Profile for Alex B > Reviews

Personal Profile

Content by Alex B
Top Reviewer Ranking: 75,838
Helpful Votes: 20

Learn more about Your Profile.

Reviews Written by
Alex B

Show:  
Page: 1 | 2
pixel
The Routledge Companion to Epistemology (Routledge Philosophy Companions)
The Routledge Companion to Epistemology (Routledge Philosophy Companions)
by Sven Bernecker
Edition: Paperback
Price: £32.60

4.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant anthology of epistemological texts from leaders in this long-established and wide-ranging field of philosophy, 21 Feb 2014
The Routledge Companion to Epistemology is a brilliant anthology of epistemological texts from leaders in this long-established and wide-ranging field of philosophy. Pritchard and Bernecker, two highly erudite philosophers themselves, are perfectly placed to organise and compile such an exhaustive text. An early disappointment though is that such accomplished epistemologists do not provide brief introductions to 'set the scene' for the forthcoming section. In other anthologies, this format can be particularly effective in clearing-up complicated or pervasive concepts and issues touched upon in the upcoming section. Despite this, there is little doubt the the Companion will serve as an indispensable guide to students of epistemology and since this feeds into so many other areas of philosophy, including science and mathematics (at least), these students may also find such text important to their work.

The Companion is divided into ten separate (but interconnected) regions, namely Foundational Concepts, The Analysis of Knowledge, The Structure of Knowledge, Kinds of Knowledge, Skepticism, Responses to Skepticism, Knowledge and Knowledge Attributions, Formal Epistemology, The History of Epistemology, Metaepistemological Issues. Each section contains numerous chapters, totalling seventy-eight overall. It is hard to see how any student of epistemology will not be working in areas directly overlapping with those covered in the book. In fact, due to the incredible breadth of scope, there is a good chance one will have a chapter, or even an entire section, covering relevant material.

The first three sections are really foundational, even though only the first is given that title. 'Foundational Concepts' deals primary with truth, belief and justification - the three areas generally considered to be more or less individually necessary and jointly sufficient for knowledge. It is important to note that whilst these are certainly foundational, the chapters are not exclusively introductory. Many are quite advanced, or are at least advanced in places, so one first approaching these issues may well want a general introduction to epistemology as a complement. 'The Analysis of Knowledge' and 'The Structure of Knowledge' will perhaps be of most interest to readers, given that it details with the definition of knowledge, with the usual coverage of JTB analysis followed by Gettier's infamous counter-examples and externalist vs internalist theories of justification.

Part 4, 'Kind of Knowledge' is a bit of a break from the preceding and subsequent sections, but nonetheless deals with issues, perhaps no less important than 'induction' - a very common reasoning process used throughout the sciences were one moves from rules governing observed cases and extrapolates to future, unobserved cases.

Parts 5, and 6 are on skepticism, the quite worrying notion that will in fact have no knowledge. One can see how the strength of this notion will be, in part, a function of the strength of criterion of knowledge. In the Plato-Aristotelian school, certainty was the only acceptable criterion, yielding the first form of skepticism known as Pyrrhonian scepticism - an ancient formulation.

The remaining four sections are very much separate parts. Part 7 is entitled 'Knowledge and Knowledge Attributions'. Many of these topics covered here will be unfamiliar to all but the expert reader, since they require good understanding of philosophy of language (semantics) and logic. These include contextualism and modality.

Part 8, 'Formal Epistemology' is very technical and perhaps the most difficult section in the book. Applying logical operators and coding to propositions is not something everyone will be familiar with, and perhaps above any other section, this would most benefit from an introduction outlining the key concepts here. Whether that would be possible though may be another matter, but I think it probably would.

Part 9, 'The History of Epistemology', is a really nice section giving overviews of key thinkers in the history of epistemology such as Plato, Aristotle, Descartes and the more recent Carnap, Russell and Wittgenstein.

Part 10, looks at epistemology applied to other areas such as intuitions, psychology, evolution and feminism. Martin Kusch gives an account of his highly innovative 'social epistemology' which sees knowledge and something that is given by societies as a way of conferring social status.

