Core Questions in Philosophy: A Text with Readings, 7th Edition (Paperback) book cover

Core Questions in Philosophy

A Text with Readings, 7th Edition

By Elliot Sober


360 pages

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Writing in an engaging lecture-style format, Elliott Sober shows students how philosophy is best used to evaluate many different kinds of arguments and to construct sound theories. Well known historical texts are included, not as a means to honor the dead or merely to discuss what various philosophers have thought, but to engage with, criticize, and even improve ideas from the past. In addition—because philosophy cannot function apart from its engagement with the wider society--traditional and contemporary philosophical problems are brought into dialogue with the physical, biological, and social sciences.


Core Questions in Philosophy has served as a premier introductory textbook for more than two decades, with updates to each new edition. New improvements to this 7th Edition include:

  • A new Routledge eResource that includes:
    • Updated Supplementary Readings, with the inclusion of more work from women philosophers
    • New videos and podcasts, organized by their relevance to each chapter in the book

Table of Contents


Boxes   xviii

Preface   xix

Acknowledgments   xx

MySearchLab Connections   xxii

Part One. Introduction   1


1.    What Is Philosophy?   3

Examples   4

Three Theories about What Philosophy Is   6

The Nature of Philosophy Has Changed Historically   7

Philosophical Method   8

MySearchLab Connections   9

Read on MySearchLab The Value of Philosophy, Bertrand Russell

2.    Deductive Arguments   11

Arguments   11

Good Arguments   12

Deductive Validity Defined   13

"Validity" Is a Technical Term   13

Logical Form   14

Invalidity   14

Testing for Invalidity   15

Circularity, or Begging the Question   18

Truth   18

"True for Me"   20

Wishful Thinking   20

Self-Fulfilling Prophesies   20

MySearchLab Connections   22

3.    Inductive and Abductive Arguments   24

Deductive Validity Is a Limitation   25

Nondeductive Inference—A Weaker Guarantee   26

Two Gambling Strategies   26

Universal Laws   26

Detective Work   27

Induction   27

Two Factors Influence Inductive Strength   28

Abduction   28

Inferring What Isn’t Observed   29

Abduction Differs from Induction   29

Can You Deduce the Explanation from the Observations?   30

Deducing Observational Predictions from a Theory   30

When the Prediction Comes True   30

When the Prediction Turns Out to Be False   31

How True Predictions and False Predictions Are Interpreted   31

The Surprise Principle: When Does Successful Prediction Provide Strong Evidence?   32

Evidence May Discriminate between Some Hypotheses While Failing to Discriminate between Others   34

True Prediction Isn’t Enough   35

Modest Favoring   36

The Surprise Principle Summarized   36

The Only Game in Town Fallacy   36

MySearchLab Connections   39

Suggestions for Further Reading   39

Part Two. Philosophy of Religion   41


4.    Aquinas’s First Four Ways   43

Read on MySearchLab Five Ways to Prove that God Exists, from Summa Theologiae, Thomas Aquinas

The Concept of God   44

The First Two Arguments: Motion and Causality   44

Aquinas on the Cause of Motion   46

God Is a Person, Not Just a Cause That Exists Outside of Nature   46

The Birthday Fallacy   46

Why Can’t Nature Be Infinitely Old?   47

Why Must Every Event in Nature Have a Cause?   48

The Third Argument: Contingency   48

Necessary and Contingent Beings   48

Possible Worlds   48

Reductio Ad Absurdum   50

Contingency and Eternity   51

Conservation Laws in Physics   52

The Birthday Fallacy (Again)   52

Necessary Beings other than God   52

Necessary and Contingent Propositions   53

Mathematical Truths   53

Names Differ from the Things Named   53

Numbers Aren’t Numerals   54

Sets   54

Necessity and Certainty Are Different   55

Numbers Are Necessary Beings   56

Aquinas’s Fourth Argument: Properties That Come in Degrees   56

Criticizing an Argument versus Showing the Argument’s Conclusion Is False   57

MySearchLab Connections   58

5.    The Design Argument   59

Goal-Directed Systems   60

Two Kinds of Design Argument   60

Paley’s Watch   61

Read on MySearchLab The Design Argument, from Natural Theology, William Paley

The Analogy   62

Abductions Arguments Often Postulate Unobserved Entities   62

Hume’s Criticisms of the Design Argument   63

Read on MySearchLab Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, David Hume

