RE and philosophy

2nd February 2001 at 00:00
THINKING THROUGH PHILOSOPHY. By Chris Horner and Emrys Westacott. Cambridge University Press pound;12.95.

Teachers of AS and A-level RE are always looking for texts that broaden their students' thinking and encourage them to make connections between various strands of philosophy.

Thinking through Philosophy offers a comprehensive overview of various aspects of the subject, with chapters on metaphysics, theory of knowledge, philosophy of mind, politics, science, ethics, religion and art. Shaded boxes provide an overview of key philosophers, and accessible examples help to explain challenging material.

The level of difficulty varies between chapters. For example, the chapter on metaphysics offers an informative overview of the free will and determinism debate, while others, such as philosophy of science, assume a working knowledge of the subject.

Careful consideration is given to the role of rights and liberty, with the work of John Rawls and Thomas Hobbes analysed with regard to differing interpretations of human nature, autoomy and power. This chapter would be useful for students studying ethics and religious philosophy, both in terms of assessing the validity of arguments, and for appreciating the historical and social implications in the evolution of human rights.

The chapter on ethics covers the appropriate "isms", from intuitionism and relativism, to utilitarianism (clearly explaining the difference between "act" and "rule".) However, having to cover eight disciplines of philosophy in 265 pages means the subtlety of debate and fine details are sometimes overlooked.

Ultimately, the success of this book depends on the way it is used by teachers and students. Thinking through Philosophy analyses the way arguments are presented and will help philosophy students and others who wish to enhance their critical thinking for the new key skills AS paper. It could also be used in a general studies programme.

John Waters is head of religious and moral philosophy at Parkstone grammar school, Poole, Dorset, and is co-editor of Dialogue Journal


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