email page print pageAll Topic Reviews
100 Things Guys Need to Know1001 Solution-Focused Questions101 Ways to Meditate17 Lies That Are Holding You Back29 Gifts8 Keys to Stress ManagementA Layman's Guide to Managing FearA Parent's Guide to Asperger Syndrome and High-Functioning AutismA User Guide to the GF/CF Diet for Autism, Asperger Syndrome and AD/HDADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your LifeAddiction and ChangeAddiction Recovery ToolsADHD Grown UpAdolescent DepressionAdvanced Sexual TechniquesAfter SuicideAfter the Ecstasy, the LaundryAge-Proof Your MindAnswers for AristotleAnxiety, Phobias, and PanicAre You Fully Charged?Authentic HappinessAwakening Self-EsteemBe Honest--You're Not That Into Him EitherBeating the BluesBecoming OrgasmicBeen There, Done That? DO THIS!Better Sex Through YogaBetter Than EverBeyond AddictionBibliotherapyBinge No MoreBipolar DisorderBlinkBoomers Really Can Put Old On HoldBrain LongevityBrainstormBread Upon the WatersBreak Through PainBreathingBringing Up ParentsBuddhist Boot CampBullyBut I Love HimCalm EnergyCalm Focus JoyCan't Eat, Won't EatCancer on $5 a Day* *(chemo not included)Caring in Remembered WaysChained to the DeskChange Your AgeChange Your Brain, Change Your LifeChange Your ThinkingChildren of the Aging Self-AbsorbedChildren of the Self-AbsorbedConceptual BlockbustingConquer Your Critical Inner VoiceConquering Postpartum DepressionConquering Shame and CodependencyCoping With Difficult PeopleCoping with Infuriating, Mean, Critical PeopleCoping With TraumaCreative Writing In Health And Social CareCrossing the Unknown SeaDance the Chakras Yoga WorkoutDaydreamingDe-Stress Your Life in 7 Easy StepsDealing with a NarcissistDefying DementiaDelivered from DistractionDematerializingDepression FalloutDepression-Free for LifeDivorce PoisonDoing ItDone With The CryingDown and Dirty Sex SecretsDr. Andrew Weil's Guide to Optimum HealthDr. Weisinger's Anger Work-Out BookDying to Be ThinEasy YogaEmbarrassing Medical ProblemsEmbracing UncertaintyEmotional Chaos to ClarityEmotional ClaustrophobiaEmotional Fitness for IntimacyEmotional IntelligenceEnjoying Guilty PleasuresEssays on Philosophical CounselingEvamarie Pilipuf's Yoga Express DVDEvery Day Yoga for Every Body DVDEveryday GreensExercise for Mood and AnxietyFailureFamily Desk Reference to Psychology Family FirstFast Food for the SoulFat and FuriousFatal FlawsFear and Other Uninvited GuestsFeeding Your ChildFinding Meaning in the Second Half of LifeFlow: The Psychology of Optimal ExperienceFluid Power Vinyasa Flow YogaFlying ColorsForgive Your Parents, Heal YourselfFreaks, Geeks and Asperger SyndromeFrom Sabotage to SuccessFull Steam Ahead!Getting a Good Night's SleepGetting ControlGetting over Getting MadGetting the Love You WantGetting the Love You Want Audio CompanionGetting Your Life BackGirl StuffGirlWiseGod Never BlinksGoddess WorshipGoing DownGoing Home without Going CrazyGood MedicineGoodbye, ThingsGrieving Mental IllnessGuilt, Shame, and AnxietyHalf Empty, Half FullHe's Just Not That Into YouHeal & Forgive IIHealing ADDHealing through ExerciseHealthy AgingHonoring GriefHooking UpHot ButtonsHow Full Is Your Bucket?How I Stayed Alive When My Brain Was Trying to Kill MeHow Philosophy Can Save Your LifeHow Proust Can Change Your LifeHow Successful People ThinkHow to Change Someone You LoveHow to Give Her Absolute PleasureHow to Handle a Hard-To-Handle KidHow to Have Magnificent SexHow to Keep Your Teenager Out of Trouble and What to Do If You Can'tHow to Live Well