The mystery of how we make sense of the world

Raymond Tallis

£25.00  |  $30.00
ISBN 9781788210874
£25.00  |  $30.00
ISBN 9781788210881
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ISBN 9781788216197
276 pages   |  234 x 156mm   |  26 May 2018


"Raymond Tallis is one of the most thoughtful of self-confessed unbelievers. In a sequence of publications, he has demonstrated his grasp of complicated ideas, and his ability to communicate and criticise them with enviable clarity and even-handed good humour ... His aim is 'to remove some of the barriers to seeing the mystery of our capacity to make sense of things'. In this, he succeeds admirably ... Written for the general reader with 'a sub-philosophical frame of mind', this study will repay reading more than once — and then again." – John Saxbee, Church Times

"It only helps that [Tallis] is a polymath, not an academic philosopher. Formally trained in medicine, he is well informed about science, and thus not intimidated by it, as too may academic philosophers are. Not least among his other virtues is the unacademic elegance of his prose."  – Edward Feser, Times Literary Supplement

"Tallis calls for an end to the unfruitful antagonism perceived to exist between the human dimension of knowledge and the hard facts of objective reality. It is only by accepting the reality of both, and by paying more attention to the dynamic interplay between them, that we are able to make sense of things ... This book requires careful, thoughtful reading, and readers who already have some familiarity with the debate concerning knowledge will have an easier time. That said, it offers a substantial new direction in a pretty hot area of philosophy. In particular, Tallis’s critiques of the extremes are well-considered. If this is in your area of interest, then this book is more than worth its purchase price." – Philosophy Now

"An erudite tour through the history of ideas and knowing ... of great help to junior undergraduates ... and the literate reader intent on pursuing some of the murkier depths of epistemology." – Michael Marsh, European Society for the Study of Science and Theology News & Reviews

"Much of this elegant, self-deprecating and often witty book will give great pleasure to many theologians ... despite the occasional theological wince, I found much to relish here." – Robin Gill, Theology

"A book for anyone baffled by the world and our place in it. Tallis is an engaging guide through the fog." – Tom McClelland, University of Warwick


Our sense-making capabilities and the relationship between our individual and collective intelligence and the comprehensibility of the world is both remarkable and deeply mysterious. Our capacity to make sense of the world and the fact that we pass our lives steeped in knowledge and understanding, albeit incomplete, that far exceeds what we are or even experience has challenged our greatest thinkers for centuries.

In Logos, Raymond Tallis steps into the gap between mind and world to explore what is at stake in our attempts to make sense of our world and our lives. With his characteristic combination of scholarly rigour and lively humour he reveals how philosophers, theologians and scientists have sought to demystify our extraordinary capacity to understand the world by collapsing the distance between the mind that does the sense-making and the world that is made sense of. Such strategies – whether by locating the world inside the mind, or making the mind part of the world – are shown to be deeply flawed and of little help in explaining the intelligiblity of the world. Indeed, it is the distance that we need, argues Tallis, if knowledge is to count as knowledge and for there to be a distinction between the knower and the known.

Tallis brings his formidable analysis to bear on the many challenges we face when trying to make sense of our sense-making. These include the idea of cognitive progress, which presupposes a benchmark of complete understanding; cognitive completion, which unites the separate strands of our understanding (from the laws of nature to our ineluctable everyday understanding of things, incorporating the meanings we live by); and the knowing subject – us – with our partial and limited viewpoint mediated by our bodies.

The book showcases Tallis’s enviable knack of making tricky philosophical arguments cogent and engaging to the non-specialist and his remarkable ability to help us see humankind more clearly. For anyone who has shared Einstein’s observation that “the eternal mystery of the world is its comprehensibility”, the book will be fascinating and insightful reading.


1. Seeing the sense-making animal
2. Logos: a very short history
3. Deflating the mystery 1: putting the world inside the mind
4. Deflating the mystery 2: logos as bio-logos
5. The necessary subjectivity of the subject
6. Thatter: knowledge
7. Senselessness at the heart of sense
8. Towards a complete comprehension of the world?

Author Information

Raymond Tallis trained in medicine at Oxford University and at St Thomas’ Hospital London before becoming Professor of Geriatric Medicine at the University of Manchester. He was elected a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences for his research in clinical neuroscience and he has played a key role in developing guidelines for the care of stroke patients in the UK. From 2011–14 he was Chair of Healthcare Professionals for Assisted Dying.

He retired from medicine in 2006 to become a full-time writer. His books have ranged across many subjects – from philosophical anthropology to literary and cultural criticism – but all are characterised by a fascination for the infinite complexity of human lives and the human condition. The Economist’s Intelligent Life magazine lists him as one of the world’s leading polymaths.

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