I was a little apprehensive before I started reading this book, given its lofty subject matter: free will, morality, God, and the nature of reality. I needn’t have worried – while it’s not exactly light reading, it’s also aimed at readers who are mere dabblers in philosophy, rather than experts. Jim Flynn’s prose is also highly readable, bringing a potentially dry topic to life.
I found the page-turning quality of the writing was something of a double-edged sword; I kept forging onwards even when I knew I ought to stop and let concepts settle in my mind. This is a book that really needs to be absorbed in a leisurely manner.
Possibly due to my impatient reading habits, I found much of Fate & Philosophy left me feeling both vindicated and confused. In each chapter Flynn goes through a specific philosophical quandary and explores alternative viewpoints on the issue. I found this disorienting at times as it felt like the author was switching ‘sides’ mid-stream. Also frustrating was that so many of the chapters seemed to end on the note of ‘Well, actually there isn’t one true answer to this question.’ Apparently ‘I don’t know’ is a perfectly legitimate philosophical conclusion – good to know!
Fate & Philosophy certainly covers some potentially knotty problems. Is there an objective moral standard with absolute rules on what’s right and wrong? This is a question that’s mildly bothered me for years. I’ve always instinctively rejected the idea that right and wrong depend on your point of view, but I’ve never been convinced of the existence of an objective standard either. Jim Flynn also admits defeat in his search for an objective moral standard, but suggests that this doesn’t mean it’s necessary to abandon humanist ideals. I’m completely on board with his conclusion, but I have to admit I didn’t entirely follow the chain of reasoning that led to it.
Although in his introduction Jim Flynn states that this is a book for philosophy newbies, I occasionally found myself floundering. He is constantly mentioning past philosophical thinkers and schools of philosophy – I had a hard time keeping track of all the names, arguments and time periods.
I initially had quite a lot of enthusiasm for the book, but I started to flag about halfway through. I’m not sure if this is because there’s only so much philosophy one can take over a relatively short space of time, or if the writing/topics became less interesting as they went on. The last few chapters deal with the subject of religion, but even as an atheist I found the arguments against God weak and unpersuasive.
Overall, I enjoyed Fate & Philosophy. This isn’t a book that will persuade you out of whatever beliefs you currently hold, but anyone keen to dip their toes into the philosophy waters will find it an engaging and thought-provoking read.
Reviewed by Amber Carter
Fate & Philosophy
by Jim Flynn
Published by Awa Press