The Substance of Consciousness
May 23, 2023
June 23, 2009
What is unique about your intent, approach, and features in this Christian introduction to philosophy?
COWAN: We set out to produce a book that avoided two shortcomings we found in other Christian philosophy texts. On the one hand, we did not want to treat issues in a superficial and cursory way. We wanted to provide significant depth so that the reader could come away with a good grasp of the issues and the range of answers that have been given to major philosophical questions. On the other hand, we did not want our discussion to be limited to only a narrow range of topics. We wanted to introduce the reader to all the main areas of philosophy.
Secondly, we wanted the text to be as friendly as possible to the needs of teachers. This required that we include pedagogical aids like diagrams, illustrations, study questions, recommended reading lists, and the like. It also required that we leave a lot of philosophical discussions open-ended rather than stating and defending our own preferred answers to every question. So on issues where Christian philosophers are deeply divided, we resisted the temptation to come down firmly on one side. This way, no matter what view a teacher holds, he or she can comfortably use the text to inform students about the debate and generate classroom discussion.One unique feature of the book, as has been widely touted, is that it includes chapters on subjects that usually get shorted or ignored in other texts, namely political philosophy and aesthetics. Jim and I wanted our treatment of value theory go beyond the requisite chapter on ethics and include these other subjects as well. It is a much better book because of it.
Your text intends to take the acquisition of wisdom as a serious matter when “doing philosophy.” How is this intention realized throughout the book?
SPIEGEL: The two primary ways we do this are methodological and substantive. As a matter of method, we explain and apply the “Socratic method,” which emphasizes humility in inquiry, as well as defining terms and using well-constructed arguments. Substantively, at various places in the discussion we explain how a particular view or acquaintance with an issue will help readers to understand to make wise judgments regarding a wide range of practical issues in ethics, politics, and aesthetics. In addition to standard moral issues, such as abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, and animal rights, we address such issues as civil disobedience, religion in the public square, and how to assess artworks which are aesthetically admirable but morally problematic.
COWAN: Where possible, throughout the book, we try to bring out the practical implications of the views we discuss. Even in philosophical areas that are seen as more abstract we want the reader to see that whatever position he takes, it will have practical and ethical consequences. For example, it’s hard to imagine a more abstract topic than the metaphysical debate between Platonism (the view that universals exist) and nominalism (which denies the existence of universals). We show that nominalism has adverse implications for the objectivity of moral values. If there are no universal essences, say, then there is no such thing as humanity. And this makes it hard to make sense of the concept of human rights. So even abstract philosophical topics can contribute to our ability to navigate wisely through life.
Who do you have in mind to most benefit from this book?
SPIEGEL: We wrote the book in such a way that Philosophy students at all stages would have much to gain by reading it. Beginners will appreciate the clear presentation of issues and definitions of terms, while intermediate and advanced students will appreciate the thorough review of arguments for and against the major positions on the issues. As Philosophy teachers ourselves, we appreciate texts that allow for flexibility in use. Professors will benefit from the thorough coverage of topics, which will enable them to tailor reading assignments according to the specific structure and aims of their courses.
Walk us through a brief overview of the three main parts of this book and their significance of content and organization.
SPIEGEL: The book is divided into three parts: knowledge, being and value. The first part contains chapters on logic, epistemology, and philosophy of science. The section on being features chapters on metaphysics, human nature, and philosophy of religion. And the last section includes chapters on ethics, political philosophy and aesthetics. Perhaps our Trinitarian Christian theology impacted our decision to go with all of these triads :), but the book really just seemed to make the most sense this way from an organizational standpoint. The early chapters on logic and epistemology provide readers with conceptual tools that are valuable for reading the other chapters. And understanding several issues in metaphysics, human nature, and philosophy of religion is critical for properly addressing a number of questions in value theory taken up in the last section of the book.
You can learn more about the work of Steve Cowan and Jim Spiegel by visiting their websites: Cowan Chronicles and JimSpiegel.com
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