Philosophy made relevant by writers grappling with thorny issues.
For this eclectic, lively gathering of essays, New York Times online opinion editor Catapano and philosophy professor Critchley (New School for Social Research; Faith of the Faithless: Experiments in Political Theology, 2012, etc.) have selected 133 pieces from about 350 published in the Times’ online series The Stone. Launched in 2010, the series invites contributions “on issues both timely and timeless” from writers who may or may not identify themselves as philosophers. Any thinker will do, including journalists moved by the urgency of current events. The series’ name comes from the “legendarily transformative” philosopher’s stone, a magical, mystical material with the power of changing base metals to gold. That etymology suggests a grander project than these editors have in mind. Their goal is to publish thoughtful, provocative, accessible pieces that may persuade readers that philosophy—defined broadly—matters. Critchley is a major contributor, with eight essays on topics such as love, faith, and the desire for revenge incited by 9/11. University of Notre Dame philosopher Gary Gutting also appears repeatedly, with essays on mind (depression, consciousness), existentialism, and the controversy over gun control. Readers will find some familiar names among contributors—biologist E.O. Wilson, activist Peter Singer, cognitive psychologist Stephen Pinker—but many are academic philosophers able to make Hegel, Spinoza, Schopenhauer, and Simone Weil relevant for general readers. The editors provide a preface for each of four sections: on the discipline of philosophy; the contribution of science to “the riddle of the human species”; vexing questions about religion, morality, and God; and society, which includes reflections on economics, politics, family, race (including the killing of Trayvon Martin), violence (including the Sandy Hook school shootings), and America’s fierce attachment to what Firmin DeBrabander calls “robust individualism and self-determination.”
Serious pieces that serve as counterweights to the frothy blogosphere.