Skip to main content

I think about philosophy, therefore I am

The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, Edited by Robert Audi, Cambridge University Press, Pounds 17.95. The word "Cambridge" here seems to mean the Cambridge University Press, and thus "our" Cambridge; but as this enterprise is largely American, it will, to an American audience, more likely suggest Cambridge, Massachusetts. Therefore the simulacrum is more real than its original.

This joke comes courtesy of Jean Baudrillard, a philosophical writer of sorts, about whom you will learn little here, although favourable blurbs culled from reviews of the dictionary by distinguished philosophers Richard Rorty, Alasdair MacIntyre and Hilary Putman all dare to breathe the word "comprehensive".

This adjective is difficult not to deploy, especially in view of the wonderful cross-referencing which makes the volume so addictive as the reader pursues his or her own "figure in the carpet".

One of mine, arbitrarily selected, took me from Heidegger through the endnoted "Continental Philosophy", "Existentialism," "Hermeneutics", "Husserl", "Lebensphilosophie" and "Postmodern", from all of which, of course, various other doors lead off. Difficult, though, not to be illogically sidetracked by random fascinations like "Speckled hen theory" or "Metamathematics", whether from idle curiosity or serious inquiry.

Here scores of diligent scholars have managed to resist accusations of parochial bias by including long chronological perspectives and many entries for remote traditions, especially Indian and Chinese, and the concerns of logic scarcely halt at the frontiers of mathematics.

Yet the volume is, finally, light in its annotations of oppositional practice and critical theory, and one hears less of people such as Theodor Adorno, Roland Barthes, Walter Benjamin, Giles Deleuze, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Max Horkheimer and Jacques Lacan, for example, than their popularity, if only among non-professional philosophers, would lead one to expect.

Yet a beguiling editorial thoroughness, concision and clarity of presentation are the hallmarks of this distinguished volume. It is a rather heroic, if not altogether unbiased, achievement and will prove its usefulness over the years to come.

Edward Neill teaches at Middlesex University

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you