Books

Books by Philosophy Day speakers

The Conscious Brain: How Attention Engenders Experience, by Jesse Prinz. The problem of consciousness continues to be a subject of great debate in cognitive science. Synthesizing decades of research, The Conscious Brain advances a new theory of the psychological and neurophysiological correlates of conscious experience. Prinz’s account of consciousness makes two main claims: first consciousness always arises at a particular stage of perceptual processing, the intermediate level, and, second, consciousness depends on attention. Attention changes the flow of information allowing perceptual information to access memory systems. Neurobiologically, this change in flow depends on synchronized neural firing. Neural synchrony is also implicated in the unity of consciousness and in the temporal duration of experience.

Existentialism and Romantic Love, by Skye Cleary. This book is an existential study of romantic loving. It draws on five existential philosophers to offer insights into what is wrong with our everyday ideas about romantic loving, why reality often falls short of the ideal, sources of frustrations and disappointments, and possibilities for creating authentically meaningful relationships. Cleary’s book is a wonderful introduction to some key philosophical thinkers. Even if readers are searching for minor exposures to existentialism, Cleary ties together a lot of their larger ideas under the umbrella of romance. … The book is a step in unhinging love from its banality and its honest and accessible approach should be an interest philosophers of relationships and love.

Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away, by Rebecca Goldstein. Is philosophy obsolete? Are the ancient questions still relevant in the age of cosmology and neuroscience, not to mention crowd-sourcing and cable news? The acclaimed philosopher and novelist Rebecca Newberger Goldstein provides a dazzlingly original plunge into the drama of philosophy, revealing its hidden role in today’s debates on religion, morality, politics, and science. Imagine that Plato came to life in the twenty-first century and embarked on a multicity speaking tour. How would he handle the host of a cable news program who denies there can be morality without religion? How would he mediate a debate between a Freudian psychoanalyst and a tiger mom on how to raise the perfect child? How would he answer a neuroscientist who, about to scan Plato’s brain, argues that science has definitively answered the questions of free will and moral agency? What would Plato make of Google, and of the idea that knowledge can be crowd-sourced rather than reasoned out by experts? With a philosopher’s depth and a novelist’s imagination and wit, Goldstein probes the deepest issues confronting us by allowing us to eavesdrop on Plato as he takes on the modern world.

Ethics in the Real World: 82 Brief Essays on Things That Matter, by Peter Singer. In this book of brief essays, Peter Singer — described as one of the world’s most influential philosophers — applies his controversial ways of thinking to issues like climate change, extreme poverty, animals, abortion, euthanasia, human genetic selection, sports doping, the sale of kidneys, the ethics of high-priced art, and ways of increasing happiness. Singer asks whether chimpanzees are people, smoking should be outlawed, or consensual sex between adult siblings should be decriminalized, and he reiterates his case against the idea that all human life is sacred, applying his arguments to some recent cases in the news. In addition, he explores, in an easily accessible form, some of the deepest philosophical questions, such as whether anything really matters and what is the value of the pale blue dot that is our planet. The collection also includes some more personal reflections, like Singer’s thoughts on one of his favorite activities, surfing, and an unusual suggestion for starting a family conversation over a holiday feast.

The Future of Whiteness, by Linda Alcoff. White identity is in ferment. White, European Americans living in the United States will soon share an unprecedented experience of slipping below 50% of the population. The impending demographic shifts are already felt in most urban centers and the effect is a national backlash of hyper-mobilized political, and sometimes violent, activism with a stated aim that is simultaneously vague and deadly clear: ‘to take our country back.’ Meanwhile the spectre of ‘minority status’ draws closer, and the material advantages of being born white are eroding. This is the political and cultural reality tackled by Linda Martín Alcoff in The Future of Whiteness. She argues that whiteness is here to stay, at least for a while, but that half of whites have given up on ideas of white supremacy, and the shared public, material culture is more integrated than ever. More and more, whites are becoming aware of how they appear to non-whites, both at home and abroad, and this is having profound effects on white identity in North America. The young generation of whites today, as well as all those who follow, will have never known a country in which they could take white identity as the unchallenged default that dominates the political, economic and cultural leadership. Change is on the horizon, and the most important battleground is among white people themselves.