Julian Baggini’s contribution is an engaging, urbane and humane global history. “History” here is a misnomer: this is not a systematic, chronological exposition of different intellectual traditions (anyone wanting that is better off with Peter Adamson’s podcast series Philosophy Without Any Gaps https://historyofphilosophy.net/). Baggini’s strengths lie not in history (as is revealed, for example, when he ill-advisedly ticks off the Greek archaeological authorities for not advertising the Areopagus as the site of Socrates’ trial) but in a clear-sighted ability to boil complex arguments down to their essentials, and so to allow many different voices from across the world to converse in a virtual dialogue.
This bold, fascinating book seeks to inhabit other philosophical traditions, with humility but without patronisingly exempting them from the critique he applies to ours. Setting Kant’s metaphysics in an eastern context resurrects it from academic dryness, reminding us that he too aimed to encompass the ineffable, to convey that we can never know reality as it is, only how it seems. Outlining his deft, rigorous attempts to do so only shows up the waffliness of utterances on self in Indian philosophy. Baggini admits, too, that the Chinese notion of “harmony” is so elusive that it has easily been used to suppress dissent.
Nobody seems to talk about Spanish philosophy, or Latvian philosophy, or even Manx philosophy. That is one of the reasons why Julian Baggini’s new book is so timely and so important. He has written, as a self-proclaimed “journalist-philosopher”, a number of very good books indeed, but this, I would say, is his best to date...Philosophy, supposedly, was the art of dying well. This ingenious and open-hearted book is about the art of living well, something the West’s philosophy has often neglected.
Insularity is a professional vice among academic philosophers... Julian Baggini, a prolific and engaging philosophical writer, is made of sterner stuff, and this fascinating book is the result. He has not only undertaken to acquaint himself with different traditions of thought, but has also travelled to different countries and institutions, attended multicultural conferences and workshops, and interviewed representatives of different traditions. He has done so in the spirit of a genuine traveller rather than a tourist, and the results are always intriguing and often illuminating.