Is the Design Argument a Weak Argument from Analogy?   63

Is the Design Argument a Weak Induction?   65

MySearchLab Connections   67

6.    Evolution and Creationism   68

Creationism   69

Some Creationist Arguments   69

Darwin’s Two-Part Theory   70

Natural Selection   71

Speciation   73

The Tree of Life   73

The Principle of the Common Cause   74

Arbitrary Similarities among Organisms   75

Useful Similarities among Organisms   75

Irreducible Complexity   76

Is Creationism Testable?   78

Predictive Equivalence   78

Prediction versus Accommodation   79

Does Evolutionary Theory Make Novel Predictions?   80

Concluding Remarks   81

MySearchLab Connections   82

7.    Can Science Explain Everything?   83

Scientific Ignorance   84

The Only Game in Town Fallacy   85

The Two Questions   85

What Is a Scientific Explanation?   85

A Thesis about Explanation   86

Why Is There Something Rather than Nothing?   87

Can Physics Explain the Origin of the Universe?   87

Leibniz: God Chooses Which Possible World to Actualize   87

Clarke: God Explains Why the Actual World Consists of One Total History Rather than Another   88

The Only Game in Town Fallacy, Again   88

Causality   89

The Principle of Sufficient Reason   90

MySearchLab Connections   91

8.    The Ontological Argument   92

A Posteriori and A Priori   92

Definitions and Existence   93

Anselm’s Argument   93

Read on MySearchLab Debate, Guanilo and Anselm

Gaunilo’s Criticism   95

Anselm’s Reply   97

Dispensing with Perfection   98

Conclusion   98

MySearchLab Connections   100

9.    Is the Existence of God Testable?   101

Logical Positivism   101

The Testability Theory of Meaning   102

Analyticity   102

Falsifiability   102

Auxiliary Assumptions Needed   104

Auxiliary Assumptions Must Be Independently Established   106

"God Exists" Is Meaningful   106

Read on MySearchLab Of Miracles, from An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, David Hume

MySearchLab Connections   108

10.  Pascal and Irrationality   109

Prudential and Evidential Reasons for Belief   109

Read on MySearchLab The Wager, from Pensées, Blaise Pascal

When Does It Make Sense to Gamble?   110

Pascal’s Argument   111

First Criticism of Pascal’s Argument   112

Second Criticism of Pascal’s Argument   113

The Role of Reason   113

Freud’s Psychological Explanation of Theism   114

A New Prudential Argument   115

Pragmatism   115

Read on MySearchLab The Will to Believe, William James

Read on MySearchLab The Ethics of Belief, W. K. Clifford

MySearchLab Connections   118

11.  The Argument from Evil   119

First Version of the Argument   119

Two Kinds of Evil   120

Possible Reactions to the Argument   120

Theodicy and Defense   121

Soul-Building Evils   121

Second Version of the Argument   123

Free Will   123

Examples and a Third Version of the Argument   123

A Criticism of the Argument   124

Testability, Again   125

Another Kind of Argument—The Evidential Argument from Evil   125

MySearchLab Connections   127

Read on MySearchLab Theodicy, Gottfried Leibniz

Suggestions for Further Reading   127

Readings   129

Five Ways to Prove That God Exists, Thomas Aquinas   129

The Design Argument, William Paley   129

Critique of the Design Argument, David Hume   129

The Ontological Argument, Anselm   130

The Meaninglessness of Religious Discourse, A.J. Ayer   130

Belief in God—What Do You Have to Lose?, Blaise Pascal   134

The Will to Believe, William James   134

Part Three. Theory of Knowledge   135


12.  What Is Knowledge?   137

Epistemology   137

Three Kinds of Knowledge   138

Two Requirements for Knowledge: Belief and Truth   140

Plato: True Belief Isn’t Sufficient for Knowledge   140

Justification   141

The JTB Theory   141

Three Counterexamples to the JTB Theory   142

What the Counterexamples Have in Common   143

An Argument for Skepticism   143

Problems for Further Thought   145

MySearchLab Connections   145

13.  Descartes’ Foundationalism   147

Foundationalism   147

Read on MySearchLab Meditations 1–5 of Meditations on First Philosophy, Rene Descartes