Without Owning a CarHow to Make Great Love to a ManHow to Make Great Love to a WomanHow to Stay SaneHow to Stop Feeling Like ShitHypnography for MenHypnography for WomenI AMI am PotentialI Saw It HappenI Wasn't Ready to Say GoodbyeI'd Rather LaughI'm OK, You're My ParentsIllness and the Art of Creative Self-ExpressionIn the Mood, AgainIntroduction to Qi YogaIt's Called a Breakup Because It's BrokenIt's Not as Bad as It SeemsJudo with WordsKripalu YogaKripalu Yoga Dynamic DVDKripalu Yoga Gentle DVDKundalini Yoga MeditationKundalini Yoga to Detox and Destress DVDLearn to RelaxLearned OptimismLearning Outside the Lines Letting Go of AngerLies! Lies! Lies!Life MakeoversLife StrategiesLife's WorkLifting DepressionLiving the TruthLiving Well with Pain and IllnessLiving with AnxietyLiving Your Best LifeLiving Your DreamLost in the MirrorLove & SurvivalLove Your Body, Love Your LifeLoving Someone With Bipolar DisorderLunar Flow YogaMadhur Jaffrey's World VegetarianMake It CountMaking a Good Brain GreatMaking ADD WorkMaking Your Mind MatterManaging Your MindManic DepressionMastering Anger and AggressionMastering the Power of Self-hypnosisMaui PilatesMeditation for Optimum HealthMeditation in a New York MinuteMind MappingMind-Body Workbook for AnxietyMindfulness for BeginnersMindfulness for Urban Depression: Tools for Relief from Stressful City LivingModerate DrinkingMotherstylesMozart's Brain and the Fighter PilotNapkin NotesNatural Healing for DepressionNew Hope for People with DepressionNo Enemies WithinNo More AnxietyNot Your Mother's LifeObsessive-Compulsive Disorder DemystifiedOne Last Hug Before I GoOrgasmOrgasmsOutsmarting DepressionOutsmarting OvereatingOver 100 Truly Astonishing Sex TipsOvercoming Compulsive CheckingOvercoming Compulsive HoardingOvercoming DepressionOvercoming Obsessive ThoughtsOvercoming the Fear of FearOvercoming Your Difficult FamilyPain Free for LifePain Free for WomenParanoia of Everyday LifeParenting Children With ADHDPassionate VegetarianPlan BPlanning for UncertaintyPlato, Not Prozac!Position Of The Day PlaybookPositivityPotatoes Not ProzacPower Yoga: Fat BurnerPowerfully Recovered!PredatorsPreventing Misbehavior in ChildrenProcrastinationProcrastinationProtecting the GiftPsychology Moment by MomentQiGong IllustratedQuantum Memory PowerRaising a Self-StarterRaising Kids in an Age of TerrorRaising Resilient ChildrenReady for AnythingReal Solutions for Overcoming Internet AddictionsRecovery from AddictionRelationship RescueRespect-Me RulesRitalin is Not the Answer Action GuideRomantic IntelligenceSabbathSecrets of a Passionate MarriageSelf MattersSelf-CoachingSelf-CompassionSelf-Help NationSelf-Help Stuff That WorksSelf-Help Without the HypeSelf-NurtureSeven Life Lessons from Noah's ArkSex and SpiritSex DetoxSex PositionsSex Q & ASextasySexual PleasureSleep BetterSolar Flow Yoga DVDSoulmatesSpiritually Healing the Indigo Children (and Adult Indigos, Too!)Spontaneous HealingStanding at Water's EdgeStaying Connected to Your TeenagerStaying Sane When Your Family Comes to VisitStop Arguing with Your KidsStop Caretaking the Borderline or NarcissistStop Me Because I Can't Stop Myself Stop OverreactingStop Smoking and Chewing Tobacco for Life ChangesStop Walking on EggshellsStraight Talk about Your Child's Mental HealthStress ReliefStrong, Smart, & BoldSun SalutationsSunbathing in the RainSurviving a Borderline ParentSurviving Manic DepressionSurviving Sexual ViolenceTaking Charge of ADHD, Revised EditionTaking Charge of AngerTaking Charge of Anger: Six Steps