Overall, The Routledge Companion to Epistemology is a fresh and engaging anthology which I strongly recommend to all students of epistemology and even those outside this area such as scientists and mathematicians looking to incorporate these ideas into their work. Epistemology is a huge field, and this Companion enables students to gain both a light oversight and delve into detail.


Natural Resource and Environmental Economics
Natural Resource and Environmental Economics
by Dr Roger Perman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £52.19

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Challenging textbook but well designed and structured, 26 Jan 2014
Pearson is a long-established leader of world-class, dynamic, easy-to-read textbooks and Natural Resource and Environmental Economics is no exception. In its fourth edition, this textbook bears an impressive appearance: a picturesque woodland covers a massive 700 page turquoise textbook. Environment economics is no easy discipline to explain, requiring the ultimate combination of strong qualitative exposition with natural intuition, but this textbook somehow manages to achieve that perfect mix of plenty of diagrams, real-world examples and worked-through mathematical examples.

Part I, entitled 'Foundations', is very much that. Interestingly for an economics textbook, it is history and intuition that lays the foundations rather than mathematical rigour. Anyway, the introduction is gentle and thought-provoking as a way to motivate the student into the contemporary issues of sustainability, inequality, environmental ethics and so on. The final chapter of this part gets a bit more formal with an introduction to welfare economics, and just when you though you could escape the maths for a while longer, formal notation is applied to unpick problems in the interaction between welfare and the environment.

Part II, entitled 'Environmental pollution', is a tricky section containing the bulk of environmental theory. If one can master the six chapter here then one has reached a very high level of engagement in environmental economics and the surrounding issues. Much ink is spilt on pollution targets and control, but the exposition is well balanced between diagrams, intuition and mathematical analysis. Things take on an extra layer of difficulty when it comes to imperfect information (cases where the polluter known more than the authorities regarding their pollution level, and requires incentives to tell the truth).

Part III takes quite a surprising turn. Here, one studies 'Project appraisal', with unsurprisingly 'cost-benefit analysis' being the buzzword here. This raises particularly fascinating issues in the environment, since valuation, which is so difficult. How, for example, do you value the welfare of future generations? What is the monetary value of biodiversity or grasslands or trees? All these questions are deeply relevant here and are crucial to the policy we see today.

The final part, 'Nature resource exploitation' gives an economic analyses of the vast depletion of natural resources we have witnessed, especially over the last hundred years and it is yet to be significantly curbed.

What I particularly like about this textbook is the summaries, further reading, discussion questions and problems that follow every single chapter, allowing the reader to go into further depth should that be the order of the day. The benefit of having five authors with diverse expertise really comes to the fore here.

Overall, Natural Resource an Environmental Economics is an essential textbook and reference guide in the already vast and rapidly expanding subset of economics. Whilst it is undoubtedly a challenging textbook, it will appeal to those with either strong intuitive or mathematical capacities. Diagrams and verbal explanation are clear, and whilst there perhaps could be a little more explanation when going from one line of maths to another, I strongly recommend this text.


The Philosophy of Evidence-Based Medicine
The Philosophy of Evidence-Based Medicine
by Jeremy H. Howick
Edition: Paperback
Price: £41.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Well-written, concise, engaging, 24 Jan 2014
The Evidence-based medicine (from now on 'EBM') movement continues to go from strength to strength, with their hierarchy of medical evidence widely agreed upon and very influential in the theoretical and practical aspects of medicine. Howick's very tidy manuscript argues forcefully, but fairly, for EBM and surveys many of the topics that will be of interest to readers whether philosophers of science, or more specifically philosophers of medicine or medical practitioners themselves keen to appreciate the theoretical underpinnings of their work.

The introduction provides a neat, concise historical explanation for the origins and prominence for EBM, with a specific focus on the EMB hierarchy of evidence and the reception to such evidence. Broadly speaking, the hierarchy places randomised controlled trials (commonly known as RCTs) above observational studies, which itself is above expert judgement. Howick's clear diagram makes this claim straightforward and prepares the reader for the remainder of the book which can be seen as, one way or another, dissecting this hierarchy.

