Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Maimonides and Spinoza


Maimonides and Spinoza: Their Conflicting Views of Human Nature. By Joshua Parens. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2012. 240 Pages. Cloth $40. ISBN: 9780226645742.

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Joshua Parens begins his Maimonides and Spinoza by indicating that “[s]ince the 1960s, it has become commonplace to argue that Maimonides, not Spinoza, fired one of the first salvos in modernity or our modern secular world,” a view popularized by Harry A. Wolfson, Shlomo Pines, and Warren Zev Harvey. However, this was not always the case, as Maimonides had long been treated as “a great defender of Judaism,” and Spinoza as “one of its great opponents.” Parens suggests that not only is this latter characterization more accurate, but that returning to this long held position reveals a great deal more. Indeed, it shows the “distance [of Maimonides] from our own world and viewpoint, which has been so deeply shaped by the thought of Spinoza” (1).

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Priority in Aristotle


Priority in Aristotle’s Metaphysics. By Michail Peramatzis. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011. Pp. xi+329. Hard Cover £58. ISBN: 978-0-19-958835-0. 

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We are not done with it yet. Given how much work has already been done on Aristotle’s Metaphysics (hereafter, Meta.), today’s students and scholars of ancient philosophy might have come to doubt the need, usefulness, or even the allure of another study focused on the immense work. And by and large, when Aristotle’s metaphysical views appear in contemporary work, they typically do so only to serve as an authority that justifies the consideration of a non-Quinean metaphysics. Neo-Aristotelians dutifully cite Aristotle as the premier historical example of a metaphysician who subscribed to a hierarchical or ‘levels’ view of reality, and subsequently dive into talk of dependence, priority, and grounding, with not much else to say about the Stagirite. Accordingly, it is no surprise that Aristotle’s technical, fine-grained metaphysical claims—the kind of thing one is sure to find in the most difficult passages of books Z, Q, and L—are rarely the focus of long and careful scrutiny by contemporary metaphysicians.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Knowledge Ascriptions


Knowledge Ascriptions. Edited by Jessica Brown & Mikkel Gerken. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012. Pp. 320. Hard Cover £46.99. ISBN: 978-0-19-969370-2.

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This collection of essays brings together recent work being done in the fields of epistemology and philosophy of language concerning knowledge ascriptions—that is, ascriptions of the form, “S knows that p,” wherein S stands for a subject and p stands for a proposition. The volume contains twelve chapters, the first of which is a very well-organized and informative introduction by the editors, Jessica Brown and Mikkel Gerken. The editors state that “[t]he pre­sent anthology brings together a number of diverse strands of con­temporary research that have focused on knowledge ascriptions” (1). The introduction then is structured around a discussion of three such strands, which the editors refer to as “the linguistic turn,” “the cognitive turn” and “the social turn,” respectively.

Probability in the Philosophy of Religion


Probability in the Philosophy of Religion. Edited by Jake Chandler & Victoria S. Harrison. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012. Pp. 272. Hard Cover £42, ISBN: 978-0-19-960476-0.

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In addition to an introductory essay written by the editors, this volume contains eleven essays comprising five sections: ‘Testimony and Miracles,’ ‘Design,’ ‘Evil,’ ‘Pascal’s Wager,’ and ‘Faith and Disagreement.’ In the introduction Chandler and Harrison provide a helpful overview of the eleven other essays along with a description of how the essays both contribute to a long tradition of philosophical questioning about God and religion (with emphasis on the conversation that has ensued since Hume) and exemplify certain contemporary trends in analytic philosophy of religion. They also comment, unsurprisingly, on the benefits (as well as potential pitfalls) of formalization in philosophy of religion. The arguments in the eleven essays differ both in the degree to which they depend on formalization and in the level of complexity of the formalization involved. The essays also differ in the degree to which controversial assumptions about probability or decision theory (e.g., subjective Bayesianism, a “structure-description” approach to inductive logic, etc.) are assumed or are needed for the arguments to succeed.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

A Buddho-Nietzschean Response to Nihilism


Nietzsche and Buddhist Philosophy. By Antoine Panaïoti. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013. Pp. 244. Hard Cover $95. ISBN: 978-1-107-03162-3. 

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Antoine Panaïoti’s Nietzsche and Buddhist Philosophy is perhaps a different book than you might expect. Rather than simply an exercise in comparison and contrast—which could indeed be extremely useful in itself—the book is mostly an effort to combine insights from both Nietzsche and Buddhism into Panaïoti’s own positive response to what he calls the “challenge of nihilism.” For Panaïoti, philosophers today work in a world where reification is a dead prospect. Being is a fiction. All that’s left is flux, and the problem is how to respond to it.