Bestsellers in Philosophy – Winter 2011

Here’s a recent list of the top 20 bestsellers in philosophy.  It’s always fascinating to see which topics are attracting attention out there.  These are the top 10:

1) Justice for Hedgehogs
Dworkin, Ronald
Belknap: Harvard University Press
2011. ISBN 9780674046719. $35

2) The Hemlock Cup: Socrates, Athens and the Search for the Good Life
Hughes, Bettany
Alfred A. Knopf
2011. ISBN 9781400041794. $35

3) The Fair Society: The Science of Human Nature and the Pursuit of Social Justice
Corning, Peter
University of Chicago Press
2011. ISBN 9780226116273. $27.50

4) Examined Lives: From Socrates to Nietzsche
Miller, James
Farrar, Straus & Giroux
2011. ISBN 9780374150853. $28

5) Practical Ethics
Singer, Peter
Cambridge University Press
2011. ISBN 9780521881418. $90

6) The Most Human Human: What Talking with Computers Teaches Us About What It Means To Be Alive
Christian, Brian
Doubleday
2011. ISBN 9780385533065. $27.95

7) Perplexities of Consciousness
Schwitzgebel, Eric
MIT Press
2011. ISBN 9780262014908. $27.95

8) Hegel on Self-Consciousness: Desire and Death in the Phenomenology of Spirit
Pippin, Robert B.
Princeton University Press
2011. ISBN 9780691148519. $29.95

9) Responsibility for Justice
Young, Iris Marion
Oxford University Press
2011. ISBN 9780195392388. $35

10) The Soul of the Greeks: An Inquiry
Davis, Michael
University of Chicago Press
2011. ISBN 9780226137964. $35

(See the rest here.)

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DeWeese on the Task of the Christian Philosopher

“As Christian philosophers, we must practice in our profession what we claim in our confession.  The apostle Paul reminded the Corinthians that Christ is not only the power of God but also the wisdom of God (I Cor. 1:24).  True wisdom is Christocentric in its origin and application.  Specifically, I think that as Christian philosophers we have a solemn duty to discover what Jesus believed and taught, and then believe, teach and defend that.  This is a beginning, of course; there is much in contemporary philosophy that Jesus did not directly address, just as there is much in modern physics that he did not speak to.  But where he spoke, and where his words have direct implications for our subjects, we must listen and learn.  Christian philosophers should not be so eager to surf the cultural swell that we cannot hear and heed our Lord’s clear teaching.

“. . . Christian philosophers can serve the Lord by doing what we do well—analysis, clarification, justification.  But Christian philosophers should not ever lose sight of the fact that serving the Lord entails as well serving his people.  Does our research and our teaching ultimately contribute to clarifying, demonstrating and confirming the truth of the credenda of the faith?  Do we, in the end, have anything to contribute to the project of helping our culture understand and pursue genuine human flourishing?  Will the church and the world be better for what we do?”

Garrett J. DeWeese in Doing Philosophy as a Christian (IVP, 2011), 63, 64.

 

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The Magisterial vs. Ministerial Role of Reason

Portrait of Martin Luther

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“But what about . . . the role of argument and evidence in knowing Christianity to be true?  I’ve already said that it is the self-authenticating witness of the Holy Spirit that gives us the fundamental knowledge of Christianity’s truth.  Therefore, the only role left for argument and evidence to play is a subsidiary role.  I think Martin Luther correctly distinguished between what he called the magisterial and ministerial uses of reason.

“The magisterial use of reason occurs when reason stands over and above the gospel like a magistrate and judges it on the basis of argument and evidence.  The ministerial use of reason occurs when reason submits to and serves the gospel.  In light of the Spirit’s witness, only the ministerial use of reason is legitimate.  Philosophy is rightly the handmaid of theology.  Reason is a tool to help us better understand and defend our faith; as Anselm put it, ours is a faith that seeks understanding.  A person who knows that Christianity is true on the basis of the witness of the Spirit may also have a sound apologetic which reinforces or confirms for him the Spirit’s witness, but it does not serve as the basis of his belief.

“If the arguments of natural theology and Christian evidences are successful, then Christian belief is warranted by such arguments and evidences for the person who grasps them, even if that person would still be warranted in their absence.  Such a person is doubly warranted in his Christian belief, in the sense that he enjoys two sources of warrant.”

— William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith (Crossway, 2008), 47-48.

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Dallas Willard on Worldviews

Dallas Willard giving a Ministry in Contempora...

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“You cannot ‘opt out’ of having a worldview.  You can only try to have one that most accords with reality, including the whole realm of facts concerning what is genuinely good.  What is true of individuals in this respect is also true of social groups and even whole societies or nations.

“One’s worldview need not be recognized as such to have its effects.  Much of it lies outside our consciousness in the moment of action, embedded in our body and its social environment, including our history, language, and culture.  It radiates throughout our life as background assumptions, in thoughts too deep for words.  But any thoughtful observer can discern the essential outlines of what it is.

“What we assume to be real and what we assume to be valuable will govern our attitudes and our actions.  Period.  And usually without thinking.  But most people do not recognize that they have a worldview, and usually it is one that is borrowed, in bits and pieces, from the social environment in which we are reared.  It may not even be self-consistent.

“. . . [B]ecause worldview is so influential, it is also dangerous.  Worldview is where we most need to have knowledge, that is, secured truth.  Perhaps we cannot have knowledge of our worldview as a whole, and some parts of it will then always consist of mere belief or commitment.  But for some parts we can have knowledge if we put forth appropriate efforts, and some parts of some worldviews can certainly be known to be false.”

— from Knowing Christ Today: Why We Can Trust Spiritual Knowledge (HarperOne, 2009), 44, 45.