Part II critically evaluates the top half of the EBM hierarchy pyramid: do RCTs produce better evidence than observational studies? Chapter 5, on the paradox of effectiveness (our best therapies like the Heimlich manoeuvre do not have so-called best, RCT, evidence) is not only an intriguing thought, but the entire chapter is brilliantly written, illustrating the confounders arising from selection and performance bias that observational studies are plagued by whereas RCTs, via double-masking and randomisation, can eliminate these confounders (alternative explanations for the effect size of the intervention). Howick has a rare ability of writing in very terse prose but capturing enough information for sufficient understanding. This remains the style throughout. As a result, The Philosophy of Evidence-Based Medicine is very easy to read, and can be mastered in a short space of time.

Part III is dedicated to looking at the bottom of the EBM evidence hierarchy, namely expert judgement. Howick himself applies expert judgement in summarising the first two parts at the beginning of this section. In fact, this is a tool used throughout. The author recognises the lack of formal background some readers will have on opening the text, and thus summaries can be found in many key paragraphs as well as big sections, signposted by 'in sum'. This part moves away from the strict comparisons of experiments towards the epistemological aspects of medicine, in particularly a challenging chapter on how mechanistic reasoning functions, a topic that can be well applied to issues of causality well beyond philosophy of medicine.

In conclusion, The Philosophy of Evidence-Based Medicine is a must-have as a source of knowledge of and reference to the EBM movement. Howick presents the argument for EBM persuasively whilst giving sufficient coverage to alternative positions. I thoroughly recommend this text as both a 'way in' to the subject and a source of deeper understanding in the latest stage of medicine's fascinating journey, full of twists and turns in the search for the truth.


Environmental Ethics: The Big Questions (Philosophy: The Big Questions)
Environmental Ethics: The Big Questions (Philosophy: The Big Questions)
by David R. Keller
Edition: Paperback
Price: £24.29

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wide-ranging, Comprehensive, Eye-opening, 26 Nov 2013
What duties, if any, do we have towards non-humans such as animals, plants, waters and soils? Environmental ethics is a rapidly expanding area of philosophy, designed precisely to deal with these emotionally charged, but hard to answer to questions. The seeds were sowed in the 1960s with the 'spirit of progressivism' in America with campaigns such as world peace movements and woman's rights. This free-thinking spirit carried over to the environment quite quickly, and already by the early 1960s there were papers written about our (deteriorating) relationship with nature by the likes of John Muir and Rachel Carson. However, things really took off in the 1970s and many of the classic environmental ethics papers of today come from that period including authors such as Peter Singer and J. Baird Callicott. Today, this field of ethics is an exciting, far-reaching subset drawing on virtually all areas of moral philosophy and even venturing out into aesthetics, economics and natural science. The initial key question revolves around whether our current ethical theories (such as utilitarianism) can be extended to cover the environment or whether we need to create entirely new theories.

Environmental Ethics: the big questions is an anthology designed to provide the reader with a comprehensive understanding of environmental ethics. Nonetheless, the papers chosen are very wide-ranging in difficulty, meaning that both the introductory and the advanced reader can profit from this collection.

After an excellent introduction summarising how environmental ethics came about and the key inputs from philosophers to the debate surrounding duties to non-humans, Keller inserts a section entitled 'Why Study Environmental Ethics?'. This explains why some of the contributors decided to work in this field and gives a nice personal, if sometime humorous touch from the leading authorities. It is certainly nice to see innovative sections in an anthology.

Then, the real philosophy begins, and the first substantive section is entitled 'What is Anthropocentrism?' As one would guess from the title, this is about the theory of value which grants humans the highest, and in its most extreme guises only, position of intrinsic value. There's some real classic authors here including Descartes, Isaac Newton and Immanuel Kant. All of these are quite short, succinct papers that will ease you into the debate.

