Would You Kill the Fat Man?: The Trolley Problem and What Your Answer Tells Us about Right and Wrong
Who, other than philosophy majors knew about trolleyology and its variations including x-phi (experimental philosophy)? This is a fascinating and fun read complete with the ethics questions that endlessly entertain undergraduates. If one will not consider a sacrificial murder under any circumstances, new details are added to test the boundaries of one’s core beliefs. So, if you could save five people by killing one (he is fat in order to effectively stop the train) would you do it? Enhancements can be added – suppose one could act with remote tools instead of a more personal engagement? The author, David Edmonds, is a senior research associate at the University of Oxford’s Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, so he is eminently qualified to review the brain teasing and moral quandaries that these types of scenarios evoke. Practical ethics deals in deep thought about the choices we make and the underpinnings of those choices whether it is race, religion, bias, nationalism, etc. People make choices based on their ethics so it is practical in the sense that society must understand the ramifications of these choices and what may lie beneath them. A very relevant and interesting look at this topic and in spite of the serious subject; it is a light hearted approach. Fun diagrams, good bibliography, notes to chapters and comprehensive index.
Princeton University Press
Rational Polemics: Tackling the Ethical Dilemmas of Life
The format herein is a series of essays or musings. No attempt is expended to make weighty universal pronouncements, and, in fact, no attempt is made to use “proper” language, though the vocabulary is adult and educated. Editing is of a high level, and continuity within subjects is good. Those subjects are wide ranging and not picked for political correctness. In fact, the one word I would use to describe this ramble is “refreshing.”
Most of the ideas offered, and the explorations developed, will have some familiarity to long-term libertarians and even to many people who have simply engaged in brainstorming as sophomores. That does not diminish the book’s utility. As a direct result of Devens’ fearless approaches to intimidating topics, we are presented with an invaluable stretching tool for young minds, with a stimulus to resume thinking widely for older readers.
The writer quotes some weighty sources, but frequently just skips across a subject with the alacrity of an immortal negotiating a mine field. The fact that esoterica, like the morality of cannibalism under survival necessity and the courtesies of telephone courtship, are touched upon is an indicator of the freewheeling nature of this compendium.
I don’t want to trivialize Rational Polemics in the least. Devens has grounded his musings firmly in the rationality of freedom and free inquiry. He espouses self-ownership, the necessity of self-determination, and the sanctity of individuality.
“The Universal Farce” is his first chapter, with an exploration of the fallacies, con jobs, and irrationalities of religion, wherein the first mover/creator formula is debunked without any shyness. Devens credits the genesis of his book to long-standing disillusionment with religion. He does an admirable job gutting the fraud. In other segments, common courtesy, drug legalization, treatment of criminals, and the death penalty are addressed. Sometimes delving takes a good chapter, as on racism; elsewhere, as in drug legalization, a page and a half suffice.
If you have any interest in freedom of the mind, in personal freedoms, in thinking outside the box, this would be a good candidate for your bookshelf or for your high school or college student’s next gift.
Spectrum of Mind: An Inquiry into the Principles of the Mind and the Meaning of Life
Spectrum of Mind: An Inquiry into the Principles of the Mind and Meaning of Life is a book that explores the timeless quest for the true meaning of life, a quandary that has inspired philosophers, religious leaders, and scientists. Part philosophy, part scientific exploration, Spectrum argues “the understanding of ourselves is crucial to our lives” and strives to provide the reader not with answers, but, instead, with key concepts and methods used to search for the meaning of life. As the author explains, it is not his job to tell the reader what to think, but, rather, to provide them with what to think about, acting as a guide on a journey as a fellow mind.
A relatively short book, Yang packs a lot into these pages. He discusses not only quantum mechanics, the human mind, the role culture and religion play, but also where philosophy fits in, not leaving out the consideration of why seek meaning in the first place. Overall, the journey in seeking the meaning of life is, according to Yang, highly personal, and it is in the journey and not the destination where readers will find answers. This book is only a step in that direction along the journey.
While this is probably not a book for the casual reader, one who would rather be entertained than challenged or reflective, it is a book suited to a reader seeking to reconcile various—even conflicting—pieces of knowledge and values. Spectrum of Mind is a heavy book, but by no means impenetrable in terms of reading or concepts. Its goal is to expose the reader to various ways of thinking from the religious, scientific, and philosophic spectrum, in order to push the limits of knowledge and reason. This is a book for a reader with an interest in expanding their knowledge base and the intersection of science and philosophy, and also, of course, the reader seeking meaning on their journey of life.
The Fourth Dimension of Existence
We live in a three-dimensional world, and can fully understand three -dimensional occurrences. But this three- dimensional reality cannot explain our inability to answer fundamental questions. The Fourth Dimension of Existence proposes that an additional existential dimension is needed — another dimension, like the three material ones with which we are so familiar, which is an integral part of our being, which we already can sense and understand in a limited capacity, but which in us is not yet fully realized. This fourth dimension is Spirit, and by accepting that we have this particular fourth-dimensional component, we can begin to rationally understand many of these questions about our existence, if not yet their answers.
Dr. Nasr Saad begins with an overview of our understanding of the universe – basically, that we cannot comprehend it in terms of our normal reality. Although matter is finite and limited, the universe, as far as we can tell, is infinite and limitless. How can this be? He explores the historical and universal understanding that there is an immortal component to our beings, usually explained as the spirit or soul, but explains that the spirit and body are both equally present throughout and within our being. The three familiar dimensions of physical reality are no more or less omnipresent than this fourth, the spirit.
