28 September 2012

Now THIS is a real self-help book

No simplistic aphorisms. No New Age mumbo-jumbo. No treacly flattery, or cheery exhortations to ‘think positive’. Just science and philosophy, presented by someone who is adept at both.

I’m a regular reader of Massimo Pigliucci’s blog Rationally Speaking, where he and his co-bloggers take a philosophical approach to topics of common human concern: ethics, politics, religion, economics, education, science, technology, art, culture, emotions, consciousness. Pigliucci is a trained biologist who currently teaches philosophy at the City University of New York, and his new book Answers for Aristotle: How Science and Philosophy Can Lead Us to a More Meaningful Life is essentially a physical manifestation of his life’s work: to show how science and philosophy reinforce each other in creating knowledge and wisdom, in helping us understand both the world and ourselves. As he puts it:

The basic idea is to explore “the big questions” (you know, the usual suspects: morality, relationships, politics) from the joint perspective of the best science and the most compelling philosophy available to date. After all, the standard answers to those questions come from either religion or folk wisdom, the first one being based on imaginary entities and their arbitrary pronouncements, and the second being, shall we say, somewhat more fallible than one would wish.

In this respect Pigliucci differs from notable intellectuals like Sam Harris, Stephen Hawking and Lawrence Krauss, since these three (to varying degrees) place greater store by science than philosophy. Pigliucci has taken both Harris and Krauss to task for their dismissive attitude to philosophy and corresponding glorification of science. I used to be sympathetic to Harris’s argument that science can answer moral questions, but Pigliucci’s counter-arguments were very persuasive. While I still dislike the term ‘scientism’ (used pejoratively to imply a reductionist worldview, which I think is inaccurate and unfair), I do agree with Pigliucci that good science requires sound philosophical premises and justifications, and that the ‘big questions’ cannot all be answered by science alone.

Answers for Aristotle is definitely going on my to-read list. I have a feeling that it will be ‘meatier’ than similar self-improvement books by philosophers like Alain De Botton or AC Grayling, due to the science. Judging by his blog posts and magazine articles, Pigliucci is an eloquent, knowledgeable writer who can bridge the (perhaps illusory) gap between science and philosophy for his readers, enriching their lives in the process.



  1. I have a feeling that it will be ‘meatier’ than similar self-improvement books by philosophers like Alain De Botton or AC Grayling, due to the science

  2. Worth reading book,I have found some excellent information from your book Answers for Aristotle,By this I have overcome many of my frights like stage one,The stage fright when peeing can be a big relief though.