The next section, 'What is Nonanthropocentrism?' is a world-view which no longer places humans in the centre, and perhaps can be seen as the 'environmentalists' default position. Papers range from the revolutionary 'Is There a Need for a New, an Environmental, Ethic' by Richard Sylvan to the groundbreaking 'Should Trees Have Standing?' by Christopher Stone to the sceptical 'The End of Anthropocentrism?' by Mary Midgley.

The next section, 'What is the Scope of Moral Considerability?' moves from the question of axiology (theories of value) or conferring moral status to entities. This section is particularly well structured: two or three key papers supporting the key positions available in the issue. These are hierarchical biocentrism, psychocentrism, egalitarian biocentrism and lastly ecocentrism.

The remaining parts of the book signal a movement away from the core issues and into the more peripheral and 'off-the-wall' ones. Section V, 'What are the prominent alternatives to grounding environmental ethics in axiology?' explores moving away from the idea that to grant entities moral worth requires intrinsic value (value independent of others). The remaining sections are more abstract, and will probably only be of significant interest to the advanced reader. These are, 'What are the connections between realism, relativism, technology and environmental ethics?' which studies value independent and outside of the human mind the valuers), 'What are the connections between ecological science and environmental ethics?' which studies whether normative principles ('oughts') can be derived from the scientific reality of the environment ('descriptives'). Finally, the anthology ends with a section that should at least be attempted by all: 'What are the some ethical dimensions of environmental public policy?' This address so-called 'green political theory' and the impact of environmental policy on climate change, genetic engineering, biodiversity etc. Further, it provides a justification of 'doing' environmental philosophy.

Overall, Environmental Ethics: the big questions is an essential text for anyone looking to get to grips with key thinkers and their contributions to this new and burgeoning domain of ethics. Whilst challenging at times, the variety of papers in terms of both inter-disciplinary and difficulty is wide, allowing readers to effectively engage irrespective of background. Further, the layout is clear and general binding and page quality high to ensure this can remain an indispensable reference text for many years to come.


Bad Medicine: Doctors Doing Harm Since Hippocrates
Bad Medicine: Doctors Doing Harm Since Hippocrates
by David Wootton
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.79

4.0 out of 5 stars Thought-provoking, controversial, informative, 25 Nov 2013
Aptly described as 'explosive' by the British Medical Journal, Bad Medicine is a four-chapter thriller written by accomplished British historian David Wootton. Perhaps quite fairly, the book portrays medicine as having a dark history, both in terms of inadequate theorising for centuries but as time went on a reluctance to match therapy with the newfound, evidence-based medical theory.

Wootton begins with an entertaining (albeit at times depressing) narrative of the Hippocratic (Greek) Tradition, based on the now out-of-date humoural theory: the body was delicately balanced between the four humours of bile, black bile, blood and phlegm, and diseases were caused by a disturbance of the humoural balance or a corruption of a humour (so-called peccant humour). The way this would happen would be via an influx of the unnaturals such as diet and the environment. As a result, to restore the balance and/or 'fix' the corrupted humour, since all four humours were found in the blood, bloodletting was the obvious (although not the only) solution. Bloodletting, well into the nineteenth, was widely perceived and practiced as the 'gold standard' for medical therapy. This could be done either by the practitioner himself or via the application of leeches (particularly popular method in France).

Wootton's writing style serves as an excellent example to both historians and philosophers: short, concise, clear and engaging sentences which are structured around the period or argument presented.

Whilst medicine changed structurally (patient-doctor relationship, location of treatment etc) modern medical theory does not really begin to take off until well into the nineteenth century. According to Wootton, medicine did not really start helping patients consistently until the 1860s. This heralded new beginning does however eventually arrive with the germ theory of disease: disease is caused not by humoural changes but rather due to micro-organisms entering into the bloodstream. As a result, Wootton goes into, with some details, three key figures and their research: John Snow's breakthrough research of Cholera was vindicated (cholera-causing bacteria spreading via polluted water rather than 'bad air' causing disease), Semmelweis' explanation of cadaverous matter from autopsies contacting the womb (rather than simply 'bad air') as the cause of puerperal fever that killed woman during or just after childbirth and Joseph Lister's antiseptic surgery (decay due to germs entering the opened wound, rather than spontaneously and hence inevitably generating from the wound).

