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Truth, Contemporary Philosophy, and the Postmodern Turn

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It is difficult to think of a topic of greater concern than the nature of truth. Indeed, truth and the knowledge thereof are the very rails upon which people ought to live their lives. And over the centuries, the classic correspondence theory of truth has outlived most of its critics. But these are postmodern times, or so we are often told, and the classic model, once ensconced deeply in the Western psyche, must now be replaced by a neopragmatist or some other anti-realist model of truth, at least for those concerned with the rampant victimization raging all around us. Thus, “we hold these truths to be self evident” now reads “our socially constructed selves arbitrarily agree that certain chunks of language are to be esteemed in our linguistic community.” Something has gone wrong here, and paraphrasing the words of Mad magazine’s Alfred E. Newman, “We came, we saw, and we conked out!”

Francis Schaeffer on Hippies and the Mechanistic View of Nature

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The hippies of the 1960s did understand something. They were right in fighting the plastic culture, and the church should have been fighting it too … More than this, they were right in the fact that the plastic culture – modern man, the mechanistic worldview in university textbooks and in practice, the total threat of the machine, the establishment technology, the bourgeois upper middle class – is poor in its sensitivity to nature… As a utopian group, the counterculture understands something very real, both as to the culture as a culture, but also as to the poverty of modern man’s concept of nature and the way the machine is eating up nature on every side.

Five Proofs of the Existence of God

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Five Proofs of the Existence of God provides a detailed, updated exposition and defense of five of the historically most important (but in recent years largely neglected) philosophical proofs of God’s existence: the Aristotelian proof, the Neo-Platonic proof, the Augustinian proof, the Thomistic proof, and the Rationalist proof. This book also offers a detailed treatment of each of the key divine attributes — unity, simplicity, eternity, omnipotence, omniscience, perfect goodness, and so forth — showing that they must be possessed by the God whose existence is demonstrated by the proofs. Finally, it answers at length all of the objections that have been leveled against these proofs. This book offers as ambitious and complete a defense of traditional natural theology as is currently in print. Its aim is to vindicate the view of the greatest philosophers of the past — thinkers like Aristotle, Plotinus, Augustine, Aquinas, Leibniz, and many others — that the existence of God can be established with certainty by way of purely rational arguments. It thereby serves as a refutation both of atheism and of the fideism which gives aid and comfort to atheism.

Paul Johnson on the Humbling Lessons of History

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The study of history is a powerful antidote to contemporary arrogance. It is humbling to discover how many of our glib assumptions, which seem to us novel and plausible, have been tested before, not once but many times and in innumerable guises; and discovered to be, at great human cost, wholly false. It is sobering, too, to find huge and frightening errors constantly repeated; lessons painfully learnt forgotten in the space of a generation; and the accumulated wisdom of the past heedlessly ignored in every society, and at all times.

The Metaphysical Club

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The Metaphysical Club was an informal group that met in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1872, to talk about ideas. Its members included Oliver Well Holmes, Jr., future associate justice of the United States Supreme Court; William James, the father of modern American psychology; and Charles Sanders Peirce, logician, scientist, and the founder of semiotics. The Club was probably in existence for about nine months. No records were kept. The one thing we know that came out of it was an idea — an idea about ideas. This book is the story of that idea. Holmes, James, and Peirce all believed that ideas are not things “out there” waiting to be discovered but are tools people invent — like knives and forks and microchips — to make their way in the world. They thought that ideas are produced not by individuals, but by groups of individuals — that ideas are social. They do not develop according to some inner logic of their own but are entirely dependent — like germs — on their human carriers and environment. And they thought that the survival of any idea depends not on its immutability but on its adaptability.

Free: Why Science Hasn’t Disproved Free Will

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There are neuroscientists who claim that our decisions are made unconsciously and are therefore outside of our control and social psychologists who argue that myriad imperceptible factors influence even our minor decisions to the extent that there is no room for free will. According to philosopher Alfred R. Mele, what they point to as hard and fast evidence that free will cannot exist actually leaves much room for doubt. If we look more closely at the major experiments that free will deniers cite, we can see large gaps where the light of possibility shines through. Mele lays out his opponents’ experiments simply and clearly, and proceeds to debunk their supposed findings, one by one, explaining how the experiments don’t provide the solid evidence for which they have been touted. There is powerful evidence that conscious decisions play an important role in our lives, and knowledge about situational influences can allow people to respond to those influences rationally rather than with blind obedience.

The Unity of Consciousness

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In The Unity of Consciousness Tim Bayne draws on philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience in defence of the claim that consciousness is unified. In the first part of the book Bayne develops an account of what it means to say that consciousness is unified. Part II applies this account to a variety of cases – drawn from both normal and pathological forms of experience – in which the unity of consciousness is said to break down. Bayne argues that the unity of consciousness remains intact in each of these cases. Part III explores the implications of the unity of consciousness for theories of consciousness, for the sense of embodiment, and for accounts of the self. In one of the most comprehensive examinations of the topic available, The Unity of Consciousness draws on a wide range of findings within philosophy and the sciences of the mind to construct an account of the unity of consciousness that is both conceptually sophisticated and scientifically informed.

Pierre-Louis Moreau de Maupertuis on “Gene Theory”, Mutation, and Descent with Modification in 1751

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Could we not explain in this way [mutation] how from two individuals alone the multiplication of the most dissimilar species might have resulted? Their origin would be owing only to certain fortuitous products [chance], in which the elementary particles failed to retain the order they possessed in the father and mother animals; each degree of error would have created a new species; and by dint of repeated divergences there would have come about the infinite diversity of animals that we see today; which will perhaps still increase with time, but to which the passage of centuries will perhaps bring only imperceptible additions.

A Fortunate Universe

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Over the last forty years, scientists have uncovered evidence that if the Universe had been forged with even slightly different properties, life as we know it — and life as we can imagine it — would be impossible. Join us on a journey through how we understand the Universe, from its most basic particles and forces, to planets, stars and galaxies, and back through cosmic history to the birth of the cosmos. Conflicting notions about our place in the Universe are defined, defended and critiqued from scientific, philosophical and religious viewpoints. The authors’ engaging and witty style addresses what fine-tuning might mean for the future of physics and the search for the ultimate laws of nature. Tackling difficult questions and providing thought-provoking answers, this volumes challenges us to consider our place in the cosmos, regardless of our initial convictions.

F. Scott Fitzgerald on Holding Opposing Ideas in the Mind

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Let me make a general observation — the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise. … I must hold in balance the sense of the futility of effort and the sense of the necessity to struggle; the conviction of the inevitability of failure and still the determination to “succeed” — and, more than these, the contradiction between the dead hand of the past and the high intentions for the future.