Euclid’s Parallel Postulate   148

Descartes’ Method of Doubt   149

The Method Applied to a Posteriori Beliefs   150

Dubitability Is a Logical, Not a Psychological, Property   150

The Method Applied to Beliefs Based on Rational Calculation   150

I Am Thinking, Therefore I Exist   151

Thesis of the Incorrigibility of the Mental   152

Do First-Person Psychological Beliefs Provide a Sufficient Foundation?   153

An Additional Foundational Belief: God Exists and Is No Deceiver   154

How to Prove that God Exists   154

The Clarity and Distinctness Criterion   156

The Cartesian Circle   157

Conclusion   157

MySearchLab Connections   159

14.  The Reliability Theory of Knowledge   161

Descartes: Knowledge Is Internally Certifiable   161

What Makes a Thermometer Reliable?   162

Relevance to the Problem of Knowledge   164

Three Concepts of Impossibility   164

To Have Knowledge, You Don’t Have to Be Able to Construct a Philosophical Argument Refuting the Skeptic   165

A Consequence of the Reliability Theory   167

Thesis of the Relativity of Knowledge   168

What Does the Relativity Thesis Say about Skepticism?   169

MySearchLab Connections   171

15.  Justified Belief and Hume’s Problem of Induction   172

Knowledge versus Justified Belief   172

Skepticism about Justified Belief   173

Read on MySearchLab Section IV of An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, David Hume

Hume’s Skeptical Thesis about Induction   174

Hume’s Argument that Induction Can’t Be Rationally Justified   175

Why Can’t PUN Be Justified?   176

Summary of Hume’s Argument   176

MySearchLab Connections   177

16.  Can Hume’s Skepticism Be Refuted?   178

What, Exactly, Does the Principle of the Uniformity of Nature Say?   178

A New Concept: Degrees of Reliability   179

What Is a Rule of Inference?   180

Does the Past Reliability of Induction Provide an Answer?   180

Hume’s Argument Reformulated   181

Strawson: It Is Analytic that Induction Is Rational   181

Black: Induction Can Be Inductively Justified   182

MySearchLab Connections   184

17.  Beyond Foundationalism   185

Hume’s Problem and Descartes’ Problem   185

Whether X Is Evidence for Y Depends on Background Assumptions Z   187

Another Relativity Thesis   188

Foundationalism Leads to Skepticism   188

A Nonfoundationalist Approach to Justification   189

Standards of Justification Often Depend on the Audience   189

Two Metaphors—Building a Building and Repairing a Raft   190

MySearchLab Connections   191

18.  Locke on the Existence of External Objects   192

Read on MySearchLab Chapter 11 of Essay Concerning Human Understanding, John Locke

Locke’s First Argument—"Those That Want the Organs of Any Sense"   193

Locke’s Second Argument—"Ideas Which Force Themselves upon Me"   194

Locke’s Third Argument—"Pleasure or Pain"   194

Locke’s Fourth Argument—"Our Senses Assist One Another’s Testimony"   195

MySearchLab Connections   196

Suggestions for Further Reading   196

Readings   198

The Theaetetus—Knowledge Is Something More than True Belief, Plato   198

Meditations on First Philosophy, René Descartes   198

Induction Cannot Be Rationally Justified, David Hume   199

Essay Concerning Human Understanding, John Locke   199

Part Four. Philosophy of Mind   201


19.  Dualism and the Mind/Body Problem   203

What Is the Mind/Body Problem?   204

Descartes’ Dualism   204

The Mind/Brain Identity Theory   204

Read on MySearchLab Meditation VI, from Meditations on First Philosophy, René Descartes

Immortality of the Soul   205

Leibniz’s Law   205

Descartes’ First Argument for Dualism—The Indubitable Existence Argument   206

An Analogy   207

Propositional Attitudes and Aboutness   207

Descartes’ Second Argument for Dualism—The Divisibility Argument   210

Causality between the Physical and the Nonphysical   210

Read on MySearchLab Correspondence with Princess Elizabeth, Rene Descartes

MySearchLab Connections   212

20.  Logical Behaviorism   214

The Attack on "the Ghost in the Machine"   215

Logical Behaviorism Says Mentalism Is False Because It Leads to Skepticism   215

Do We Know about the Mental States of Others by Analogy with Our Own Case?   216

Abduction   216

Logical Behaviorism’s Positive Thesis—Its Analysis of Mentalistic Vocabulary   217

The Dispositional Analysis of Desire Is Incomplete   218

A Dispositional Analysis Does Not Refute Mentalism   218

MySearchLab Connections   220

21.  Methodological Behaviorism   221

The Negative Thesis: Psychology Should Avoid Belief/Desire Explanations   222

Methodological Behaviorism’s Positive Thesis   223

First Objection to Behaviorism’s Positive Thesis: Novel Behaviors   224

Second Objection to Behaviorism’s Positive Thesis: It Assumes that Environmental Determinism Is True   226