Further, some pages are illustrated with diagrams to give a stronger flavour for society's at-the-time perception of current medical theory and practice. The haunted figure at the polluted cholera water pump is particularly salient and powerful.

Overall, Wootton majestically manages to apply historical objectivity to emotionally sensitive issues like death, dying and disease. Whilst 300 pages may seem more than many will be willing to read on the issue, this should not be a concern since the pages are quite short, the font clear and easy-to-read. Whilst perhaps quite controversial, this certainly did not feel like an author pushing some kind of 'anti-medicine' or 'anti-doctors' agenda and the reader is encouraged to think for themselves about how to analyse the strange series of events that unfolded painfully slowly to bring us up to where we are today.


Natural Justice
Natural Justice
by Ken Binmore
Edition: Paperback
Price: £17.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Highly innovative approach to moral philosophy, 13 Sep 2013
This review is from: Natural Justice (Paperback)
Natural Justice is a highly unusual book written by a highly unusual author. Ken Binmore is aptly described on the book's blurb as a 'mathematician-turned-economist' but really it could be extended further to 'mathematician-turned-economist-turned-philosopher'. He became a chair of mathematics then professor of economics (still is) at world-leading universities before combining such illustrious background with (moral) philosophy. Binmore is a world-recognised authority on game theory, which he applies so intriguingly in the sphere of ethics and morals in Natural Justice. Whilst he has written earlier books on exactly this application of game theory, Binmore here writes a more concise, far less technical, entertaining and easy-to-read publication.

Binmore's overall theory is not easily summarised, but under the broad effort to apply game theory to moral philosophy, his 'way in' is to show, via the mathematical theory of games, that fairness norms are merely results of cultural evolution. Binmore's uniqueness is to draw on philosophers such as Mackie and Rawls in order to create a more complete theory. Whilst it is impossible to elucidate all twelve chapters in one review, I have decided to split them up into the first four and last eight.

The first four chapters, entitled 'Moral Science', 'Bargaining' and 'Battle of the Isms'. and 'Equilibrium'. Here, Binmore sets the scene for what is to come. After some key definitions, the author tentatively shows that game theory has a say in seemingly distant concepts such as 'efficiency' and 'fairness' and the construction of 'social contracts'. The second chapter is the book's most technical, delving into the mathematical and diagrammatic analysis of the Nash, Utilitarian and Egalitarian Bargaining solutions. Fortunately, Binmore provides reasonably clear diagrams and the most basic arithmetic, although the material is difficult and understanding its entirety will be beyond many without a formal background in bargaining theory. The end of this 'part' is much more philosophical, with an entertaining and persuasive critique of Kantianism as well as an explanation of other key domains in moral philosophy such as 'naturalism' and 'relativism'. This 'section' closes with a very nice and accessible discussion on nash equilibria; particularly on the oft- confused distinction between pure and mixed strategies.

In the remainder of the book Binmore draws on these introduced concepts to really flesh out his theory and convince the reader of its validity and worthiness in the gigantic field of moral philosophy. After all, he is trying stem the tide of what he describes as the 'moral punditry' that has preceded him. Binmore's very unique style here is the constant use of informal language which, whilst entertaining, can slow things down given the complexity of some of the issues at stake. Nonetheless the text, peppered with diagrams, explores key issues in moral philosophy such as the concept of 'duty', 'reciprocity' and 'utilitarianism' (Harsanyi more than Bentham). What is ultimately working in Binmore's favour here is that he is not doing what so many moral philosophers have done previously (like Kant) in positing largely unjustified notions of fairness and duty but rather starting off with just the assumption that individual are utility-maximisers (rational).