Understanding that we are not fully realized in the fourth dimension, although we can vaguely sense it, we recognize that communication from that reality must be by analogy or parable. Dr. Saad compares this to us, as three-dimensional beings, trying to interact with two-dimensional ones. (This analogy borrows heavily from Flatland, by Edwin A. Abbot, but explicates to a much greater degree than was explored in that already excellent book.) Different chapters focus more exclusively on death and immortality, religious revelations, and time and space. This last is especially fun; using the experimentally-supported conclusions of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, for example, Dr. Saad shows how a being moving at or beyond the speed of light would, to our comprehension, exist for our eternity and throughout our infinite space.
This is a fascinating book. The arguments are painstakingly, thoroughly, and solidly constructed. Although the reading can be dense and get a little confusing (as the subject is, by this book’s argument, not completely comprehensible), it is well worth the effort. The style is highly readable and conversational, and Dr. Saad is modest and respectful as he leads you to his conclusions. He does not claim to have the answers, but invites the reader to come with him in trying to understand life’s mysteries. Even if you don’t believe in an existence beyond the one we know, The Fourth Dimension of Existence provides a rational way to try to approach that belief. If you do already believe in that possibility, this book will wonderfully extend your understanding.
Adequate Wisdom: Essays on the Nature of Existence
Adequate Wisdom: Essays on the Nature of Existence is an exhaustive collection of philosophical viewpoints presented for a layman. Smolin presents the general reader with an overview of essays that discuss existence, our cosmos, and the many different viewpoints held by people. The simplistic wording by Smolin makes these essays easy to comprehend and gives the general reader a framework to build a better understanding of “the nature of existence.”
The essays are short but concise. Covering a wide range of diverse subject matter, the essays can be read alone or as a whole. There is a great deal of information covered by Smolin, and he does an exceptional job organizing, arranging, and presenting the vast research that is clearly evident as you read through this book. Smolin goes into great depth exploring the nature of forms and processes, which provides the background necessary to discuss the myriad of subject matter contained in this book. The book is comprised of eight parts: Essentials, Questions and Ideas, Physical Existence, Biological & Human Existence, Trends & Other Matters, God & Religion, Humanity and Final Thoughts. “We can begin to piece together the varied components of existence, creating a clearer understanding of how the world works and then proposing guidelines to help us make wise decisions and lead meaningful lives.”
Smolin additionally includes some ideas based upon new research, for which further scrutiny and examination is warranted. “The obvious motif of this work is to embrace all components of the world and to suggest that everything is contingent upon everything else, while paradoxically allowing forms and processes to express themselves individually.” Most of the discussions cover scientific information and philosophical ideas, whereas, some of the discussions get a little more personal speaking about sexuality, self-control, religion, and state. While I may not agree with all of the contentions of the author, Smolin presents his work in a well-organized and classy form that leaves the reader open to explore his ideas.
Smolin’s essays cover diverse fields of life, philosophy, cosmology, sociology and psychology. “A key idea of adequate wisdom is the apparent duality between synergy and individualism, whereby virtually every form has its own function and structure while at the same time becoming part of another, greater structure.” It is well written and easy to understand. A worthwhile read for those have interest in this subject matter.
The Philosophy of History: Naturalism and Religion
Here’s a challenge for you- combine a lengthy discussion of philosophy, naturalism, and religion and come up with a means to effectively explain the basic tenets of historiographical research to those who are unfamiliar with any of these topics. No, wait- James Stroud has already done all of the work for us. Our mission, (should we decide to accept it)is to develop a better understanding of the interplay of these subjects by reading the book, The Philosphy of History: Naturalism and Religion: A Historiographical Approach to Origins.
Author James Stroud explains the differences between naturalism and science, and how the concept of miracles as referred to within the religious arena cannot be measured using scientific methodology, and also cannot be logically explained using traditional scientific methodology. Stroud observes that it is pre-suppositional beliefs that form the basis for many traditional scientific conclusions regarding human origins, rather than empirical evidence. Science rejects supernatural concepts and explanations yet cannot objectively disprove phenomena via the laws of science, Stroud maintains that “…any closed- philosophical paradigm that does not allow the inference to the best explanation should be abandoned or at least challenged…”
In discussing the philosophy of history, Stroud encourages the reader to consider the nature of historical evidence, in light of the fact that history cannot be repeated. The reader is encouraged to question the degree, to which objectivity is possible, the challenges to correctly determining the accuracy of past historical reports and current inability to verify the absolute truth, due to human philosophical bias.
Stroud contends that the theory of naturalism is untenable and confines one to “… a strict pre-suppositional interpretation of the data.” Ultimately, Stroud supports an “open philosophy of history” as a science, rejects the current “closed philosophies”, and believes that the theories of deism and theism are plausible explanations to be considered and supported as viable alternatives to philosophical naturalism.
In support of his argument, Stroud submits four historic events for consideration: Historic Event number one: Origins of the Universe and Cosmological Constants; Historic Event number two: Origin of Life- Cambrian Explosion and Human Origins; Historic Event number three: Origin of Civilization before the Common Era; Historic Event number four: The Common Era of the Historical Jesus.
Stroud also invites readers to consider such profound questions as the place of religion in history, the objective meaning of history and what drives that meaning, the proper unit of study of the human past, broad historic patterns, cycles and irregularities to be discerned and objective measures of historic progress. There is also a consideration of many of the ways in which western thought’s linear path opposes the mythical conception of history and time.
Those who seek a deeper understanding of the basis of theories of human origin will very much enjoy the insights provided within this book. The theories of great philosophers such as Hegel, Nietzsche, and Focault may not be the usual fare for novice philosophers, and one must certainly put a “thinking cap” on before settling into this most provocative read.