and their resulting alienation; the threats of the war as well as the only seemingly less dangerous threats of »normal« non-war life.