* For numerous resources by Dallas Willard, see his website.

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Dawkins and Company Fail to Engage

I and other contributors to Cloud of Witnesses have observed before that the most visible leaders of the new atheism fail to properly represent religion and fail to engage the most articulate, sophisticated arguments for God’s existence and the rationality of Christianity.  Now Gary Gutting, professor of philosophy at Notre Dame, joins the throng of critics who have pointed this out, in a post at the New York Times Opinionator blog.

Religious believers often accuse argumentative atheists such as Dawkins of being excessively rationalistic, demanding standards of logical and evidential rigor that aren’t appropriate in matters of faith. My criticism is just the opposite. Dawkins does not meet the standards of rationality that a topic as important as religion requires.

The basic problem is that meeting such standards requires coming to terms with the best available analyses and arguments. This need not mean being capable of contributing to the cutting-edge discussions of contemporary philosophers, but it does require following these discussions and applying them to one’s own intellectual problems. Dawkins simply does not do this. He rightly criticizes religious critics of evolution for not being adequately informed about the science they are calling into question. But the same criticism applies to his own treatment of philosophical issues.

. . . . [T]hose, like Dawkins, committed to believing only what they can rationally justify, have no alternative to engaging with the most rigorous rational discussions available. Dawkins’ distinctly amateur philosophizing simply isn’t enough.

The entire article presents a fine critique of Dawkins’s arguments for atheism.


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Dallas Willard on Outrageous Claims Made in the Name of Science

Philosopher Dallas Willard writes, “[I]ndividuals with standing in a particular professional field sometimes feel free, or even obligated, to cloak themselves in the authority of their area of expertise and make grandiose statements such as this by a professor of biological sciences [Willard quotes William B. Provine of Cornell University]:

Let me summarize my views on what modern evolutionary biology tells us loud and clear. . . . There are no gods, no purposes, no goal-directed forces of any kind.  There is no life after death.  When I die, I am absolutely certain that I am going to be dead.  That’s the end for me.  There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning to life, and no free will for humans, either.

“Logically viewed, this statement is simply laughable.  Nowhere within the published, peer-reviewed literature of biology—even evolutionary biology—do any of the statements of which the professor is “absolutely certain” appear as valid conclusions of sound research.  One trembles to think that an expert in the field would not know this or else would feel free to disregard it.  Biology as a field of research and knowledge is not even about such issues.  It simply does not deal with them.  They do not fall within the province of its responsibilities.  Yet it is very common to hear such declamations about the state of the universe offered up in lectures and writing by specialists in certain areas who have a missionary zeal for their personal causes.”

Knowing Christ Today: Why We Can Trust Spiritual Knowledge (HarperOne, 2009), 5.

Well said.  I do admire Provine, however, for following his naturalism to its logical conclusions, and being willing to state those conclusions openly:  there are no purposes, no life after death, no objective right and wrong, no meaning to life, and no free will.  I absolutely agree with Provine that these are the logical implications of metaphysical naturalism.  They are the stark realities that atheists of previous generations (such as Nietzsche and Sartre) embraced—and lamented.  But most popularizers of atheism today want to have their atheism and eat their cake, too.

They want to proclaim a universe without deity, but also make moral pronouncements (as if they were something more than mere opinion), live as if the will is free (do they embrace atheism because it’s rational or because they couldn’t choose otherwise?), and maintain an unjustified optimism about human life and progress through science (why bother doing science if life has no meaning?  Why even get out of bed every day?  And how do we explain the great evil human beings are prone to do?).

Provine is right.  But why anyone wouldn’t fall into the deepest depression if they held such beliefs is incomprehensible.  Such propositions can live freely in the ivory tower of abstract academic thought, but they’re unlivable in concrete human experience.  Thus, I can only conclude that those who hold such views don’t actually take them very seriously.  If they did, we would witness their lives spiraling into chaos in a very short time.

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Current Bestsellers in Philosophy

Niccolo Machiavelli 1 u

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Library Journal lists the top 20 from October ‘09 to July ‘10. These are the top 10:

1) Machiavelli’s Ethics
Benner, Erica
Princeton University Press
2009. ISBN 0691141762 [9780691141763]. $75

2) Maimonides in His World: Portrait of a Mediterranean Thinker
Stroumsa, Sarah
Princeton University Press
2009. ISBN 0691137633 [9780691137636]. $39.50

3) Reason in Philosophy: Animating Ideas
Brandom, Robert
Belknap: Harvard University Press
2009. ISBN 067403449X [9780674034495]. $29.95

4) Heidegger: The Introduction of Nazism into Philosophy in Light of the Unpublished Seminars of 1933–1935
Faye, Emmanuel
Yale University Press
2009. ISBN 0300120869 [9780300120868]. $40

5) On Evil
Eagleton, Terry
Yale University Press
2010. ISBN 0300151063 [9780300151060]. $25

6) Friedrich Nietzsche: A Philosophical Biography
Young, Julian
Cambridge University Press
2010. ISBN 0521871174 [9780521871174]. $45

7) The Brain and the Meaning of Life
Thagard, Paul
Princeton University Press
2010. ISBN 0691142726 [9780691142722]. $29.95

8) Who Was Jacques Derrida? An Intellectual Biography
Mikics, David
Yale University Press
2009. ISBN 0300115423 [9780300115420]. $30

9) The Beast and the Sovereign. Vol. 1
Derrida, Jacques
University of Chicago Press
2009. ISBN 0226144283 [9780226144283]. $35

10) On Compromise and Rotten Compromises
Margalit, Avishai
Princeton University Press
2010. ISBN 0691133174 [9780691133171]. $26.95

(continue to the top 20)

If you’ve read any of these, please share your appraisal.

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