The Two Objections Summarized   227

MySearchLab Connections   228

22.  The Mind/Brain Identity Theory   229

The Identity Theory Is an A Posteriori Claim   229

Materialism   230

Progress in Science   230

Dualism Resembles Vitalism   231

A Correlation Experiment   231

The Principle of Parsimony   232

MySearchLab Connections   235

23.  Functionalism   236

Functionalism’s Negative Thesis: What’s Wrong with the Identity Theory?   237

Multiple Realizability   237

Could a Computer Have Psychological Characteristics?   238

Multiple Realizability within the Class of Living Things   239

Functionalism’s Positive Thesis   240

Sensations   241

MySearchLab Connections   243

24.  Freedom, Determinism, and Causality   244

The Problem of Freedom   245

Examples of Unfree Acts   246

Are All Behaviors Like Those Produced by Brainwashing and Compulsions?   247

A Clash of Plausible Conceptions   247

What Is Causality?   248

Determinism   248

Indeterminism   249

Does Indeterminism Make Us Free?   250

Causality Is the Issue, Not Determinism   251

What Does Determinism Say about the Causation of Behavior?   252

Determinism Differs from Fatalism   252

MySearchLab Connections   254

25.  A Menu of Positions on Free Will   255

"Compatibility" Defined   255

Incompatibilism and Compatibilism   256

Libertarianism   257

Read on MySearchLab The System of Nature, Baron d’Holbach

Two Soft Determinist Theories   259

Hume   259

Read on MySearchLab Of Liberty and Necessity, David Hume

First Objection to Hume’s Theory: Compulsive Behavior   260

Second Objection to Hume’s Theory: Locke’s Locked Room   261

Does Coercion Rob Us of Free Will?   261

A Second Compatibilist Proposal: The Relevance of Second-Order Desires   262

Read on MySearchLab On Free Choice, Thomas Aquinas

MySearchLab Connections   263

26.  Compatibilism   265

The Weather Vane Analogy   265

Function and Malfunction   266

What Does It Mean to Ascribe a Function to Something?   267

The Function of the Desire-Generating Device   268

Reply to the Distant Causation Argument   269

What Does Responsibility Mean?   269

Moral Responsibility   270

Reply to the Could-Not-Have-Done-Otherwise Argument   271

Are Coerced Actions Unfree?   272

An Objection to the Weather Vane Theory: Freely Chosen, Rational Self-Sacrifice   273

