Scruton, an academic philosopher who enjoys addressing popular audiences (Modern Philosophy, not reviewed), answers some of philosophy's perennial questions with the self-assurance and intolerance of ambiguity that characterize much of the British analytic tradition. In a time of heartless scientism and postmodern despair, Scruton wishes to recover for philosophy its theoretical and practical relevance to ordinary human life. Under concisely formulated chapter headings—Truth, God, Freedom, etc.—he discusses an array of topics, from time and history to music and sex. He opens with a curious deduction: that to interest others in philosophy, he must write on what interests himself. The concealed assumption—that only out of self-regard can we behave with regard for others—is itself a philosophical position that not all readers will accept. For one who celebrates the interrogatory mood of philosophy, Scruton is overly declarative. Questionable presuppositions go unquestioned. For example, Scruton's argument against the self-consciousness of animals— that their behavior can be explained on simpler grounds— presupposes the philosophical principle of economy, better known as Occam's Razor, which he neither credits nor defends. On the other hand, Kant receives much credit for persuasively restating one of philosophy's more enduring puzzles: How can human beings simultaneously be both subjects (of free, moral acts) and objects (of scientific study)? Scruton's suggested solution, that we look for an answer beyond words, in music—which superimposes over ordinary time a different but simultaneous esthetic time—has a history in German idealist and romantic esthetics that he might have more openly acknowledged. Though by his ultimate Wittgensteinian demand that philosophical language either speak with pellucid clarity or else fall silent, Scruton presumes to banish all uncertainty from his words, the uncertainties remain, hidden beneath the surface.
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