books book reviews

more miscellaneous philosophy books

reviewed by T. Nelson

Score+3

Just the Arguments

by Michael Bruce and Steven Barbone
Wiley-Blackwell, 2011, 409 pages
reviewed by T. Nelson

T hese days, the authors say, the corpus of philosophy literature is so vast it's impossible for anyone to read it all.

Let's leave aside for the moment the question of whose fault that may be, and concentrate on their solution: take the 100 most important ones, boil them down to their essentials, and give each one two to four pages, with little discussion. What we get is a great introduction to Western philosophy.

Removing all the repetitive commentary, the obfuscating asides, and the jargon has its drawbacks. Maybe it's an occupational hazard: many of the authors clearly believe the arguments they're discussing are invalid. Others, which the authors defend, look like nonsense when presented naked. Does that mean the argument is wrong, or was it just presented wrong? Decide for yourself: here's Richard Swineburne's argument for the existence of a soul in Ch. 24:

p = I was a conscious person and I existed in 1984.
q = My body was destroyed in the last instant of 1984.
r = I had a soul in 1984.
s = I am conscious and exist in 1985.
Therefore, something noncorporeal exists to carry my soul from 1984 to 1985.

Now, this may or may not be logically valid, depending on how you define soul, and maybe Swineburne just used it to describe his quantified propositional modal logic. But it seems to me that as an argument it's not much different than this:

p = Everything omniscient and omnipotent is God.
q = I am omniscient and omnipotent, as I proved last Thursday.
Therefore, I am God. (modus ponens)

Of course it could be that Richard Swineburne's body really was destroyed in the last instant of 1984 and that he was reincarnated in an identical one in the next instant. If so, the papers missed it. But if you accept a false premise, you can argue to any conclusion. In both cases, 'q' is dubious at best.*

But never mind. The goal of philosophizing is to open one's mind to new ideas, and this book is a great way to fill in the holes in your philosophy background. The beginning of each chapter has one or two authoritative books you can read to get the whole argument. Best of all it's concise. The authors are to be congratulated for that, even though it must have created an epidemic of bitten tongues.

Some chapters are well written. Presents all sides of the arguments. PC language style.

nov 21, 2016


* Note added Feb 04, 2017: Swineburne's argument was probably based on the old idea that the molecules in his body in one year were different from the ones in the next, so what this really suggests is that some of the arguments in this book were presented in an incomplete way.