In their updated version of A Brief Guide to Ideas, William Raeper and Linda Edwards offer us a 367+ page romp through some of the general and perennial ideas holding philosophy and its patrons in rapt attention. This is an excellent text for both the professional and the neophyte. It is accessible enough to appeal to amateurs and the professional will appreciate the thoughtful, brief summations of much more extensive topics.
The text reasonably begins with the subject of epistemology. Epistemolgy comes from the Greek root word episteme which means knowledge in English. How do we know what we know? In a sense, Pilates old query as Jesus Christ stood before him comes ringing down through the ages…”what is truth?” Pilates query is really one of epistemic proportions. How do we know? In fact, the authors relate that philosophy is not about what you know, but instead about how you think. They suggest it is not about finding right answers, but about framing right questions.
I agree…mostly. However, I have concerns even as I primarily agree. In the discipline of Communication there is a theory referred to as Agenda Setting. This theory suggests that there are those who “frame” the ideas they want others to think about. They are the “gatekeepers.” In the parlance of this theory it is suggested that “the media” don’t tell you what to think, they tell you what to think about. See, this is where I get a bit concerned about putting the terms “framing” and “right” together with the term “questions.” In doing so, it is thus suggested that one does not want to ask the “wrong” questions. See, in a way, if someone can actually tell you what to think about (however implicitly) then in a very real sense they can actually tell you what to think too. That is, if your choices of topic upon which you need to make decisions are significantly enough constrained then people can manipulate you toward more likely choosing certain sets of data over others. So, if one is “framing right questions” there is already subtle bias present that moves people toward a two other psychological/communicative orientations – group-think, or what Noelle Paul-Neumann calls a Spiral of Silence; that is, a state of being unwilling and/or unable to think other-wise. Thus, with such recognition we are immediately at the point of the notion of “power” affecting interactions.
We tend to think of ourselves as Being people of freewill (except for those who don’t…they instead think of themselves as people whose function under the strictures of determinism). However, the reality is that for all of us to varying extents , our wills have always-already been a priori constrained far more than we realize. We have only mitigated forms of autonomous functionality beginning from the day we are born.
Recognizing our Rousseauian dilemma of being born-free, but being everywhere in chains of a sort, I appreciated the authors’ focus on specific cultural, philosophical topics that need engagement: the play of language, feminism, patriarchy, colonialism and post-colonialism, etc. “Power corrupts and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely” (per, Lord Action). Therefore, for the healthiest of democratic orientations to manifest and remain stable we need a diffusion of power that involves more people all the time. This promotes governmental transparency and encourages ongoing engagement with broader society.
Overall, this is a fun text to have lying about and to have ready to pick-up and read a bit about authors and topics one may not have ever previously considered. Interested in leading well? If so, then at least ongoing engagement with these concepts and issues should be on your agenda.
 William Raeper and Linda Edwards, A Brief Guide to Ideas (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997).
 Ibid., 15.