Little Debates About Big Questions
Philosophy asks questions about the fundamental nature of reality, our place in the world, and what we should do. Some of these questions are perennial: for example, Do we have free will? What is morality? Some are much newer: for example, How far should free speech on campus extend? Are race, sex and gender social constructs? But all of these are among the big questions in philosophy and they remain controversial.
Each book in the Little Debates About Big Questions series features two professors on opposite sides of a big question. Each author presents their own side, and the authors then exchange objections and replies. Short, lively, and accessible, these debates showcase diverse and deep answers. Pedagogical features include standard form arguments, section summaries, bolded key terms and principles, glossaries, and annotated reading lists.
The debate format is an ideal way to learn about controversial topics. Whereas the usual essay or book risks overlooking objections against its own proposition or misrepresenting the opposite side, in a debate each side can make their case at equal length, and then present objections the other side must consider. Debates have a more conversational and fun style too, and we selected particularly talented philosophers—in substance and style—for these kinds of encounters.
Debates can be combative—sometimes even descending into anger and animosity. But debates can also be cooperative. While our authors disagree strongly, they work together to help each other and the reader get clearer on the ideas, arguments, and objections. This is intellectual progress, and a much-needed model for civil and constructive disagreement.
The substance and style of the debates will captivate interested readers new to the questions. But there’s enough to interest experts too. The debates will be especially useful for courses in philosophy and related subjects—whether as primary or secondary readings—and a few debates can be combined to make up the reading for an entire course.
We thank the authors for their help in constructing this series. We are honored to showcase their work. They are all preeminent scholars or rising-stars in their fields, and through these debates they share what’s been discovered with a wider audience. This is a paradigm for public philosophy, and will impress upon students, scholars, and other interested readers the enduring importance of debating the big questions.
Tyron Goldschmidt, Fellow of the Rutgers Center for Philosophy of Religion, USA
Dustin Crummett, Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, Germany
Is It Wrong to Buy Sex? A Debate
What Makes Life Meaningful? A Debate
Can We Know Anything? A Debate
Is Morality Real? A Debate
Do We Have a Soul? A Debate
By Holly Lawford-Smith, Angie Pepper
March 18, 2024
Is it wrong for a man to buy sex from a woman? In this book, Holly Lawford-Smith argues that it is wrong: commercial sex is quintessentially hierarchical sex, and it is wrong both to have, and to perpetuate a market in, hierarchical sex. Angie Pepper argues that it isn’t wrong: men are permitted to...
By Bob Fischer, Anja Jauernig
December 22, 2023
Philosophers Bob Fischer and Anja Jauernig agree that human society often treats animals in indefensible ways and that all animals morally matter; they disagree on whether humans and animals morally matter equally. In What Do We Owe Other Animals?: A Debate, Fischer and Jauernig square off over ...
By Peter van Inwagen, William Lane Craig
November 30, 2023
In Do Numbers Exist? Peter van Inwagen and William Lane Craig take opposite sides on whether there are abstract objects, such as numbers and properties. Craig argues that there are no abstract objects, whereas Van Inwagen argues that there are. Their exchange explores various arguments about ...
By Thaddeus Metz, Joshua W. Seachris
November 30, 2023
Can human life be meaningful? What does talk about life’s meaning even mean? What is God’s role, if any, in a meaningful life? These three questions frame this one-of-a-kind debate between two philosophers who have spent most of their professional lives thinking and writing about the topic of life’...
By Stephen Cave, John Martin Fischer
November 22, 2023
In this book, Stephen Cave and John Martin Fischer debate whether or not we should choose to live forever. This ancient question is as topical as ever: while billions of people believe they will live forever in an otherworldly realm, billions of dollars are currently being poured into anti-ageing ...
By Bryan Frances, Michael Huemer
September 19, 2023
In this book, Michael Huemer and Bryan Frances debate whether – and how – we can gain knowledge of the world outside of our own minds. Starting with opening statements, the debate moves through two rounds of replies. Frances argues that we lack knowledge because, for example, we cannot rule out the...
By Matt Lutz, Spencer Case
September 07, 2023
In this book, Spencer Case and Matt Lutz debate whether objective moral facts exist. We often say that actions like murder and institutions like slavery are morally wrong. And sometimes people strenuously disagree about the moral status of actions, as with abortion. But what, if anything, makes ...
By Eric T. Olson, Aaron Segal
August 04, 2023
Are we made entirely of matter, like sticks and stones? Or do we have a soul—a nonphysical entity—where our mental lives take place? The authors Eric T. Olson and Aaron Segal begin this accessible and wide-ranging debate by looking at the often-overlooked question of whether we appear in ordinary ...
By Amy Kind, Daniel Stoljar
June 30, 2023
What is consciousness and why is it so philosophically and scientifically puzzling? For many years philosophers approached this question assuming a standard physicalist framework on which consciousness can be explained by contemporary physics, biology, neuroscience, and cognitive science. This book...
By Nikk Effingham, Kristie Miller
March 28, 2023
This book takes up the question of whether past and future events exist. Two very different views are explored. According to one of these views (presentism), advanced by Nikk Effingham, the present is special. Effingham argues that only present things exist, but which things those are changes as ...
By Andrew Fiala, Jennifer Kling
February 21, 2023
Can war be justified? Pacifists answer that it cannot; they oppose war and advocate for nonviolent alternatives to war. But defenders of just war theory argue that in some circumstances, when the effectiveness of nonviolence is limited, wars can be justified. In this book, two philosophers debate ...
By Steven McMullen, James R. Otteson
December 20, 2022
A central contested issue in contemporary economics and political philosophy is whether governments should redistribute wealth. In this book, a philosopher and an economist debate this question. James Otteson argues that respect for individual persons requires that the government should usually not...