MySearchLab Connections   274

27.  Psychological Egoism   275

Two Truisms   276

Goals and Side Effects of an Act   277

A Simple Example   277

Four Preference Structures   278

People Are Rarely Pure Altruists or Pure Egoists   279

An Experimental Test   281

A Second Experimental Test   282

Conclusion   283

MySearchLab Connections   284

Read on MySearchLab The Republic, Book II, 357A–367E, Plato

Suggestions for Further Reading   285

Readings   286

Meditation VI, René Descartes   286

Other Minds Are Known by Analogy from One’s Own Case, Bertrand Russell   286

Has the Self "Free Will"?, C.A. Campbell   289

Determinism Shows that Free Will Is an Illusion, Baron d’Holbach   300

Of Liberty and Necessity, David Hume   301

What Motivates People to Act Justly?, Plato   301

Part Five. Ethics   303


28.  Ethics—Normative and Meta   305

Ethics and Religion   305

Metaethics and Normative Ethics   306

Truth and Opinion   306

Alternative Metaethical Positions   307

Subjectivism   307

Realism   307

Conventionalism   307

Three Varieties of Conventionalism   308

MySearchLab Connections   310

29.  The Is/Ought Gap and the Naturalistic Fallacy   311

Subjectivism: Ethical Statements Are Neither True Nor False   311

Does the Existence of Ethical Disagreement Show that Subjectivism Is True?   312

The Genetic Fallacy   313

Hume: The Is/Ought Gap   314

(S1): An Argument for Subjectivism with Hume’s Thesis as a Premise   314

The Naturalistic Fallacy   316

(S2): An Argument for Subjectivism with Moore’s Thesis as a Premise   317

MySearchLab Connections   318

30.  Observation and Explanation in Ethics   319

Reasoning about Ethical Issues   319

Testing General Principles by Applying Them to Specific Examples   320

Thought Experiments versus Empirical Experiments   321

Observations Are "Theory Laden"   321

Observation Does Not Imply Objectivity   322

Insoluble Disagreements   322

Is Subjectivism Preferable to Realism on Grounds of Parsimony?   324

Does Subjectivism Follow?   326

An Explanatory Role for Ethical Principles   326

What Is the Point of Ethics?   327

Read on MySearchLab Treatise of Human Nature, Part III, 1.1, David Hume

MySearchLab Connections   328

31.  Conventionalist Theories   329

What Makes a View Conventionalist?   330

Trivial Semantic Conventionalism   330

Substantive versus Trivial Conventionalism   330

Plato’s Critique of the Divine Command Theory   331

Read on MySearchLab Euthyphro, Plato

Two Objections to the Divine Command Theory   332

Ethical Relativism   333

Ethical Relativism Is Normative, Not Descriptive   333

A Further Clarification of Ethical Relativism   334

Ethical Relativism Is a Version of Conventionalism   334

If Imperialism Is Wrong, Does That Justify Ethical Relativism?   334

Sartre’s Existentialism   336

Read on MySearchLab Existentialism Is a Humanism, Jean-Paul Sartre

MySearchLab Connections   338

32.  Utilitarianism   340

Read on MySearchLab Utilitarianism, Chapters 1–4, John Stuart Mill

Mill’s Defense of the Greatest Happiness Principle   341

Reciprocal Illumination   342

What Is Happiness?   343

The Problem of the Experience Machine   343

Mill on "Higher" and "Lower" Pleasures   344

Objection to Hedonistic Utilitarianism   345

Preference Utilitarianism   345

The Apples and Oranges Problem   346

Utilitarianism and Justice: The Case of the Lonesome Stranger   347

Punishment   347

A Reply: Distinguish Rule and Act Utilitarianism   348

Utilitarianism and Tolerance: The Problem of the Fanatical Majority   349

Read on MySearchLab On Liberty, Chapters 1–3, John Stuart Mill

Utilitarianism and Personal Integrity: The Problem of Dirty Hands   352

Utilitarianism and Personal Loyalties   353

A Psychological Objection to My Criticisms of Utilitarianism   353

Read on MySearchLab Principle of Utility, Jeremy Bentham

MySearchLab Connections   355

33.  Kant’s Moral Theory   357

Hume on Reason’s Role   358

Kant Rejects the Idea that Reason Is Purely Instrumental   358

Read on MySearchLab Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, Sections 1 and 2, Immanuel Kant

Kant: Moral Rules Are Categorical Imperatives   358

The Moral Law   359

Kant: The Moral Value of an Act Derives from Its Maxim, Not from Its Consequences   359

Kant Rejected Consequentialism   360

The Universalizability Criterion   360

Four Examples   361

Evaluation of Kant’s Examples   362

A Problem for the Universalizability Criterion   363

Kant: People Are Ends in Themselves   364

The Rabbit and the Hat   365

MySearchLab Connections   366

34.  Aristotle on the Good Life   368

How Far Do Obligations Extend?   368

The Theory of the Right and the Theory of the Good   369

Are There General Principles about the Good Life?   369

Read on MySearchLab Nicomachean Ethics, Books I, II and X (Sections 7 and 8), Aristotle

What Is a Good X?   370

Human Beings Are Goal-Directed Systems   371

The Capacity to Reason   371

Aristotle: Happiness Is Not a Subjective State   372

Why the Life of Rational Activity Is Best: Two More Reasons   373

The Doctrine of the Mean   373

A Second Criticism of Aristotle’s Theory—Defining What a Good X Is Differs from Saying What Is Good for an X   374

A Third Criticism—Why Single Out Contemplation as the Best Life?   375

MySearchLab Connections   377

Suggestions for Further Reading   378

Readings   379

The Euthyphro—A Critique of the Divine Command Theory, Plato   379

Existentialism, Jean-Paul Sartre   379

Defense of Utilitarianism, John Stuart Mill   379

Ethics Founded on Reason, Immanuel Kant   380

Morality and Human Nature, Aristotle   380

Famine, Affluence, and Morality, Peter Singer   380


About the Author

Elliott Sober is a professor of philosophy at University of Wisconsin, Madison. He is the author of Ockham’s Razors – A User’s Manual, published by Cambridge University Press in 2015.

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