Overall, Natural Justice is a rather strange read but to many people it will be a highly interesting and entertaining once. I would not see this as a way in to understanding game theory or political philosophy separately, but if one has at least some background in both (especially game theory) then this has surely got to be one of the most innovative efforts in combining the two and coming out with a persuasive and comprehensive theory into why we behave morally and care about morality.


Niccolò Machiavelli: An Intellectual Biography
Niccolò Machiavelli: An Intellectual Biography
by Corrado Vivanti
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £18.17

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Unique biography of a key philosopher, 12 Sep 2013
Corrado Vivanti is unquestionably one of the foremost world-leading authorities on Machiavelli of recent times. The Italian academic, who passed away in September of last year, dedicated large swathes of his academic career to uncovering the biographical details and academic works of one of the most famous philosophers in the history of philosophy. His project here though is very ambitious: weave through the mystery and complexity to explain Machiavelli's key works, lifetime events and how one influenced the other. Nonetheless, Vivanti does a sterling job and with the help of the seamless translation from Italian into English, Niccolo Machiavelli: An Intellectual Biography is a highly lucid, entertaining and informative account of the influential, audacious and intellectually gifted Italian.

The intellectual biography - a term used to signal that a persons thought will be given room in and amongst the biographical details, is clearly structured into three sensibly split parts. Part I 'The Florentine Secretary' is virtually exclusively dealing with the fascinating twists and turns of Machiavelli's private life. Although, as Vivanti points out, barely anything of substance is known about Machiavelli prior to his ascent as secretary of the Florentine chancery, Vivanti does manage to compile a brief but interesting opening chapter on the first half of Machiavelli's life, mainly focusing on his education and potential early influences. The remainder of the first part vividly describes the chaos of the society which Machiavelli was born into; imbued with political and religious conflicts and the way Machiavelli managed to utilize and navigate through such chaotic and volatile circumstance to suit his own purposes.

Whilst the first part is mainly historical, the second part 'Exile in his Homeland' contains a real gem of a chapter midway through, entitled 'The Myth of The Prince'. Whilst readers should be aware that Vivanti does not in this publication provide a comprehensive overview and analysis of Machiavelli's controversial and oft-cited work, he does in this chapter provide an innovative and nuanced approach to the most famous of Machiavelli's works, and easily one of the top ten most heard of philosophical treatises. Vivanti's unique selling point is his wealth of contextual knowledge, enabling him to adopt and develop a position that Machiavelli's 'entire thought...is cloaked in history'.

The final part, entitled 'Niccolo Machiavelli, Historian, Comic Writer and Tragic Writer' supplies a grand finish to this unique biography. Here, Vivanti analyses the plays and works authored by Machianvelli towards the end of his life such as, 'The Art of War' and the five-act comedy 'The Mandrake' which he used to criticise the incumbent power. We also get a fascinating insight here into Machiavelli's friendship with Francesco Guicciardini revealing significant details of Machiavelli's personality since he was one of his few confidants.

Overall, Niccolo Machiavelli: An Intellectual Biography will appeal to a wide audience, since the style is easy-to-read and the content broad but focused. Anyone interested in this period of history (15th and 16th century Europe) or political philosophy will find Vivanti's work a useful guide and a stimulating read.


Companion Philosophy of Mind P (Blackwell Companions to Philosophy)
Companion Philosophy of Mind P (Blackwell Companions to Philosophy)
by Samuel Guttenplan
Edition: Paperback
Price: £33.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Comprehensive overview of mind, 8 Sep 2013
First published in 1994, A Companion to the Philosophy of Mind remains a key reference point for any philosopher - either professional or student, working in philosophy of mind. Whilst edited by Samuel Guttenplan, a particularly erudite scholar in the field, one of the greatest strengths of the Companion is that many authorities in the field have contributed with short, snappy articles in topics they have considerable expertise in. Donald Davidson, Daniel Dennett and David Lewis are just some of the authors that make up the star-studded contributors list.

