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Agnosticism: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) [Paperback]

Robin Le Poidevin
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

28 Oct 2010 Very Short Introductions
What is agnosticism? Is it just the 'don't know' position on God, or is there more to it than this? Is it a belief, or merely the absence of belief? Who were the first to call themselves 'agnostics'?

These are just some of the questions that Robin Le Poidevin considers in this Very Short Introduction. He sets the philosophical case for agnosticism and explores it as a historical and cultural phenomenon. What emerges is a much more sophisticated, and much more interesting, attitude than a simple failure to either commit to, or reject, religious belief. Le Poidevin challenges some preconceptions and assumptions among both believers and non-atheists, and invites the reader to rethink their own position on the issues.

ABOUT THE SERIES: The Very Short Introductions series from Oxford University Press contains hundreds of titles in almost every subject area. These pocket-sized books are the perfect way to get ahead in a new subject quickly. Our expert authors combine facts, analysis, perspective, new ideas, and enthusiasm to make interesting and challenging topics highly readable.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 152 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford (28 Oct 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199575266
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199575268
  • Product Dimensions: 17.3 x 11.4 x 0.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 414,833 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description

About the Author

Robin Le Poidevin took a first degree in philosophy and psychology at Oxford University, and went on to postgraduate research at Cambridge University. He is now Professor Metaphysics at Leeds Univeristy, and the author of a number of books and articles on metaphysics and the philosophy of religion. In 2007 he gave the Stanton Lectures in the Philosophy of Religion at Cambridge.

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5.0 out of 5 stars Balanced 30 July 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I found this to be a very balanced - seems appropriate! - , well reasoned and informative book: it had an entirely non-shrill tone which was extremely welcoming. From a personal standpoint, it reaffirmed my position as an agnostic theist, but it made plain that a wide range of intellectually sound alternative agnostic positions can be held.
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14 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A missed opportunity 23 Oct 2010
Format:Paperback
The book starts by discussing what agnosticism is, before moving on and considering its history. I found this to be interesting and informative. The agnostic attitude has a long history, but the term itself was coined by Huxley. It was many years later that he was tricked into revealing this fact when a letter, which he believed to be private correspondence, was published.

Even within his own lifetime there were widespread misconceptions about agnosticism which, in 1889, obliged him to try and set the record straight. However the Oxford English Dictionary had already encapsulated some of these misconceptions and, even to this day, we find that clearing up these issues is frequently hampered by people quoting (mistaken) dictionary definitions of what agnosticism is. We are left wondering whether the very term itself is a help or a hindrance.

Robin Le Poidevin discusses the default position from which we should start and declares that, 'The initial position should be an agnostic one [...]'. However, the author does not make it clear whether the initial position should be one of agnostic theism or agnostic atheism or, indeed, whether that would matter. The implication appears to be that agnosticism is a third option which, of course, it isn't.

The statement is questionable on two further counts. As far as the default position is concerned, all of us are born atheists. We are born without language skills. This means we are unable to entertain theistic beliefs. Later in the book the author will describe 'practical atheists' as those who simply get on with their life with no reference to theism. A baby would be a pretty good example of a practical atheist!

Secondly, it is questionable whether a baby could be considered as an agnostic.
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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing Introduction to Agnosticism 24 Nov 2010
By Dr. Bojan Tunguz - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Agnosticism seems to have been on the rise in recent years. More and more people seem to feel equally uncomfortable with the tenants of an organized religion as they are with the increasingly more vocal and obstreperous atheism. On the other hand, many theist and atheist critics consider agnosticism to be an easy way out of the debate, even calling agnostics intellectually lazy. To be sure, there are many people who call themselves agnostic precisely because they could not be bothered to engage in any form of contemplation about religion. However, agnosticism as an intellectual position is much more sophisticated than that and it has a long and respectable history.

The aim of this short introduction is primarily to focus on the ideas behind agnosticism, and not so much on its historical and cultural aspects. If you appreciate thinking about ideas in their own right and if you value well thought out arguments then you will find a lot to be pleased with in this book. The tone of presentation is extremely measured and polished, and even some of the thorniest issues in the religious debates are handled with the utmost grace and aplomb. One of the main theses of the book is that agnosticism is actually compatible with both theism and atheism, and even the most ardent believer or unbeliever is in fact agnostic about certain aspects of the ultimate reality. To be anything short of that would amount to the utmost intellectual arrogance.

This is an incredibly well argued and well written book and anyone who has any interest in religious topics (regardless of their personal views) would greatly benefit from reading it.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Engaging and Eye-Opening Read (4.5 Stars) 22 Aug 2012
By Brian J. Hendricks - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Wow! Robin Le Poidevin has done anyone that decides to pick up this book a favor. It is concise (118 small pages) but when you finish reading it, you will feel as if you have read a much larger book or a couple of books. His prose is accessible and extremely thought provoking.

I purchased the book on a whim as part of the bundle of Atheism, Humanism, (and Agnosticism) in the Very Short Introduction Series and thought that this would be the worst and least engaging of the three (my apologies). This is anything but true.

In fact, it was the most rewarding and thought provoking. It seems that today, most people are either theistic or atheistic in their beliefs and view persons that appeal to the agnostic approach to life as not wanting to take a side between these two views. This is really where the beauty of Le Poidevin's text shines.

He makes the reader aware, almost immediately, that this way of thinking is really nothing more than a straw-man approach to those that define themselves as being agnostic. It turns out that agnosticism and agnostics in the mold of Le Poidevin (or perhaps all agnostics?) may have actually thought out their points of view with a greater level of sobriety than most theists and atheists have.
He lays out the evidence for agnosticism in such an objective manner that one will find themselves having to delve deeply into what their own thoughts truly are. (Perhaps you are more of an agnostic than you realize?)

This is a great little book. It has definitely broke my own dogmatic approach toward agnosticism.

An exceptional book that explained and defined and approach to life that previously seemed to have only a minor ounce of integrity that I now have come to realize was anything but true. All this thanks to Robin Le Poidevin and the A Very Short Introduction series!
4.0 out of 5 stars An Entertaining Read 4 Sep 2014
By John F. Valo - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
"I do not deny. I do not know-but I do not believe." - Robert Ingersoll

Robert Ingersoll was a master orator in an age when people paid to be entertained by speakers. Why I Am an Agnostic is not an intellectual treatise. It is written as if it were a lecture designed to entertain a paying audience for two hours. Judged on those terms, this little book is an entertaining read.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking, though uneven. 27 Dec 2012
By M. Lauterbach - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The book ends in two fascinating chapters, and the culminating "Agnostic Manifesto" is an inspiring guide to leading a non-religious moral life.
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