Monday, August 09, 2010

The influence of books (2)

I think that most people have read one or more books that have influenced them in a certain way. This influence may have been little, for example because it made one to read another book by the same author or to visit a museum or a town. Or the influence may have been much greater, sometimes even in that degree that it led to a turn in one’s life. I read many books through the years and so it is no wonder that they have influenced me in different ways. Most books I have read are interesting to my mind, but that’s it. It may have happened that I talked about them with someone else, but that did not happen often. Other books were related to one of my main interests and have broadened my knowledge in those fields, or maybe I used them when writing an article or a blog. However, a few books became very important to me in the sense that they had a substantial influence on my life. Maybe it was not a turning point but if I hadn’t read them my life would have been different. Actually there are two of such books and their influence is related. Once I was in a bookshop in Amsterdam and in the philosophy department my eye was caught by a new book by Karl-Otto Apel, one of my favourite authors: Die Erklären-Verstehen Kontroverse in transzendentalpragmatischer Sicht (The controversy between explanation and understanding from a transcendental-pragmatic perspective). Its subject was the methodical discussion about explaining or understanding in the humanities and social sciences. I found the book very interesting and what I found especially interesting was Apel’s discussion of a book by the Finnish philosopher Georg Henrik von Wright, a philosopher who was new to me at the time. I had the feeling that I had to read this book, Explanation and Understanding, anyhow. It took me much effort to buy it and in effect it was too expensive, but it came out that it was worth its money. Von Wright discussed here his solution of the explanation-understanding controversy and presented his methodological model for the social sciences. Basically I agreed with his methodology and the model, but in my view the model could be improved in several respects. Doing this became the leading theme of my PhD thesis and it made that I dedicated most of my time to philosophy for a long period. Actually, there is nothing to wonder at such an influence of books on your life, for isn’t it so that a book is nothing else than solidified human thoughts and relationships?

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