Subscriber OnlyBooksReview

How to Think Like a Philosopher review: Witty primer on the art of thinking

Julian Baggini has written an excellent guide to reasoning better as an ethical imperative

How to Think Like a Philosopher; r: Essential Principles for Clearer Thinking
Author: Julian Baggini
ISBN-13: 978-1783788514
Publisher: Granta
Guideline Price: £16.99

“A philosopher”, according to an old joke retold in this book, “is someone of whom you ask a question and, after he’s talked for a bit, you don’t understand your question”.

Whether or not true words are spoken in that jest is what’s examined in this excellent and often witty primer on the art, or aspiration, of thinking clearly and logically and ethically.

What’s timeless is always timely, and clear-headedness is more important than ever following the recent rise of populist demagogues in the US, Brazil and Hungary, writes Julian Baggini, a former academic director of the Royal Institute of Philosophy in London who has also edited the Philosophers’ Magazine and written 10 other books on the ancient discipline.

“Thinking is part of what it means to live a fully human life and not just a means to an end,” he advises. “It is an activity, a process, a journey with directions but no destination.” Over 12 chapters he outlines the key principles and processes that can lead to incisive, balanced and rational thinking. Bullet points at the end of each chapter refresh the main themes. A break of a day or so to digest and reflect on each chapter before moving on to the next is advisable.


Philosophy, from the words “phili” (lovers) and “sophia” (wisdom), is the root of all academic disciplines. It teaches how to question everything, how to be resilient, how to follow facts and think for yourself. Just as you need not be a top-class footballer to appreciate the prodigious skills of Lionel Messi, neither do you need to be as wise or learned as Confucius or Kant to learn from them.

To think like a philosopher is to respect experts, but also to question if the 10,000 daily steps ordained by smartphones or fitbits are keys to fitness, or if someone’s Twitter verdict on a court case is better than that of the 12 jurors who heard weeks of evidence.

“In a world which promises everything quickly and easily, thinking must be hard and slow”, writes Baggini, adding: “Reasoning as well as we can is not just a practical means to an end. It is an ethical imperative.”