to Asserting Yourself without Losing ControlTaming Your Inner BratTeen Angst? NaaahTen Minutes to RelaxThank You for Being Such a PainThe 10 Best Anxiety BustersThe 5 Reasons Why We OvereatThe 7 Secrets of the ProlificThe Anger WorkbookThe Antidepressant Survival ProgramThe Art of Becoming HumanThe Art of Exceptional LivingThe Beginner's Guide to Healthy EatingThe Better Sex Guide to the Kama SutraThe Betty Ford Center Book of AnswersThe Bipolar Disorder Survival GuideThe Breakout PrincipleThe Bully, the Bullied, and the BystanderThe Chronic Pain SolutionThe Complete Vegetarian HandbookThe Consolations of PhilosophyThe Core Question: Who Am I?The Crowdsourced Performance ReviewThe Emotional Eater's Repair ManualThe Emotional RevolutionThe End-of-Life HandbookThe Essential Guide to Prescription Drugs 2005The Essential KamasutraThe Feeling Good HandbookThe Five Things We Cannot Change ...The Game of TruthThe Gift of FearThe Gift of ShynessThe Good Vibrations Guide to SexThe Guide for International Intercultural Couples and Families Intercultural MarriageThe Happy Hook-UpThe Healing JourneyThe Healing Journey for CouplesThe Healing Journey Through GriefThe Healing Power of PetsThe Identity CodeThe Illustrated Guide to Extended Massive OrgasmThe Inside Story on Teen GirlsThe Introvert AdvantageThe Intuitive WriterThe Irritable Male SyndromeThe Jewel Tree of TibetThe Joy of MeditatingThe Last Self-Help Book You'll Ever NeedThe Light of DiscoveryThe Little Book of Healthy TeasThe Little Yoga BookThe Magic of Thinking BigThe Making of Dr. PhilThe Male Stress Survival GuideThe Money WorkbookThe Mood CureThe Mozart EffectThe Myth of Self-EsteemThe New Cancer SurvivorsThe New Rational TherapyThe OASIS Guide to Asperger SyndromeThe OCD WorkbookThe Passion PlanThe Pilates Workout JournalThe Pill Book Guide to Natural MedicinesThe Places That Scare YouThe Pocket Life CoachThe Porn TrapThe Power of FocusThe Power of Full EngagementThe Power of Negative ThinkingThe Power of PlayThe Power of Self-CoachingThe Pursuit of PerfectThe Quest for Peace, Love, and a 24'' WaistThe Real Rules for GirlsThe Secret of LifeThe Secret Strength of DepressionThe Self ImprovedThe Self-Compassion Skills WorkbookThe Self-Help SourcebookThe Sex Addiction WorkbookThe Spa DeckThe Stoic Art of LivingThe Stress CureThe Stress Less WorkbookThe Stress Owner's ManualThe Stress Reduction Workbook for TeensThe SuperStress SolutionThe Ten Minute Sexual SolutionThe Therapy for the SaneThe Truth About Chronic PainThe Ultimate Guide to Sex and DisabilityThe Van Gogh BluesThe Way of StretchingThe Way of the JournalThe Way of TransitionThe Weblog HandbookThe Why CaféThe Worst-Case Scenario Survival HandbookThere's a Spiritual Solution to Every ProblemThings Might Go Terribly, Horribly WrongThink Confident, Be ConfidentThink NakedThink SmartThinking for a ChangeThis Is HowTotal PilatesTrain Your Brain to Get HappyTrain Your Brain to Get RichTransformation Trauma in the Lives of ChildrenUltimate SexUnderstanding the Borderline MotherUndoing DepressionUnhappy TeenagersUnlock the Genius WithinUntangling the WebVirtual AddictionWaking Up to What You DoWay to Be!What We Say MattersWhat Women WantWhat's Happening to My Body? Book for BoysWhat's Holding You Back? When a Family Member Has DementiaWhen a Parent is DepressedWhen in Doubt, Make BeliefWhen Perfect Isn't Good EnoughWhen Someone You Love Is DepressedWhen Things Fall ApartWhen Words Are Not EnoughWhen Your Body Gets the BluesWhen Your Child Has an Eating DisorderWherever