The Companion is divided into two sections, part I, An Essay on Mind, is the gateway for the uninitiated in the philosophy of mind or philosophy as a whole. This part, composed with no less that 111 pages, provides an extremely comprehensive overview of what is to come, by giving the reader a general familiarity, rather than any specific knowledge on the philosophy of mind. For that reason, the out of touch reader will also be keen to take a good long at this essay, since it will reconnect him or her with the key issues debated in mind such as consciousness, action and intentionality. It can get a little informal at times with the old curse of using extended analogies, but overall it is a more than handy introduction, albeit a very basic one, into the minefield that is the philosophy of mind.

Part II is where the real gem lies in this textbook. Highly informative, concise and authoritative explanations and analysis on all areas covered by the philosophy of mind. The scope is incredibly comprehensive. Crucially, the length of each article varies depending on what is required to give the reader a basic but firm understanding of the region in question given its scope and depth. For example, 'folk psychology' is a central and wide part of philosophy of mind, and as a result takes up fifteen full pages. 'Mental representation' on the other hand barely requires more than a definition, and hence it takes up just half a page. What is particularly nice about the Companion is that there are whole articles dedicated to key thinkers in mind, such as Donald Davidson, Jerry Foder and, of course, David Lewis. These are both biographical and academic in nature.

In terms of design and layout, the Companion excels. The contents page lists the articles in alphabetical order, as does the article topics themselves, making moving from one topic to another quick and easy. Further, each articles ends with a bibliography to guide the reader into further reading should he or she wish to. Overall, A Companion to the Philosophy of Mind is a world-leading resource to guide students and teachers through this challenging but highly rewarding subject.


The Moral Problem (Philosophical Theory)
The Moral Problem (Philosophical Theory)
by Michael Smith
Edition: Paperback
Price: £22.49

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Comprehensive and original, 28 April 2013
The Moral Problem has two very unique qualities: original argument and a comprehensive survey of the field. It is on a all-encompassing but rather subtle theme on moral philosophy: meta-ethics. This seeks to analyse the nature of moral judgements, rather than the judgements themselves. To make this point a little clearer: whether murder is wrong is considered ethics, but what we mean but 'wrong' is meta- ethics. To use Smith's example, whether one should give to famine relief is about ethics, but would we mean by 'should' is meta-ethics.

Smith's introduction is an explanation of the moral problem (from now on, the problem) and why it is so significant. The problem is amongst the most difficult concepts in the book to understand; not because it is poorly explained but because it draws on (seemingly) disparate branches of moral philosophy. Nonetheless, it makes for an exciting and highly informative start.

Ultimately, it is about reconciling the conflicting dynamic between moral objectivity and practicality on the one hand and Humean psychology on the other.

The objective feature of moral judgements (there are moral facts such as right/wrong/good/bad) implies that moral judgements express beliefs. So the utterance 'X is wrong' is a belief about a matter-of-fact: that X is wrong. This nicely fits into our intuition that in the case of moral disagreement, someone is wrong.

However, the practical feature of moral judgements implies that moral judgements express desires. This is a two stage process: Uttering 'X is right' motivates one to do X. And the second step: Being motivated to do X implies a desire to do X.

The problem? On the first account moral judgements (eg X is wrong) are beliefs and on the second account they are desires, which according to the Humean picture of human psychology, are two entirely distinct mental states. Why are they distinct? Simple: beliefs are about the way the world is, and desires about how you want the world to be.

There are two ways to deal with this problem: reject the objective feature or reject a step in the formation of the practical feature. The remaining chapters of the book propose a candidate solution, before delving into objections and replies to that solution.

Expressivism is first to show his hand, with the chapter aptly entitled The Expressivist Challenge. Expressivists deny the objective feature of moral judgements, claiming instead that moral judgements express attitudes of approval or disapproval, not beliefs. So when one says, 'X is wrong', they are actually expressing a disapproving attitude towards X. Key proponents of this view include the great British philosopher AJ Ayer and contemporary Cambridge academic Simon Blackburn. The ensuing chapter is a difficult but highly rewarding one: going into naturalism (moral judgements can be assessed in a scientific way), non-naturalism (the opposite) and how Moore's Open Question Argument attacks the former. Whilst certainly challenging Smith keeps the debate lively enough and continuously summaries his position to ensure that the reader has the best chance of successfully navigating through the twists and turns of the debate.

