THE FORM OF THINGS. Essays on Life, Ideas and Liberty in the 21st Century – A.C. GRAYLING



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    THE FORM OF THINGS. Essays on Life, Ideas and Liberty in the 21st Century – A.C. GRAYLING

    Post by Nico10 on Fri 02 Dec 2011, 4:30 pm

    “THE FORM OF THINGS” is yet another wonderful collection of essays by the philosopher A.C. Grayling. It covers a wide range of subjects in a very informative way. Grayling really succeeds in writing with the knowledge of a great accademic yet at the same time being very accessible, combining a high level of complexity with pure reading pleasure. But be warned – his essays might challenge you. It might unsettle you at times, but it is guaranteed to give you many insights into the complexities of life as well as the many challenges with regards to the human condition.

    A topic that surfaces time and again in Grayling’s work is religion. This is the one aspect that gets tiring after a while. He clearly does not like religion, and at times, one feels he might just as well have called this volume of essays ‘I hate religion and I’m gonna write here in this book over and over again why I do’. So, let us just quickly recap this whole paragraph again before move on: A.C. Grayling does not like your religious beliefs and “THE FORM OF THINGS” is full of his reasons as to why this is so.

    O.K. Said. And apart from all the above mentioned, which takes a lot of space in the book, “THE FORM OF THINGS” is still very interesting and useful. Of course, some of the issues in the book is less important from a South African perspective, like for instance the essay on identity cards. It could perhaps be useful in future, should such a debate surface in South Africa, but it was interesting none the less. Also the part of the book that is grouped by the heading ‘People’ I have found to be less interesting than the rest. It is also not all of it 100% consumable, and I found that I largely lacked the needed context of mind to appreciate it, but still.

    Grayling gives wonderful practical advice to authors in the book as part of his essay “The responsibilities of the writes”, pleading for a more accessible approach in the end product. Of course, he is not campaigning for writers to write for toddlers, but writing should not be ‘obscure’ and writers should not write “in unsolvable riddles” with the aim of making their work look complicated. The word that jumps to mind here is, again, accessible. Writing should be accessible. And part of this also involves not boring the reader as well as not being sloppy with regards to language use.

    Apart from this, of course, as mentioned, Grayling covers a good number of important issues, again, some of them of less importance from a South African perspective, for example the essay on fox hunting. In Britain, this of course was a hobby, and it angered a lot of people. But what is interesting here is of course that these kinds of issues are always coming and going – they always, in the end resurface - issues of violence towards animals and biodiversity, so again, the essay was interesting (read for example against the debate on dog racing). Some of the other issues covered include face transplants, divorce and sexually transmitted diseases.

    One thing that one misses in this work a bit is references. Returning to the issue of religion, at some stage in the book (I cannot remember where sadly), Grayling goes on to compare religion with science, stating that religion is a primitive form of science, in that it is also a way to explain the origin of mankind. Prayer and sacrifice, according to Grayling, are nothing but ancient ‘technologies’ that still survives up to this day. This seems to me to be a strange observation, since I have never thought of science as being a tool for the purpose of specifically unlocking the secrets to the origin of mankind. Doesn’t the term ‘science’ rather refer to a particular way of conducting research? Theology can in fact be studied ‘scientifically’. In this sense, philosophy is much more of a primitive form of science than what religion is because, like science, that aim of philosophy is to work your way away from an object as a unique case in history to being a prototype. Scientists study events, objects or people in order to make generalisations about them or it. Historians work the other way around. They work away from generalities all the way towards the unique individual. Religions, I believe, are ways in which people orientate themselves, much like group identity or other relationships provides us with a feeling of fulfilment, religion is not some form of ancient science, but this is just my interpretation. Besides, people very often never ask for god(s) to intervene in their prayers. They sometimes just want to say thank you.

    Nevertheless, according to Grayling, “almost all the major conflicts in history, as in the world today, are the product, direct or by legacy, of differences in religious dogma and practice” (p.119). Again, one would like to know how Grayling came to this particular conclusion. What is the role of resources? Oil? Water? Food? What about these.

    But Grayling’s book is wonderful, it challenges you and it makes one re-think old subjects. For example, Grayling warns us about technology’s downside, remarking at some stage that if you travel by aeroplane, it might take for example 7 hours, whereas a big boat will take 7 days, but whereas the 7 hours can be deducted from your life’s experiences, the seven days would be added.

    This is why we need philosophers.

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