You Go, There You AreWhy Can't I Change?Why Is It Always About You?Why Smart Executives FailWorried All the TimeWoulda, Coulda, ShouldaWriting as a Sacred PathWriting in FlowWriting to HealYes, Your Teen Is Crazy!Yoga 4 TeensYoga as MedicineYoga for EveryoneYoga for MeditatorsYoga for OsteoporosisYoga for Pain ReliefYoga for Regular Guys DVDYoga for the Young at HeartYoga on DemandYoga Weight Loss for DummiesYou Are Not AloneYou Are Not Your IllnessYou Can Think Yourself ThinYou'll See It When You Believe ItYour Body Speaks Your MindYour Brain on FoodYour Child, Bully or Victim?Zen Sex
There was a time when books by serious philosophers about serious philosophical issues targeted specifically at a non-specialist audience were more common. I'm thinking her of authors like Mortimer Adler and Will Durant. That they are now so rare perhaps indicates a commensurate decline in an intelligent reading public, particularly in the United States, in the latter half of the last century. But that audience may be again growing if a recent trend in publishing is a measure of such things. Julian Bagginini and Alain De Botton, to name only two prominent examples, seem to have had some recent success in addressing serious philosophy to general audiences. Now Massimo Pigliucci's Answers for Aristotle offers us a similar approach. But there is this interesting difference. As the book's sub-title indicates, Pigliucci offers discussions of what science adds to what current philosophy has to say on a number of issues of importance to human living.
Answers for Aristotle is a sort of self-help book. It is meant to offer human beings a way of making sense out of, and progress in resolving, a number of problems and puzzles that are an inevitably nagging part of being human. So Pigliucci offers us what he says he's been practicing all his life, what he calls "sci-phi." This is the "wisdom (and practical advice!) that comes from contemplating the world and our lives using the two most powerful approaches to knowledge that human beings have devised so far: philosophy and science" (2). What he wants to help people avoid is the all too intellectually easy lapse into superstition, mysticism, and religion. Pigliucci acknowledges that his "crucial assumption" about his reading audience, is "that you are interested in using reason and evidence to guide your life and make it better (17). This is a major assumption indeed.
The 312-page book is divided into six parts of two to four chapters each and includes an introductory and concluding chapter, an index, and a "digging deeper" list of further reading. The five main parts of the book deal with the perennial issues of morality, epistemology, free will, love and friendship, politics, and gods and religion. The introductory chapter, "Sci-Phi and the Meaning of Life," appropriately lays out some of the author's assumptions and defines key terms. Pigliuci believes with the ancient Greeks that "life is a project and the most important thing for us to do is to ask ourselves how we are to pursue it" (6). Meaningfully facing life's problems requires, among other things, the pertinent facts and the values that guide us as we evaluate those facts (2). Science gives us the facts, of course. And, according to Pigliucci, philosophy clarifies and defines our values. In fact, Pigliucci identifies philosophy as "the broadest possible discipline" as "it deals with our most basic tool for knowing and communicating things, it in some sense encompasses all of human knowledge" (13).
