Thematic collections of essays written by yours truly over the years. (All links lead to free downloadable versions of the booklets.)
The Nature of Philosophy: How Philosophy Makes Progress and Why It Matters (2017). (Free pdf of the original collection of essays.) The Nature of Philosophy is an exploration of the bewildering variety of philosophical inquiries, from the Western style(s) to the Eastern one(s), from so-called Analytic to Continental philosophy. The book asks whether philosophy makes progress, and if so, in what sense. The answer comes from an analysis of different ways in which a field may progress, and from a comparison between philosophy and a number of allied fields, such as the natural sciences, mathematics and logic. The conclusion is that philosophy does, indeed, make progress over time. Such progress is more similar to that which characterizes mathematics and logic than to that of science, although it features aspects of all those other disciplines. Progress in philosophy is largely a question of exploring conceptual landscapes defined by the specific philosophical question and a number of assumptions that help framing that question.
Footnotes to Plato (2015) I consider blogging to be a natural extension of my teaching and service at the City College of New York, where I am employed as a professor in the Department of Philosophy. That’s because it seems to me that if one is lucky enough to be able to pursue an academic career — with all the flexibility to follow one’s interests that it typically affords — then one ought to give something back to the community. This collection of essays from Plato’s Footnote is an instance of such. It presents 15 selected entries from the first year (nine months, really) of existence of the blog, with individual articles addressing issues in public and practical philosophy, the nature of philosophical inquiry, moral and social philosophy, logic and epistemology, and philosophy of science.
Scientistic Chronicles: Exploring the Limits, if Any, of the Scientific Enterprise (2015). Sixteen contributions, spanning a wide range of opinions about scientism, some directly addressing the use (or abuse) and understanding (or misunderstanding) of the term, some tackling instead a number of specific issues that often come up in discussions surrounding scientism. Philosopher John Shook even spells out 26 different meanings of the term, ordered alphabetically. In a direct commentary on that essay, Massimo Pigliucci discusses what he thinks are reasonable takes on each of the 26. Physicist Coel Hellier mounts a spirited defense of scientism, claiming that mathematics is actually a branch of science (as opposed to, say, being more akin to logic), while journalist Jim Baggott and physicist Peter Woit think that even some fields within fundamental physics barely qualify as science. On his part, philosopher Robert Nola distinguishes between scientism as claim, as a methodology, and as a type of epistemology (theory of knowledge).
The Relevance of Philosophy: A Systematic Answer to the Ultimate Annoying Question (2013). This booklet is meant as an extended response to the most common questions one gets about philosophy: what is philosophy? What has philosophy ever done for humanity? What is philosophy good for, in practice? Who did I ever hear of that actually studied philosophy? What have philosophers ever written that is worth reading? How come I never hear about philosophy in the press? The reader will find answers to all of that in these pages, which can be used by professionals and lovers of philosophy alike to help fight some of the most common misconceptions about philosophy, and perhaps help to rekindle people’s interest in its timeless pursuits.
A Skeptics’ Skeptic: Selected Essays from Rationally Speaking (2013). The skeptic / atheist / humanist (S/A/H, for short) community prides itself in its intellectualism and openness to reason and evidence, so it seems that it ought to critically examine its own tenets and positions, especially when espoused by prominent members of said community. We recoil from dogmas, and we don’t ostracize dissenting members of our community, immediately rushing to build a new church down the street. Or do we? Turns out, sometimes we do. Hence this Skeptics’ Skeptic collection, targeting some of the Big Boys of the S/A/H who can and should take some heat. These are writers who influence countless others, and they therefore bear the responsibility of writing rigorously as well as clearly. When they don’t, we should call them out.
Science & Metaphysics: Selected Essays from Rationally Speaking (2013). These days science and metaphysics are undergoing a somewhat more difficult relationship than in the time of Aristotle. On the one hand we have scientists like Stephen Hawking, Lawrence Krauss and Neil deGrasse Tyson (to name a few) who flat out reject all metaphysics as useless speculation. On the other hand there are metaphysicians within the so-called “analytic” tradition in philosophy who seem convinced that one can arrive at a rational view of the fundamentals of the world while gingerly ignoring science. The compromise idea explored here is that one simply cannot do metaphysics without science, but that science itself is insufficient to arrive at a project of unification of our knowledge of the world — conceptual (i.e., philosophical) analysis is also warranted.
Blogging as a Path to Self Knowledge (2012). The essays collected in this volume have been selected because they concern topics about which either the author changed his mind significantly, or they represent instances where he started out with an opinion that was not well formed and yet about which he had some intuitions, and the process of writing exposed, confirmed and elaborated upon those intuitions once the more sharply focused light of reasoned argument was aimed at them. The subject matter covered is varied, but the reader will easily pick up the common threads: all essays have to do with philosophical issues, particularly as they are informed by science. Whether we are talking about ethics, political philosophy, epistemology, or metaphysics, the idea is that a philosophical understanding is paramount, but that such understanding simply cannot afford to ignore the best available scientific knowledge.
Thinking about Science: Essays on the Nature of Science (2009). A collection of essays on the nature of science and its sometimes fuzzy distinction from pseudoscience. These pieces were originally published as a regular column in the magazine Skeptical Inquirer, one of the best sources of information available on controversies surrounding pseudoscience. Science is a human activity, and as such it is hampered by all the typical human frailties. Scientists are no less interested than anyone else in glory, money, and sex, not necessarily in that order. Yet, as philosophers of science have argued for some time now, science as a social activity manages to be remarkably objective and truth-augmenting. These essays look at science from both the point of view of a scientist and that of a philosopher, and have been written in the spirit that science and philosophy have much to gain from each other.
Rationally Speaking: Skeptical Essays on Reality as We Think We Know It (2009). A collection of essays by Professor Massimo Pigliucci, on topics ranging from science to philosophy, from politics to religion. Why would a professional scientist who spends most of his time working on fairly speciﬁc scientiﬁc puzzles concerning gene-environment interactions (what is often referred to as “nature-nurture” questions) spend a considerable amount of time and emotional energy writing electronic “messages in a bottle” to be entrusted to the capricious currents of the Internet? Because Pigliucci firmly believes that academics have a duty to society to be public intellectuals to combat the pervasive anti-intellectualism that has characterized American society almost from its inception, and which has been the object of much study by sociologists who have identiﬁed its various components.