The Big Questions: Tackling the Problems of Philosophy with Ideas from Mathematics, Economics and Physics

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In the wake of his enormously popular books The Armchair Economist and More Sex Is Safer Sex, Steven Landsburg uses concepts from mathematics, economics, and physics to address the big questions in philosophy: What is real? What can we know? What is the difference between right and wrong? And how should we live?

Widely renowned for his lively explorations of economics, in his fourth book Landsburg branches out into mathematics and physics as well?disciplines that, like ...

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Overview

In the wake of his enormously popular books The Armchair Economist and More Sex Is Safer Sex, Steven Landsburg uses concepts from mathematics, economics, and physics to address the big questions in philosophy: What is real? What can we know? What is the difference between right and wrong? And how should we live?

Widely renowned for his lively explorations of economics, in his fourth book Landsburg branches out into mathematics and physics as well—disciplines that, like economics, the author loves for their beauty, their logical clarity, and their profound and indisputable truth—to take us on a provocative and utterly entertaining journey through the questions that have preoccupied philosophers through the ages. The author begins with the broadest possible categories—Reality and Unreality; Knowledge and Belief; Right and Wrong—and then focuses his exploration on specific concerns: from a mathematical analysis of the arguments for the existence of God; to the real meaning of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle and the Godel Incompleteness Theorem; to the moral choices we face in the marketplace and the voting booth.

Stimulating, illuminating, and always surprising, The Big Questions challenges readers to re-evaluate their most fundamental beliefs and reveals the relationship between the loftiest philosophical quests and our everyday lives.

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Editorial Reviews

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Slate columnist and Economics professor Steven Landsburg (The Armchair Economist; More Sex Is Safer Sex) thinks that it's high time that we utilized other disciplines to gain true glimmers of problems that furrowed the brows of Plato, Heidegger, and even Marcel Duchamp. Landsburg's topics and strategies are various; he approaches the existence of God mathematically and explains what economics can teach us about decisions confronting us on Election Day. He even describes what commonly misunderstood concept such as the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle and the Gödel Incompleteness Theorem really mean. Authentically stimulating brain food.
Publishers Weekly
With an folksy style and overly reductive economics, Landsburg (The Armchair Economist) solves, to his own satisfaction, a host of such philosophical problems as the limits of knowledge, what reality is and why we should reject liberal social policies based on fairness. With a founding claim that mathematical objects are “real” (albeit real in a way that is never made quite clear) the author argues for the necessity of the universe, before offering refutations of intelligent design and St. Anselm's proof for the existence of God. The possibility of knowledge is demonstrated by familiarizing the reader with a few ideas the author simply knows to be true such as Gödel's theorem and Heisenberg's uncertainty principle. Sections on morality and “the life of the mind” apply the “Economist's Golden Rule” to questions of right and wrong before advising the reader not to bother studying English literature. While serving up plenty of sound economics, the book falls short on the philosophy, displaying not only conceptual inconsistencies but an intolerance for the irrational dimensions of human existence. (Nov.)
Library Journal
Landsburg (economics, Univ. of Rochester; The Armchair Economist; More Sex Is Safer Sex) grasps that the bedrock of physics is mathematics, that certain truths exist (e.g., there is no integer between two and three; there is no largest prime number), and that mathematics is our best hope for organizing the mass of data we have about our society and our money. From there, he swings into theology, philosophy, and morals, advising students to stay away from English departments except for recreation and writing that philosophers mostly talk about "dead white guys" who might be better left alone. He cuts down Richard Dawkins and some of the current "intelligent design people" (but he seems not to have read some of the more convincing writers on both sides of that debate). His own case against God disposes of 2500 years of philosophical theology in a few sentences. VERDICT Landsburg is entertaining and sometimes right, but anyone who wants a quick rundown of these questions that will not mislead would be advised to read instead David Bohm's Science, Order, and Creativity, 2d ed.—Leslie Armour, Dominican Univ. Coll., Ottawa, Ont.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781439148211
  • Publisher: Free Press
  • Publication date: 11/3/2009
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Steven E. Landsburg is a Professor of Economics at the University of Rochester. He is the author of The Armchair Economist, Fair Play, More Sex is Safer Sex, The Big Questions, two textbooks in economics, a forthcoming textbook on general relativity and cosmology, and over 30 journal articles in mathematics, economics and philosophy. His current research is in the area of quantum game theory. He blogs daily at www.TheBigQuestions.com. For over ten years, he wrote the monthly "Everyday Economics" column in Slate magazine, and has written regularly for Forbes and occasionally for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post. He appeared as a commentator on the PBS/Turner Broadcasting series "Damn Right", and has made over 200 appearances on radio and television broadcasts over the past few years.

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