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News & Views - September, 2001 Issue #85


By Montague Brown Ph.D.
Manchester, NH:Sophia Institute Press:2001

Book review by Lon Woodbury

Words represent ideas, and ideas have consequences. Important ideas can be understood, discussed and acted upon appropriately only when the ideas are communicated using words that are clearly understood.

Fuzzy or vague comprehension of important words results in miscommunication or confusion, creating opportunities for demagogues who manipulate by appealing to prejudice or passion. If actions are taken based on a misinterpretation of ideas, the results can be unintended, unpredictable, and often destructive.

Most people avoid learning and discussing philosophical ideas because they feel philosophy is too complicated and doesn’t relate to “real life”. In The One-Minute Philosopher, the author demonstrates this misconception could not be farther from the truth.

Each of this book’s pages is devoted to a single word that is frequently used, followed by a clearly written and easily understood explanation. This is indeed the proper province of philosophy. More than 150 words, representing the most important ideas in our culture are included, such as Choice, Freedom, Fame, Justice, Love, Lust, Reform and Tolerance.

Each page is easily read and understood, consisting of a brief one- line definition, three paragraphs of explanation and examples, and a quotation from a famous person giving a context to the idea.

Just the alphabetical collection of these pages of definitions alone, would be a valuable reference tool since the writing is so clear and concise.

However the author, Montague Brown, goes one step further, providing the main contribution of this book. He contrasts “look-alike” words so the reader can easily compare the definitions of these words that are often confused with each other, to better highlight the differences. Generally, the principle, inspiring word is on the left, and the word often confused with it is on the right, so that the look-alike words and their corresponding descriptions face each other when the book is opened.

For example, Love is on the left side of the page, defined as “the will to give of ourselves for another,” while Lust is on the right of the page, defined as “the desire to take another for ourselves.” Brown then points out that while attraction is the common denominator, the vital difference between the two words is that Love involves giving, while Lust is about taking.

Another example: Self-control is defined as the “moderation of bodily desires,” while Repression is defined as the “rejection of bodily desires.” In highlighting the differences, Brown writes, “whereas repression rejects all bodily pleasures, self-control orders them for the good of others and ourselves.”

This would be a good book for any busy person who wants to seriously reflect on life and what leading thinkers have written about it throughout history. It is cross-referenced to facilitate further exploration of these basic ideas, providing original sources for those who wish to more thoroughly research leading thinkers’ remarks about each concept. This book is a great way to begin exploring the ideas of philosophers throughout the ages. It could also serve as a very helpful reference tool for teachers and counselors, not only in a typical secondary school, but especially in an emotional growth or therapeutic school or program. It could also be of value to the parents of children in such programs. When a student has confused ideas and consequently, a cynical conclusion, for example, equating Hope and Wish, the staff will have access to some ammunition to help clarify the student’s confusion or manipulation. This book should be on the reference shelf of every teacher of at-risk children, and perhaps could even be used as a student text. For that matter, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for any teenager’s parents to have a copy on hand as well.

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