November in Pictures
Time is an illusion, your conception of morality is totally backwards and the physical world only exists in your head.
These ideas might sound crazy, but as Connecticut College philosophy professor Andrew Pessin explains in his new book, "Uncommon Sense: The Strangest Ideas from the Smartest Philosophers," they are also the products of the greatest minds in history.
"These aren't just the random spoutings of madmen," Pessin says. "Their conclusions might be very counter-intuitive, but they were reached by means of careful reasoning, and there's a lot to be learned not just from these philosophers' strange ideas but also from the arguments they used to defend them."
In "Uncommon Sense," Pessin guides the reader through the history of philosophy by looking at ideas that seem to contradict everyday logic. From Aristotle to Augustine and Nietzsche to N.Y.U.'s Thomas Nagel, Pessin outlines a diverse group of thinkers and theories, and his explanations are entertaining and easy to follow.
There are many introductions to philosophy available for a general audience (including two of Pessin's previous books, "The 60-Second Philosopher" and "The God Question"), but by focusing on extraordinary theories, Pessin's latest book takes a unique approach to the subject.
"These ideas seem strange because they're opposed to common sense," Pessin says. "But the secondary deeper theme of the book is to explore the questions of what we even mean by common sense and whether we should think of it as reliable. Particularly when it may turn out that the world is much more complex than we realize."
Pessin's sense of humor plays a large part in the effectiveness of the book, and his capacity for entertainment will come as no surprise for people familiar with his role as "The Genius" on the David Letterman Show. (Clips from the show and more information about the book are available on his website at www.andrewpessin.com.)
By making philosophy increasingly accessible to readers, Pessin hopes that more people will be encouraged to study philosophy and enrich their perspectives on life. Philosophy might seem impractical to the uninitiated, Pessin says, but the benefits of broadening one's horizons are considerable.
"Philosophy gets a bad rap, and not always undeservedly so," Pessin says. "But once you learn how to see the world in more profound ways, it enriches your life immeasurably. Even if you're thinking in practical ways, like choosing a career, it allows you to think more deeply about those decisions."
- By Tom Owen