I was somewhat captivated by the answer to the question raised by the publisher in the abstract to A Brief Guide to Ideas by William Raeper and Linda Smith. The question is simple enough, “Philosophy—Dry and remote?” It is obviously a rhetorical question; after all, there is the expectation that the answer is, “Yes! Philosophy is dry and remote.” But, “No!” responds the book reviewer with the suggestion, “Think again.” What is the publisher trying to do, sell books? The astonishing claim is made that philosophy is “as relevant as tonight’s news, as immediate as the choices you make in a career.” Philosophy, then, is about what “makes the world tick,” or as the authors note, “philosophy is about ideas.” In the introduction the authors express what this means and set the tenor for the book’s content:
Philosophy is not just about how to think; it is about how to live. Philosophy takes a closer look at the ideas behind how we live our lives. What we think is true affects our view of ourselves and how we treat other people and the world.
I was deeply moved (challenged) when I read this brief paragraph. In the margin I wrote the word “worldview” as I got a different perspective on how ideas shape who I am.
In retrospect I began thinking about why I have such an aversion to philosophy. Perhaps it was my first introduction, as a farm boy who I had never strayed more than fifty miles from home, to philosophy. I clearly recall the “dry,” staid, somber, and definitely unexcitable professor of my undergraduate introduction to philosophy. He always wrote his sedated comments on the blackboard; however, mostly he just played from hand-to-hand with the chalk until, by the end of the class, he would have calk dust everywhere. He always wore heavily starched white shirts and a tie (no jacket). I know it ought not be so, but the only real memory I have of the class was his entry on one occasion into the classroom. Perhaps he was hurried in his preparations but he entered with six to eight inches of the starched shirt protruding out from his unzipped fly. Can you imagine trying to listen to a lecture as the prof flipped the chalk from hand-to-hand with the starched shirt serving like the main sail on a sailboat? Fortunately somewhere in the lecture as he turned to write on the board, he caught a glimpse of the protruding shirt and tucked it back in place without speaking a word or any change of expression.
I do not tell this little antidote with a disrespect attitude ; I do remember the beautiful rock garden on campus prepared and maintained by the doctor of philosophy and the deep sense of reverence for God and creation that I always felt when in the his presence. He just did not “turn me on” to philosophy. Perhaps my aversion stems more from a temperament that is not interested in discussing the “reality” of a sound that might have occurred somewhere in isolation in a forest.
In A Brief Guide to Ideas Raeper and Smith make us aware that ideas are powerful and shape who we are and how we view the world (worldview). It is not how “practical” or “impractical” the ideas may be or how common sense trumps all other application of ideas. One is formed not just the ideas one accepts or considers to be foundational concepts of life; it is also ideas that we reject or castigate as false, deceitful, or even evil that establishes how we view the world. If philosophy is the “love of wisdom” then the philosopher is in pursuit of ideas developing the skill of learning and thinking.
The Brief Guide to Ideas is arranged and written to easily engage the reader. As the authors note, the book is neither comprehensive in the ideas it covers nor exhaustive in an idea’s meaning. There are sixteen topics (very selective) with three essays written on each topic. I found the brief introduction to each topic by the author to be very helpful before engaging the historical writings of philosophical thinkers that relate to the topic. The topics do have a chronological aspect but do not need to be read in any specific order. I read two specific topics that interested me: “How and What can we Know? Epistemology,” and “Anything Goes: Relativism versus Certainty.” Ideas shape who and what we are and how we view life.
As I was previewing the book, I listened to an interview with Jack Welch on the Fox News Network. Jack Welch with his wife, Suzy, recently published a book about ideas and life: The Real-Life MBA: Your No-BS Guide to Winning the Game, Building a Team and Growing Your Career.” Hearing the interview and reading the editorial reviews makes the book an inviting read. “Winning, building and growing” are all ideas we want to understand and apply to our worldview. Welch was asked about how people, specifically young college age career minded people, can meet the challenges in the contemporary social and business environment. He responded with some “wisdom” ideas that could easily shape who we are personally and in the business world, especially in tumultuous and uncertain times. Welch referred to the fact that many young people express to him that they want to be entrepreneurs and question how they can succeed on this path. He noted that he only asks those interested in entrepreneurship one question, “What is your big idea?”
Ideas are the key to an entrepreneurial view of life and the world.
 William Raeper and Linda Smith, A Brief Guide to Ideas (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997), back cover.
 Ibid., 11.