This is a thought-provoking survey of perception, life and everything we normally presume from daily life. I would think that the average Joe isn't going to sit down and casually delve into the contents of the book and then really understand what was absorbed. You have to be prepared to carefully peruse Russell's thought process and devote a fair amount of thought to his structure. I found that the book was not necessarily conducive to a quick "skimming", but it was useful to zero in on certain chapters and topics as opposed to just reading from front to back. A minor note: perhaps this book was "illustrated" when originally published, but there are no illustrations now in the electronic version.
Originally published in 1912 before the great dumbing down of English philosophy by Wittgenstein and his followers ... with their infinite regression of infinitely skeptical doubting of the obviously true!
Describes the heuristic from the point of view of the conscious mind as to how it experiences the certain belief in basic remembered facts, such as that that the text 'fact' is on a computer screen in front of my face right now being seen by my own eyes!
Also describes the similar certain belief we have in the logical and mathematical a priori. For example, Bertrand Russell would see the result from elementary number theory that 2 + 2 = 2 * 2 as an a priori theorem.
Recently I've decided to make philosophy a hobby of mine; I've taken a few courses covering various philosophy subjects in college, and I've enjoyed them so much that I want to learn more, required reading or not. Acquainted with most philosophy basics but not much more than that, I decided to start off by ordering a few books that appeared to outline general philosophical problems, to help open my eyes to interesting new subjects and give me focus and direction in my future reading. Russell's name was familiar to me, and the book's title implied that it was some sort of general overview, so I decided to start here.
However, contrary to what I expect, I found that instead of the overview I was looking for, Russell's book focused primarily on matters of epistemology (theories of knowledge) and metaphysics (theories of reality). So, keeping that in mind, don't order this book expecting to become acquainted with all of the "Problems of Philosophy"; here, you're only going to be introduced to the topics that Russell is most enthusiastic about. Among them are questions such as "What is knowledge?", "What do we know for sure?", etc... You'll learn about logic, and Russell builds up a rather brilliant foundation for the entire philosophical process, but missing are the "layman's philosophies", subject such as ethics or political philosophy.
Having said that, I thoroughly enjoyed Russell's book, and it was a great place to start for the beginning philosopher. At times, it was difficult to read; some of his sentences can be quite lengthy and full of logic, and this isn't what one might consider light reading. It takes effort, and you have to be interested in the subject for the book to actively keep your attention. However, Russell writes as clearly as the subject permits, and gives a fantastic introduction to basic theories of knowledge. And as other reviewers have pointed out, his last chapter is particularly notable, and will inspire and bring out the inner philosopher in any reader.
I was initially disappointed when I found that this book wasn't an overview of the field, but, in hindsight, it actually served as a better starting place than any overview probably would have. Epistemology - the study of knowledge itself - is a great philosophical subject to start with, as it serves as the foundation upon which all other philosophy - the quest for knowledge - rests. I highly recommend Russell's "The Problems of Philosophy", as well as the philosopher himself - I'll certainly be sure to read more of his work in the future!
This short book is a journey through some of philosophy's more famous problems. Naturally a synopsis this short (it is roughly 100 pages) cannot do full justice to much of philosophy, or even to the problems it actually addresses, but it is an entertaining read that nevertheless will find itself illuminating to those unfamiliar with the subject.
Uniquely, instead of following the historical chronology of the problems he chooses, Russell travels a path that seems to flow naturally from one subject to the next, as if each problem logically entailed the other. Consequently, Russell jumps decades (and even centuries), forward and backward as his narrative dictates. The experience is like a modern thriller movie whose out-of-sequence path nonetheless has a logic that makes sense. If you aren't already familiar with the subject you might not notice Russell's technique.
Russell opens his inquiry by asking what justifies knowledge. Using Descartes' technique of systematic doubt, he explores the problem by examining illusions and fallacious conclusions that can arise when considering knowledge via sensory data to be perfectly reliable. Moving on to the existence of matter, Russell flexes some of his physics muscle with a cursory examination of the current state of thinking (writing as of 1912). The distinction between knowledge by acquaintance and knowledge by description leads to a discussion of induction and the distinction between empirical and a priori knowledge. This leads him to Kant and a long engagement with idealism follows. I won't spoil anymore.
Of course Russell is himself a towering figure of 20th century analytic philosophy, and if you allow yourself a little cynicism, by the end it is clear his narrative merely engaged the line of philosophical puzzles that led to his own work. This is not meant as a character slight: this book's lightness bears little resemblance to his serious work and is aimed at a different audience. Rather, it is telling that the narrative he chooses is historically in line with his own work, so his omissions are less surprising when seen in this light. Given that Russell's original work centers on epistemology and logic, it makes sense the book starts at the Enlightenment, concentrating on epistemological questions, and never touches upon anything prior except for his brief foray into the problem of universals. For a book that calls itself the "The Problems of Philosophy," the omissions of major philosophical problems might raise your eyebrows if not for this fact.
Russell is not an impartial narrator; he makes his opinions clear on a number of occasions, particularly with issues that have historical significance. I don't consider this a weakness; there is no shortage of general philosophy volumes that treat all ideas in a sympathetic light. It is also salutary to reflect Russell is not a philosophy historian in the normal sense (his huge History notwithstanding); he is an original contributor. Thus I would not expect a thinker of his stature to not proffer his views, as would be expected from any academic professor.
My gripe with this book is the tediousness with which Russell begins the discussion. The early pages are somewhat monotonous and not entirely engaging. The rest of the work is quite engaging, so the book as a whole is let down by its beginning. This is unfortunate because many readers might not find themselves committed enough to finish it. Given the target audience (folks who may have no prior exposure to philosophy), missing out on the best parts because of its beginning would be unfortunate.