Here are some reflections on a variety of books I have been reading. Please feel free to send me your questions and comments.
While there are thousands of volumes written about the US Constitution and the Declaration of Independence from as many perspectives as one can imagine, the pages of Princeton philosopher Danielle Allen’s reading of the Declaration are filled with rigor and passion. Allen walks us through the document, helping us understand and appreciate the significance of various ideas and making a case the true freedom is not possible without equality. Each chapter is nicely organized in manageable lengths for easy reading.
I highly recommend reading the book, especially today as we are working through several social and political challenges.
What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets by Michael J. Sandel
In this book, Harvard philosopher Michael Sandel, author of the New York Times bestseller Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do?, takes up some of the moral dilemmas we are encountering more and more in our society -- fighting wars, selling admission to colleges, drug testing -- and subjects them to moral scrutiny. Sandel argues that in the end, to separate markets and economics from morality “is not good for democracy, nor is it a satisfying way to live.”
The book is an excellent resource to get us thinking about the issues we face today. It also illustrates how philosophers go about doing philosophy.
Is everything, including mind/consciousness, ultimately reducible to material/physical substance and process alone? Or is there something more to it? Philosophers and theologians have been debating this question for centuries, if not longer. Ever since the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859), the debate gained new life, especially with those who pushed to explain mental phenomena in terms of material processes.
In Mind and Cosmos, renowned philosopher Thomas Nagel, makes a provocative proposal that arguments to reduce mind/consciousness to a physical foundation is, as he puts it in the title, “…almost certainly false.” The book has given rise to some interesting and, in some circles, even acrimonious exchanges. In reviewing the book, the Harvard cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker wrote that Nagel’s thesis is the “…shoddy reasoning of a once-great thinker.”
Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them by Joshua Greene
Human beings may be unique in facing moral dilemmas. While historically there have been answers galore as to how one ought to behave, modern cognitive science and neuroscience are challenging and offering new insights into what constitutes morality and where we get it. In fascinating book, Harvard social scientist Joshua Greene explores how the human brain processes morality, shaped by evolution and cultural forces. In this very accessible book, he offers a moral framework, to help us examine and inform our moral quandaries.
The book will be of interest to all those who are interested learning about how new sciences can and are shaping our sense of morality.
Exploring Happiness: From Aristotle to Brain Science by Sissela Bok
The last few decades have seen increased interest, attention, and research focused on happiness, a fundamental human emotion. While philosophers have discussed the concept for centuries, new research is shedding fresh light on how happiness can enhance and shape our wellbeing in society. In Exploring Happiness, philosopher Sissela Bok offers a philosophical overview of happiness from Aristotle to what neuroscience is telling about this subject. In The Politics of Happiness, Derek Bok, former president of Harvard University, offers a broad survey of how new research on happiness can help us address some of our vexing social and economic problems. He touches on such challenges as income inequality, marriage and families, and quality of political leadership.
The Boks articulate a complex subject clearly and I recommend the books to anyone interested in understanding the present human condition, and perhaps why we need to rethink our approach to solving some of our personal, social, and political challenges.
Here are some other books on my bookshelf (outside of my professional reading):
The Meaning of Human Existence by Edward O Wilson
Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion by Sam Harris
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