Philosopher's Quest

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Irwin EdmanVIKING
MR. EDMAN presents a series of philosophical papers tied together at the beginning and end by accounts of the first and last days of an annual university course entitled “Introduction to Philosophy. On the first day a group of ordinary undergraduates arc led, quite unsuspectingly, into the bewildering field of philosophy. On the last, having been subjected to a series of differing philosophies, they are still contused, still asking: “What is truth? What do you believe, Mr. Edman?
Some of his beliefs, presented with an easy, oblique approach, with an admirable urbanity, are contained between the first and last, chapters. It is not in Mr. Edman’s scheme to lay down the law or pile authority on authority to prove his point. He prefers his pictures in a frame. Thus, in the fine chapter “The Undistracted,”he presents himself as suffering mildly from a slight, attack of the flu, remedied by an aspirin or two, — “quinine and a hot drink do even better, the disease and the cure producing a pleasant spell of fantasy, a series of visions. In these visions he talks — as one philosopher to another, and always in the appropriate setting — with Plato, Manus Aurelius, St. Paul, Spinoza, and Schopenhauer.
In the same chapter, being now recovered from his illness, he also discusses philosophy al some length with an eminent, financier whose desideratum is power, and with a painter who lives in hope that once — sometime— a painting will turn out just right. Throughout these conversations runs the theme of the Philosopher’s Quest: “the search for order rather than a miscellany, . . . The quest is for an answer as to what eonstitutes the first principles and the ultimate end. First and last, to those whose hearts have not been dulled by routine or crushed utterly by disaster, to those whose minds have not been paralyzed by habit and superstition and folly, the search continues and is itself, doubtless. what keeps the imagination and the spirit of man alive.”
This chapter illustrates the defects and the genuine virtues of the book. Each one of these imaginary conversations is excellent in itself, sensitive, discriminating, often both witty and wise. But there are too many of them. The reader is confused like the undergraduates of “Introduction to Philosophy.”When five great philosophers discuss how to avoid distraction iu a world of wildly uncertain equilibrium, in a life which is mostly a melancholy non sequdur leading nowhere, the diet is so rich as almost to paralyze digestion. Mr. Kalman presents so many facets, such wealth of illustration, that the result — to the noil-philosophical reader — may well be a kind of charmed confusion.
Always Mr. Edman is concerned with applied philosophy, the application of philosophical truth, of sanity and clarity to life. He is aware of the need for such thinking u the modern world; and if a kind of aloofness or detachment from the crude event is implicit in the philosophical position, there is no lack of human warmth and sympathy in his observation.
This is a book which will be, for many, an inspiring and delightful “Introduction to Philosophy.”
A. W.