Grand Theories and Everyday Beliefs: Science, Philosophy, and their Histories

Overview

After a Darwinian-type account of what beliefs are and how they arose in animals acting to cope with their environments—"low beliefs," virtually all of which are true—Wallace Matson here shows how the invention of language led to imagination and thence to beliefs formed in other ways ("high beliefs"), not true though thought to be, which could be consolidated into mythologies, the first Grand Unified Theories of Everything. Science began when Thales of Miletus produced a Grand Theory based on low ("everyday") ...

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Grand Theories and Everyday Beliefs: Science, Philosophy, and their Histories

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Overview

After a Darwinian-type account of what beliefs are and how they arose in animals acting to cope with their environments—"low beliefs," virtually all of which are true—Wallace Matson here shows how the invention of language led to imagination and thence to beliefs formed in other ways ("high beliefs"), not true though thought to be, which could be consolidated into mythologies, the first Grand Unified Theories of Everything. Science began when Thales of Miletus produced a Grand Theory based on low ("everyday") beliefs. Matson traces the course of science and philosophy through seven centuries to their sudden and violent displacement by Christianity with its Grand Theory of the old type. Against the widespread opinion that modern philosophy has slowly but completely emancipated itself from bondage to theology, he shows how remnants from the medieval 'interlude' still lurk unnoticed in the purportedly neutral notions of logical possibility, possible worlds, and laws as commands, to the detriment of the natural harmony between science and philosophy, including ethics. Accessibly written, this is a book for all who are interested in the foundations of 21st century thought and who wonder where the cracks might be.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
From evolutionary beginnings to philosophical endings, Matson—Professor of Philosophy at UC-Berkeley—spans nearly all disciplines in mapping the origins of language, imagination and, most importantly, beliefs. Introducing the classifications of "low" and "high" beliefs—the former being empirically founded and the latter being conceptually possible—he successfully describes the role of imagination in the progression of both science and religion; two disciplines, he notes, once united and now essentially severed. Matson posits that the interplay of low and high beliefs causes the debates—from antiquity to today—between science and philosophy, religion and philosophy, and morality and logic. Matson manages to reinforce the classification of religious beliefs as high beliefs without discrediting their function in uniting communities. While utilizing the insights and criticisms of philosophers and scientists before him, the book avoids the literary downfalls of its predecessors; it is succinct, approachable, and immensely enjoyable to read. Each chapter offers up a distinct focus and resolves in a clarifying abstract. The topics addressed inevitably set the book as a spark for debate between scholars and laymen alike, but it serves also as tangible proof of the low belief that philosophy matters every day. (Dec.)
From the Publisher
"While utilizing the insights and criticisms of philosophers and scientists before him, the book avoids the literary downfalls of its predecessors; it is succinct, approachable, and immensely enjoyable to read. Each chapter offers up a distinct focus and resolves in a clarifying abstract. The topics addressed inevitably set the book as a spark for debate between scholars and laymen alike, but it serves also as tangible proof of the low belief that philosophy matters every day."—Publishers Weekly

"This remarkable work by Matson can be read on the surface as an engaging journey through intellectual history, rich in details drawn from the author's encyclopedic knowledge of the history of philosophy...For general readers this is an accessible, intriguing history of philosophy. It will appeal to all who seek to understand the ongoing tension between religious belief and scientific theory. Highly recommended."—CHOICE

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199812691
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 12/9/2011
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 1,241,741
  • Product dimensions: 9.20 (w) x 6.40 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Wallace Matson is Professor of Philosophy, University of California, Berkeley. He is the co-author of A New History of Philosophy, Vol. I and II.

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Table of Contents

1. Introduction.

PART ONE. BEFORE MILETUS
2. A Brief History of Coping.
3. Language
4. High and Low Beliefs
5. The 'Will to Believe'
6. Eden
7. Babylon

PART TWO. MILETUS TO ALEXANDRIA
8. Miletus: the Invention of Science
9. Anaximander and Anaximenes
10. Science and Philosophy Come to Italy
11. Athens I
12. Atomism
13. Athens II: Plato
14. Athens III: Aristotle
15. Alexandria
16. Beliefs About Believers

PART THREE. THE LEGACY OF CHRISTIANITY
17. Jerusalem Collides with Athens
18. Cartesianism
19. Miletus Preserved I: Hobbes
20. Institutions
21. Miletus Preserved II: Spinoza
22. The Strange Case of David Hume
23. Ethics Without Edification.
24. L'Envoi
25. Conclusion?

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 7, 2012

    I have waited all my life for a book like this!

    Professor Matson is brilliant. His division of our belief system into what he calls "low beliefs" that are either based on experience or verifiable through experience, and "high beliefs" that pass from person to person and generation to generation through language enormously clarifying. High beliefs include our myths, legends, stories, religious texts and ceremonies, fables, fairy-tales, oaths, superstitions and epic poems. This web of language-based beliefs combine to form our social narrative of how we think we ought to live. I enthusiastically recommend this book to philosophers and anyone who has a philosophical bone in their body. If too much history of philosophy is daunting to you, skip Part 2 (chapters 8-16) and enjoy the treasure trove of ideas in the rest of this wonderful text.

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