Book Review: Answers for Aristotle

Answers for Aristotle: How Science and Philosophy Can Lead Us to A More Meaningful Life by Massimo Pigliucci

A few years ago I was looking for intellectually engaging podcasts to listen to, and happened upon Rationally Speaking hosted by Massimo Pigliucci and Julia Galef, which is about philosophy generally and often focusing on philosophy of science and applied rationality. Answers for Aristotle might reasonably be called a distillation of many of the episodes into one book, since as I was reading it I recognized many of the sections from segments of the podcast.

The subtitle of the book is “How Science and Philosophy Can Lead Us to a More Meaningful Life,” though I honestly felt like the science parts basically amounted to being unnecessary, like the comparison of reactions to various trolley dilemmas with brain scans. In fact, the book might be considered an antidote to premature proclamations that philosophy is unnecessary and that “science” can now solve all our problems. And this is coming from somebody more aligned with reductionism, determinism, materialism, and even scientism in a certain formulation. Philosophy matters. This was on display recently in a conversation between Pigliucci and Michael Shermer, where Shermer seemed utterly out of his depth.

The various sections of the book could be categorized roughly as: Ethics (how then do we live our lives?), epistemology (what is true and how do we come to know it?), philosophy of mind (just who are we anyway?), love and friendship, politics, and philosophy of religion.

I think of Answers for Aristotle as a kind of philosophy boot camp, getting you up to the level where you understand what terms like consequentialism mean and being exposed to ideas like the veil of ignorance. If you happen to be a regular listener to Rationally Speaking, most of what’s written is a repeat. For others who have had little exposure to philosophy, I’d recommend Answers for Aristotle.

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