"Sci-fi" is mean to offer us guidance for living, "to let philosophy (informed by science) guide us in principle, and to use science (steered by philosophy) as our best bet for implementing those principles" (220). For the most part, Pigliucci does a good job of demonstrating this claim. His typical approach to a chapter is to explain recent scientific studies having to do with an interesting problem of living and then to explain how philosophers have helped to clarify or make sense out of these concerns. To pick just one example from the book that might be of special interest to readers of the Metapsychology website, consider the part of the book entitled "Love and Friendship." In chapter 11, "The Hormones of Love," Pigliucci lays out for us how scientists have found that smell and hormones play a significant role in how we choose our partners and pairs the discussion of current science with current philosophical distinctions about the concept of love. The next chapter continues in this vein with a discussion of the science and philosophy of friendship. These chapters, like most in Answers for Aristotle, make for a very interesting read.
I once heard someone say that everyone had an opinion about Karl Marx, but most of those people never read anything Marx wrote. Virtually everyone I meet has an opinion about what philosophy is, but most of them have never read a real philosopher. That, combined with my experience with thousands of undergraduate students in my various philosophy courses over the years, has taught me that there are many misconceptions out there about philosophy and its various sub-fields. I say this to emphasize how careful teachers and authors must be in their choice of words when dealing with the kinds of issues dealt with in Answers for Aristotle. In spite of specifically addressing some misconceptions about philosophy, I don't know that Pigliucci is always as careful as he should be in his choice of words.
Consider the title of this chapter: "A handy-dandy menu for building your own moral theory." First, the phrase 'handy-dandy' is perhaps a bit casual. But the rest of the title, "how to build your own moral theory," smacks of just the sort of relativism that at other places in the book Pigliucci rails against. This chapter does not advocate anything like a simplistic moral relativism that so many people embrace. But the title itself suggests just that sort of thing. Consider this comment: "...I am particularly sympathetic to virtue ethics because I find the idea of flourishing as a lifelong project attractive, and because I easily recognize my own akratic tendencies" (73). I wonder whether Pigliucci would advocate choosing scientific theories based on what his personality traits led him to find "attractive" in them.
One of the misconceptions about philosophy that Pigliucci confronts is the idea that philosophy makes no progress. On the contrary, says Pigliucci, philosophy "makes progress when it understands better and better the meaning and implications of human concepts and how they relate to the world (15). One would have hoped for some specific examples of how philosophers have contributed to moral progress. In the part of Answers for Aristotle concerned with moral philosophy, Pigliucci runs through the three ethical theories most often in discussed in every intro to philosophy or introduction to ethics text books and shows how each and every one of them is more or less inadequate in offering specific guidance to us as to what the right thing to do is in any given case. So readers of this book, like countless undergraduate readers of the standard philosophy textbooks, are left to wonder whether philosophers have contributed to moral progress at all, or have these readers just been offered confirmation of their misconceptions of philosophy.
The ordering of the topics in the book sometimes did not make sense to me. There seemed to be no reason why the parts of the book were offered in the sequence offered. Readers might well get the impression that one part of the book has little or nothing to do with another, when there seem to be some fairly straightforward connections among the topics that would lead to rather natural flow from one topic to the next. For example, I would have paired the topic of morality (now Part I) with politics (Part V), as Aristotle himself suggested that there is an intimate relationship between these concerns.
When all is said and done, Answers for Aristotle is a good read. It is well-written, with lively and clear prose. It makes accessible a good amount of scientific and philosophic research while managing an engaging, light style. I believe this book would be of great interest to visitors to the Metapsychology website given its discussion of a number of interesting psychological and sociological studies.
© 2013 Ben Mulvey
Ben Mulvey, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the College of Arts and Sciences of Nova Southeastern University. He received his doctorate in philosophy from Michigan State University specializing in political theory and applied ethics. He teaches philosophy at NSU and is a member of the board of advisors of the Florida Bioethics Network.