Philosophy Books for Alan Lightman
Yesterday, in an interview in The New York Times, physicist and novelist Alan Lightman made a wish—a wish the readers of Daily Nous are well-positioned to grant, or at least point out how it has been granted.
Asked, “Which subjects do you wish more authors would write about?”, Lightman replied:
As a scientist, it would be natural for me to say the subject of science, but there are already many wonderful books about science. I wish more authors would write about philosophy in an accessible and meaningful way, as does the writer Rebecca Goldstein.
Lightman is also Professor of the Practice of the Humanities at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). You might be thinking, “Hey, philosophy is in the humanities; shouldn’t a professor of ‘the practice of the humanities’ know about the abundance of trade books published by philosophers that aim to discuss ‘philosophy in an accessible and meaningful way’?” The answer is: don’t blame the potential audience for not getting your message.
Instead, let’s take advantage of this opportunity to share with Professor Lightman, and anyone else paying attention, some of the many wonderful books about philosophy that are well-written, on meaningful subjects, and accessible to non-specialists. To keep things manageable let’s limit suggestions to books published in the 21st Century, thanks.
So, readers, your recommendations, please. Include at least the title of the book, its author(s), and a line about why Lightman (or others) might want to read it. Thanks!
(Related: “Writers: Love Your Ideas, But Love Your Readers, Too,” an excerpt from an interview with Goldstein. An excerpt from another interview is here.)
I think Michael Strevens’ “The Knowledge Machine” is one of the best trade books in philosophy I’ve ever read. It’s strictly speaking about science, but it’s also got a lot to say about the role of the philosopher of science and the value they contribute to scientific research.Report
Thomas Wartenberg, Existentialism: A Beginner’s Guide (oneworld). An accessible introduction to this important movement that explains its relevance.Report
I’ve written a book on bitcoin with Bradley Rettler (Wyoming) and Craig Warmke (Northern Illinois). Though we’re academic philosophers, we draw from many disciplines and aim the prose at a wide audience. Forthcoming later this year with Routledge; preview the thing here: http://resistance.money/book/Report
Whoops; I forgot ‘a line about why Lightman (or others) might want to read it’ — because bitcoin is too important to leave to the grifters or technologists.Report
should we add that lightman’s book EINSTEIN’S DREAMS is one of the best intros for a Phil of Time course. And for a Phil in Lit course. I use it regularly to introduce issues of time, time travel, McTaggert stuff, determinism, quantum, etc etc.
so thank you!
suggestions — Sarah Bakewell (existentialist cafe); John Kaag (neitzsche); Steve Nadler (Spinoza); Wertheim (cyberspace); and many moreReport
At the Existentialist Cafe is great!Report
Kieran Setiya’s book, Life is Hard is really good as is Myisha Cherry’s, The Case for Rage.Report
*Philosophy for Girls: an invitation to the life of thought* (OUP, 2020), edited by Kim Garchar and Melissa Shew, would provide Lightman with more than a dozen different essays by writers discussing philosophy in accessible and meaningful ways that center young women. Topics include doubt, credibility, consciousness, autonomy, anger, language, race, inquiry, courage, and many more. Even though Lightman isn’t really the intended audience for the book, I imagine it would also be accessible and meaningful to him. https://global.oup.com/academic/product/philosophy-for-girls-9780190072926?cc=us&lang=en&Report
Totally off-topic, and deeply flippant, but a physicist named “Lightman” is just *chef’s kiss* perfect. I suspect he must have a secret super-hero alter ego who can travel at light speed to battle with Particle Man and Universe Man, etc.Report
Kieran Setiya – Midlife. Accessible and interesting to experts and non-experts alike. A great example of the practical benefits of philosophy.
Peter Singer – Ethics in the Real World. A collection of very short essays (often 2-3 pages) that engage with topical, important issues. Shows the many different ways of making moral arguments in the “real world.”Report
The entirety of Oxford University Press’s series on the good life. From that series, I quite liked Nic Bommarito’s book on Buddhism and Stephen Angle’s book on Confucianism.Report
_Philosophical Mysticism in Plato, Hegel, and the Present_ (Bloomsbury, 2020), by Robert M Wallace, explains how western philosophy since the Greeks shows how we know God as a reality in and beyond the physical world. General readers should skip the Introduction, which is intended for professional philosophers, but the rest of the book is accessible for a motivated reader with a general education.Report
I think Death and the Afterlife by Samuel Scheffler is beautifully written and accessible (although it is not a trade book).Report
Eric Schwitzgebel’s A Theory of Jerks and Other Philosophical Misadventures has a lot of great stuff. It would be my number one recommendation to Lightman. Also cool would be Achille Varzi’s Insurmountable Simplicities. Report
My two most recent books On Inhumanity: Dehumanization and How to Resist It (Oxford, 2020) and Making Monsters: The Uncanny Power of Dehumanization (Harvard, 2021) fit the bill. These are philosophical books, with a strongly interdisciplinary slant, that examine and theorize the phenomenon of dehumanization, the attitude of conceiving of other people as less-than-human creatures.Report
Lots of people are saying Ian Olasov’s Ask a Philosopher: Answers to Your Most Important and Most Unexpected Questions (St. Martin’s 2020) is great! It has a few things going for it: you can read it in bite-sized chunks, it mixes story-telling with argument, and it’s argumentative without being ponderous or combative.Report
David Albert’s “Time and Chance” is an example of an important book in philosophy of physics that is written in a very accessible way.
Tim Maudlin’s book about the philosophy of space and time is also recommended.Report
I think Reality+ by David Chalmers, which came out last year (2022), is a very accessible, interesting and fun book, which will reward both interested newcomers and people educated in philosophy.
I actually think it would make a good, slightly quirky, introduction to philosophy for a teenage reader.Report
There are so many I’d recommend.
(1) Routledge’s entire “Why It’s Okay” series, but especially Mary Beth Willard’s “Why It’s OK to Enjoy the Work of Immoral Artists”
(2) Erich Hatala Matthes’ “Drawing the Line”
(3) John Martin Fischer’s “Death, Immortality, and Meaning in Life”
(4) Jeff Sebo’s “Saving Animals, Saving Ourselves”
(5) Michael Cholbi’s “Grief: A Philosophical Guide”
I tried to make the philosophy of emotion accessible in my book, Interdisciplinary Foundations for the Science of Emotion, without losing the depth of the concerns that are involved: https://sites.google.com/site/muncecilea/research?authuser=0. I hope I achieved my aim, and I welcome people to find out and let me know or what they think.Report
Van Norden’s Introduction to Chinese Philosophy is an engaging introduction to that field, and actually to philosophy in general. I’ve used it as my textbook for a general undergrad ethics course and students really liked it.Report
“How to be Perfect,” a wonderful and witty introduction to ethics by Michael Schur, the creator of the TV show “The Good Place” (which is itself about morality).Report
Peter Godfrey Smith’s books Other Minds and Metazoa, as well as a general introduction to the philosophy of biology, are wonderful introductions to mind through an evolutionary lens.Report