The next chapter The Externalist Challenge, is to call into question the first step of the practicality of moral judgements. It does so by rejecting the connection between moral judgements and motivation. Quite a complicated chapter ensues, starting off with the Mackie's distinction of rationality types, absorbing Foot and Brink's famous challenges.

The following two chapters go into Humean theories of motivation in significant detail. These are probably the best chapter's of the book, and Smith's formulates the Humean theory of motivation with surprising and refreshing clarity. The standard format ensues: outline the argument, objections and replies to these objections. Smith makes a great decision to summarise the argument twice, to ensure the reader is kept abreast of the theory.

Finally, Smith's concluding chapter is a proposed solution to the Moral Problem. In short, Smith attempts to bridge the gap between the objective and practical features of moral judgements, arguing that we should split reasons up into 'motivating' and 'normative' and thereby ultimately criticising Hume's notion that desires are beyond the realm of what can be criticised. I think Smith is somewhat convincing, and his solution is certainly a novel one.

The Moral Problem's ability to combine originality and subject overview are two factors that render this book an essential text for anyone enrolled on an intermediate level moral philosophy course and above. With a certain level of guidance, the book's powerful clarity and explanatory style could also be harnessed at the introductory level. Overall, I strong recommend this text and believe the non-philosopher would also learn a great deal about how moral philosophy works.


What I Believe
What I Believe
by A.J.P. Kenny
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.92

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Original, personal, thought-provoking, 13 Mar 2013
This review is from: What I Believe (Paperback)
I decided to read Anthony Kenny's What I believe after being very impressed with his contributions in a discussion he was part of on Radio 4's In Our Time programme. And it didn't disappoint.

Kenny somehow manages to fuse academic rigour with self-analysis to provide the reader with a rare treat of the intellectual struggles of one of the most pioneering philosophers since the second world war. His contributions to philosophy and the academic community at large are unquantifiable, making reading his personal thoughts and ideas a particularly exciting prospect. From a philosophy point of view, he is an expert on the philosophy of mind but has also written widely on the history of philosophy and the great 20th century philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Roughly speaking, the first half of the book deals with a brief but informative biography of the man himself, followed by an explanation on the actually quite fascinating question as to why he commits himself to philosophy as opposed to another discipline. Things then return to a more academic format, and he delves into a fascinating discourse as to arguments against atheism and theism, a key struggle that has run and continues to run through Kenny's life today. The fact that his approach is primarily a negative one towards the key arguments, is an interesting approach, perhaps revealing a general scepticism towards theology as a whole as well. Kenny does a superb job of providing clear and concise arguments outlining his position, and pretty much all the main arguments you'd want to know are included here. Amongst the best explained is Kant's notorious analytic vs synthetic distinction and Acquinas' Five Ways, to which Kenny comprehensively deconstructs each by pointing out either a fallacy or shaky premise. The fact that Kenny is a world-leading expert on Acquinas is certainly useful in guiding the reader through the intricate theological arguments of Summa Theologica

The second half of the book is related to more general, thought-provoking ideas such as 'The Nature of Reality', 'Life and Death' and 'Happiness'. These are certainly issues that would be of great interest to even those without much interest in philosophy! The Nature of Morality is a particularly important and impressive chapter, since it feeds into many philosophical debates. Here, Kenny gives a very nice overview of consequentialist moral theories (for example utilitarianism) as well as, the more subtle, deontological theories (most notably Kantianism). On Life and Death, Kenny is not afraid to mention controversial opinions (such as infanticide), to which some philosophers base their argument from John Locke's definition of a person.

To conclude, a refreshing theme throughout is Kenny's personal touches combined with his natural academic flair, designed to provide clear, concise and structured arguments to debates so often running at tangents and descending into chaos. I certainly recommend this to anyone interested in these 'ultiamte' issues regardless of the strength and nature of their academic background.


Page: 1 | 2