Review of Andrew Fiala's Practical Pacifism

You can purchase this book online at Amazon.com: Practical Pacifism


Full-disclosure; I studied under Dr. Fiala when he was still teaching at the University of Wisconsin: Green Bay. It was, in fact, due to him that I ended up studying philosophy, and not simply ignoring the field as something which was rather boring. Therefore, I'd consider him one of the few people who were really pivotal in my life. In short, I'm probably biased.

That said, I had a fairly difficult time getting into his first work, The Philosopher's Voice. Practical Pacifism, too, was a bit hard to get into at first, but was quite rewarding at the end.

First, while Fiala seems to suggest that this work is for non-philosophers (the first and only appendix is titled "For Philosophers Only"), I would have a hard time recommending this to anyone but philosophers and those who would go into politics. (In fact, I'd like to see universities have this as required reading for political scientists; it would perhaps be a better world if it was.)

There are a couple of reasons for the book's difficulty;

1) The first couple of chapters seem to be highly repetitive. While I can understand why he does this, especially after reading the entire book, were I younger and/or not so inclined to read this book, I perhaps would have lost interest after the first few chapters.

2) Again, while the appendix to the first chapter suggests this book is for non-philosophers, Fiala uses a deal of -isms throughout the book, often times with only a fleeting reference to what the -ism means. A listing at the end of the book, containing a definition of the -isms used in the book would be very welcome, and would help towards increasing the audience.

3) Because of #2, it's hard to see Fiala's ideas really coming to fruition. While I find Fiala to be correct on a number of points (some of which I may have disagreed with previous to reading this work), his 'world' can only come about if there are more philosophers in the world - more people willing to honestly discuss the state of affairs in the world, with open minds.

Unfortunately, philosophy is often seen as being outside of the realm of the practical, too inaccessible to the ordinary man, shepherds preaching to the flock (not that Fiala is doing that here).

Yet, that's not to say that only philosophers would gain from reading this.

On the contrary, as I said earlier, parts of this would naturally fit into courses on politics, and the pacifists would gain much from reading this work.

Anyone could pick up this book and learn something from it, but I'd have a hard time recommending that someone read it cover to cover; rather, each chapter can, rather effectively, be read on its own.

I had a difficult time trying to choose between four and five stars. Ultimately I went with the lower number as I really think the work could have been tightened up, especially in the first few chapters, and I think it could have been made a bit more accessible to non-philosophers, those who really need this work (although philosophers too have much to gain).