Book Review: Just The Arguments

Just The Arguments:  100 Of The Most Important Arguments In Western Philosophy, edited by Michael Bruce and Steven Barbone

This is not quite as good a book as the authors think it is.  That is not say it is a bad book, by any means, just that it is not as good as the authors believe.  Still, if you have an interest in philosophy and want to look at the various arguments that exist within Western philosophy both in history and in the contemporary world of philosophy (such as it matters), this book will at least allow someone with a high degree of patience and interest in analytic philosophy to read about what philosophers argue about.  To their credit, the authors strive to be even-handed when it comes to presenting arguments and counterarguments here, as readers will likely be able to find at least some sort of arguments they are willing to support or endorse.  The sad state of contemporary philosophy is in evidence here as one can read ridiculous arguments about kidneys and violinists to support abortion as being key arguments in contemporary philosophy.  It is one thing to like and appreciate philosophy, but contemporary philosophers really need to increase their game and their humility if they desire to be taken seriously.

This book is about 400 pages long and is contains the discussion of 100 arguments in philosophy ranged over a variety of fields within the Western tradition.  The first thirteen essays deal with the philosophy of religion, including cosmological arguments from St. Thomas Aquinas, the Kalam argument, and Pascal’s wager, along with inferior arguments like Hume’s argument against miracles and the Eurhyphro dilemma (1).  After this comes twenty one arguments relating to metaphysics, including arguments about the reality or lack of reality of change and time and questions of possible worlds and personal identity and the ship of Theseus and arguments about monism, free will, and fatalism (2).  After this there are sixteen arguments relating to epistemology, including cogito arguments, arguments for skepticism and experience, problems of induction and analogical reasoning (3).  There are then twenty-four arguments about ethics, including questionms of error theory, utilitarianism, the irreducible nature of goods and sources of morality (4).  There are fourteen arguments about the philosophy of mind (5) that engage such questions as to physicalism, dualism, and even the zombie argument.  Finally, the book ends with twelve essays on science and language that include classics like Popper’s demarcation argument, arguments about learning and language and arguments for the principle of charity as well as for Platonism (6), as well as appendices about learning the lingo of logic, rules of inference and replacement, notes on contributors, and an index.

This book may be an interesting one when viewed in correspondence with an obvious companion volume on Eastern Philosophy.   Viewing the contrast between Western and Eastern philosophy and seeing how questions of ultimate truth can be addressed when one looks at very different religious and philosophical traditions is at least something that is potentially interesting.  There are some good arguments to found here and at least some of the arguments are genuinely important ones, and so this book is one that can be recommended with caution so long as the reader is willing and able to address some of the broad subject matter included here, which predictably contains some ancient arguments but suffers from a high degree of chronological snobbery in its focus mostly on newer philosophical questions that the author is likely to be less familiar with unless one has a high degree of interest in reading contemporary books on philosophy.  And given how much other material there is to read that is likely to be more enjoyable, few students outside of philosophy departments are likely to find most of this to be of interest.  I happen to be among those few, but I suppose not many others will be.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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