Abstract and yet interesting–the dynamics of metaphysics
Dr Vaidehi Nathan
Metaphysics – A Very Short Introduction, Stephen Mumford, Oxford University Press, Pp 113 (PB), $11.95.
How does one understand metaphysics? Or does it lie in a realm of non-understanding? Can it be defined? These are some of the questions that one could get answers to in reading Stephen Mumford’s Metaphysics—A Very Short Introduction.
“Metaphysics is one of the traditional four main branches of philosophy, alongside ethics, logic and epistemology. It is an ancient subject but one that continues to arouse curiosity” says Mumford by way of introduction. For some it is associated with religion.
To explain the topic and initiate the reader into it, Mumford goes through a variety of concepts and terms which at the very end give a glimpse of the subject. All his chapter heads are questions. From the simple What is a table to a more complex What is a person and the perplexing Is nothing something the narration leads the reader gently into the depths of metaphysics. One starts off thinking oh, if I can answer the first question, the next one also must be simple enough. By the time one is into a few chapters, the subject has already gripped the mind.
In his What is a cause Mumford explains how everything in the universe is related to causation. Philosopher David Hume called it “the cement of the universe.” In conclusion Mumford says “Metaphysics seeks to organise and systematise all these specific truths that science discovers and to describe their general features…There is a difference between metaphysics and science in the level of generality, but there is also a difference in approach. Although the disciplines have the same subject matter as their focus – the nature of the world – they seek to understand it from different directions.”
Reader can go ahead and take the plunge into metaphysics with Stephen Mumford as guide-philosopher. Mumford is Professor of Metaphysics at the Department of Philosophy, University of Nottingham and Adjunct Professor at Norwegian University of Life Sciences and has written several books.
(Oxford University Press, Great Clarendon Street, Oxford ox2 6DP, United Kingdom)
Dr Vaidehi Nathan
Archaeology A Very Short Introduction, Paul Bahn, Oxford University Press, Pp 118 (PB), $11.95.
Make sense of the past – that’s what archaeology is about. Men and women world over engage in a lot of mud shifting, explorations and much else to come out with a new finding, a broken piece of pottery, a partial figurine, a hidden wall, and try to build the story. There may have been a time when tall names walked the field. No longer, as Paul Bahn points out in his Archaeology – A Very Short Introduction, “If you were to ask members of the educated public, in any country in the world today, to name a living archaeologist, it is a safe bet that hardly any of them would come up with a single example other than the fictional Indiana Jones. Such is the power of Hollywood, and such is the anonymity of present-day archaeology.”
The term archaeology comes from the Greek (arkhaiologia, ‘discourse about ancient things’). The earliest known ‘archaeologist’ was Nabonidus, King of Babylon, who in the sixth century BC excavated a temple floor right down to a foundation stone laid thousands of years before, says Bahn. In contemporary times, it was not until the mid-nineteenth century that “archaeology took over from antiquarianism, in the sense of aspiring to be systematic and scientific about the vestiges of the past.”
Carbon dating, despite its faults continues to be the most ubiquitous tool of the archaeologist in fixing a time-line for any discovery as long as there is organic material in it. Bahn discusses a few other methods of ‘making dates.’ The author quickly touches upon the various topics on how the archaeologists decipher the ancient world, how the people lived, how did they think, how and why did things change and issues of lifestyle.
“Although archaeology is ‘a thing of the past,’ it is still a very young discipline, many of whose basic techniques and theories are recent developments, and as it grows and matures it will certainly continue to flourish and change” concludes Bahn. In fact conservation of what we unearth and unravel would be a greater challenge. This is a remarkably wonderful introduction to the subject of archaeology, written in an easy narrative style. This is an updated second edition. The first was published in 1996. There are funny illustrations by Bill Tidy.
Paul Bahn is a freelance writer, translator and broadcaster in archaeology. He instigated and led the project which discovered Britain’s only known Ice Age cave art in 2003.
(Oxford University Press, Great Clarendon Street, Oxford OX2 6DP,)
Trust the most important word in management
Dr Vaidehi Nathan
Management in 10 words, Terry Leahy, Random House Business Books, Pp 312 (PB), £12.99.
Sir Terry Leahy was the CEO of Tesco a British supermarket chain for fourteen years, in his over thirty year’s association with the company. So when he talks about management, there is a ring of authenticity about it. He has produced a capsule Management in 10 words for those who want to understand the basics of successful management. The words are simple and common enough: Truth, Loyalty, Courage, Values, Act, Balance, Simple, Lean, Compete and Trust.
When Leahy left Tesco in 2011 after fourteen years at its helm, the company had grown six times larger than its nearest competitors Sainsbury and Marks and Spencer. Today Tesco is the third largest retailer in the world. Says Leahy “Tesco’s turnaround, one of the most remarkable stories in British business, was thanks to a combination of factors: a relentless focus on delivering value to customers so as to earn their loyalty; constant innovation – loyalty cards, retail services, new formats; and, above all, a will on the part of its staff to succeed.”
His text is clear. Be ready to face the truth (reality) about your company (Vijay Mallyas could do with that); win the loyalty of your customers (almost the entire service sector in India could use this advice); have the courage to draw new strategies; inculcate strong values into the company, top to bottom; plans are meant to be acted upon, so act; strike the right balance in the growth of the organisation, carrying forward everyman, to the last man in the sales counter; simplicity is the knife that cuts through the tangled spaghetti of life’s problems; use minimum of natural resources, to ensure you stay lean and green; competitors are great teachers, so seek them out; and earn the trust of people.
“In my view, the strong, successful organisations of the future will be those built on these enduring, simple principles, many of which reflect obvious truths about life – obvious, yet often over-looked or ignored” says Leahy. And of all the ten words, he chooses truth as the most important word in management, a commodity that seems to have vanished from the shelves these days.
Leahy has constructed the book on these words, infusing it with anecdotes, his personal experiences, and conjectured situations. Light, instructive and interesting, it is a good handbook on management.
(Business Books, 20, Vauxhall Bridge Road, London, SWIV, 2SA)