Core Questions in Philosophy: A Text With Readings

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9780024131515: Core Questions in Philosophy: A Text With Readings

For introductory philosophy courses. Presented in an engaging lecture-style format, this text/reader focuses on the basic issues and ideas in philosophy with lectures/discussions, supported by readings from historically important sources. Discussions emphasize the logic of philosophical arguments and how they relate to the content of modern physical and social sciences.

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From the Publisher:

Presented in an engaging lecture-style format, this combined textbook-anthology leads students through a series of discussions on the basic issues and ideas in philosophy. The lectures are supported by related readings from historically important sources. Most of the lectures also contain boxed material highlighting key concepts or related topics. The discussions emphasize the logic of philosophical arguments--and in particular, how they relate to the content of scientific theories such as evolution. While the author's lecture approach lends this book a natural flow and sense of immediacy, it comprises a fully integrated textbook with all of the traditional organizational and pedagogical features, including chapter summaries, marginal notes, boxed inserts, discussion questions, problems, test questions, a glossary, and bibliography.

From the Inside Flap:

Preface

The philosophical problems investigated in this book concern fundamental facts about our place in the universe. Many of us were brought up to believe that God exists, that there is a real difference between right and wrong, that we can freely choose what sort of lives to lead, and that it is possible for us to gain knowledge of the world we inhabit. A major goal of philosophy is to discover whether these opinions can be rationally defended or are just comfortable illusions.

Core Questions in Philosophy emphasizes the idea that philosophy is a subject devoted to evaluating arguments and constructing theories. This is not the same as describing the history of what various philosophers have thought. Although I discuss historical texts, I do so because they are rich sources of ideas pertinent to answering philosophical questions. The point is not to say solemn and respectful words about worthy figures now dead, but to engage them in dialogue—to grapple with the theories they have proposed, to criticize these theories, even to improve upon them.

Besides proposing answers to philosophical questions, I also try to make clear which questions I have not answered. I hope that the reader will approach what I say the way I have approached the philosophical texts I discuss. This is a book to argue with, to dissect. It isn't my goal to have the reader accept without question the conclusions I reach.

This work is a combination textbook with readings. The text part (which I call "Lectures") is followed by a group of related readings (drawn from Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Anselm, Descartes, Hume, Kant, Mill, and others). The lectures flow together, so that the main areas covered—philosophy of religion, epistemology, philosophy of mind, and ethics—are connected to each other to make a coherent whole.

The lectures are intended to be launching pads from which readers can pursue issues on their own. I believe students are best able to think about philosophy if they first are provided with some basic tools and concepts. It is the purpose of the lectures to provide these core ideas.

Following the lectures in Parts II through V, there are a number of readings; these are drawn mainly from historical texts, although a few are by contemporary philosophers. The lectures often discuss these readings, but the area of overlap is far from total. Many lectures contain material that isn't touched on in any reading; and the readings raise a wealth of issues that the lectures don't address. The lectures are intended to stand on their own as well as to provide points of entry into the readings.

Each lecture is followed by review questions and by problems for further thought. These should help readers to consolidate their understanding of what I have said and to think creatively about related problems. The lectures often contain material in "boxes"; these boxes provide a nutshell restatement of a main idea or a brief discussion of a related matter that may interest the reader. A list of the boxes immediately follows the table of contents. Each main part of the text includes suggestions for further reading. And there is a glossary at the end of the book that provides simple definitions of the main concepts used.

Besides covering a number of traditional topics, this book also takes up some contemporary theories and problems, both from philosophy and from other disciplines. Creationism and evolutionary theory are hotly debated now. The issues they raise are continuous with a tradition of argument in philosophy of religion that goes back (at least) to Aquinas, Hume, and Paley. The relation of mind and body is as old a problem as philosophy engages, but the ideas of Freud and Skinner get a hearing along with those of Descartes. In ethics there has long been a debate as to whether ethical truths are discovered or created. Plato and Sartre are separated by more than 2,000 years, but both speak to this issue. The problem of free will raises the question of whether every event is caused. Here the contribution of modern physics must be brought into contact with a perennial problem of philosophy. Philosophy isn't the same as biology, psychology, or physics, but the problems of philosophy cannot be isolated from the sciences. One aim of this book is to connect philosophical problems with ideas derived from a wider culture.

The etymology of the word philosopher is lover of wisdom. This doesn't guarantee that all philosophers are wise, nor even that each individual philosopher is devoted to the attainment of wisdom. Philosophers should strive for wisdom; whether they do so, and whether they attain it, are separate questions.

Wisdom involves understanding—seeing how things fit together. When the pieces of a puzzle are fitted together, one attains a sense of wholeness. Current philosophy is embedded in a historical tradition of philosophical discourse. It also is connected with problems in the sciences, the other humanities, and the arts. This book aims to give the reader a sense of these multiple connections. Acknowledgments

My debts to my colleagues in philosophy here in Madison are enormous. A fixed point in my work week has been discussions of the ideas and techniques that go into presenting central problems of philosophy to new students. My philosophical outlook, as well as the view I have of teaching, have been shaped by these conversations.

It is a pleasure to thank Michael Byrd, Claudia Card, Fred Dretske, Ellery Eells, Berent EnC,, Malcolm Forster, Martha Gibson, Paula Gottlieb, Andy Levine, Steve Nadler, Terry Penner, Mark Singer, Dennis Stampe, Daniel Wikler, and Keith Yandell. They were generous enough to suffer my trespasses onto philosophical terrain that belonged more to them than to me. Some read parts of this book and gave me comments; others listened patiently while I tried out what I thought was a new angle.

The first two editions of Core Questions in Philosophy elicited a steady stream of correspondence and phone calls from teachers of philosophy and their students. These took a variety of forms; there was praise and blame, suggestions on how to do better, and even a few not-so-gentle suggestions that I should turn my attention to other projects. On the whole, though, I was happy with what I heard, though this didn't mean that I felt that I should leave the book unchanged. I thank everyone who took the trouble to let me know what they thought. Usually (but not always), they will find evidence that I listened to what they said in the way this edition differs from the ones before.

Deserving of special mention are Richard Behling, Keith Butler, Paul Christopher, Phil Gasper, Ronald Glass, Richard Hanley, John Hines, Burton Hurdle, Charles Kielkopf, Bradley Mouton, Howard Prospersel, Roy Sorensen, and (especially) Stephen Wykstra. Their suggestions for changing the book were extremely valuable.

Writing an introduction to philosophy is a challenge. The challenge is to reconstruct what a problem or idea would sound like to someone who hasn't studied the subject before. The project requires that one return to the beginning—to the fundamentals of the subject. I hope that what I found by beginning again will be useful to those who are beginning for the first time.

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Elliott Sober
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