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Answers for Aristotle: How Science and Philosophy Can Lead Us to A More Meaningful Life [Hardcover]

by Massimo Pigliucci
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)

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Book Description

October 2, 2012 0465021387 978-0465021383
How should we live? According to philosopher and biologist Massimo Pigliucci, the greatest guidance to this essential question lies in combining the wisdom of 24 centuries of philosophy with the latest research from 21st century science. In Answers for Aristotle, Pigliucci argues that the combination of science and philosophy first pioneered by Aristotle offers us the best possible tool for understanding the world and ourselves. As Aristotle knew, each mode of thought has the power to clarify the other: science provides facts, and philosophy helps us reflect on the values with which to assess them. But over the centuries, the two have become uncoupled, leaving us with questions—about morality, love, friendship, justice, and politics—that neither field could fully answer on its own. Pigliucci argues that only by rejoining each other can modern science and philosophy reach their full potential, while we harness them to help us reach ours. Pigliucci discusses such essential issues as how to tell right from wrong, the nature of love and friendship, and whether we can really ever know ourselves—all in service of helping us find our path to the best possible life. Combining the two most powerful intellectual traditions in history, Answers for Aristotle is a remarkable guide to discovering what really matters and why.

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Pigliucci is a singular bridge-builder, one who connects science as the investigation of what is with philosophy as reflection on what should be. Pigliucci acknowledges that Aristotle constructed such bridges long ago, but he laments that many modern thinkers, irrationally suspicious of science, have now abandoned half of Aristotle’s enterprise. Bravely renewing the entire Aristotelian project, Pigliucci surveys the latest scientific research in primatology, psychology, and neurobiology, always integrating the researchers’ empirical findings into a meaningful philosophical perspective. This scientific-philosophical (or “sci-phi”) perspective opens onto particularly provocative interpretations of human morality, clarifying, for instance, how an understanding of the neuromechanics of moral judgment exposes the weaknesses of popular ethical theories. Remarkably versatile, sci-phi reasoning also illuminates the real potential of social-networking friendships and exposes the dangerous oversimplifications in media portrayals of political conflict. Still, some readers may wonder about Pigliucci’s sci-phi attack on religion as a senseless delusion. Apparently, Pigliucci’s bridge from science to philosophy doesn’t reach as far as Pascal or Kierkegaard. A book sure to spark debate. --Bryce Christensen


Philosophy Now
Answers for Aristotle is a lively, impressively-argued foray into topics ranging from Kepler’s improvement of Copernicus’s heliocentric theory, to the discovery of Neptune, to Stanley Milgram’s obedience experiment, to Kantian duty ethics….Answers for Aristotle is a veritable Cook’s Tour of science, philosophy, and the curious meeting ground of the two. The best approach, as the author intended, is to sit back in a quiet hour or two and take it all in, then look back afterward to behold the vast terrain you have covered.”

The Philosopher’s Magazine
“Wide-ranging and very readable ….[Pigliucci provides] fascinating and well-thought-out examples….he shows us that philosophy and science can together become greater than the sum of their parts.”

“Pigliucci is proof positive that the reports of philosophy’s death have been greatly exaggerated…. This book is a refreshing, sympathetic look at how philosophy can enlist the help of science to answer enduring questions…. [A] highly enjoyable book.”

San Francisco/Sacramento Book Review
“[A] very important book…. It is a fascinating book and great reading…. [Pigliucci’s] knowledge is astounding.”

Brain Pickings
Answers for Aristotle explores diverse yet uniformly fascinating and essential subjects we’ve previously explored and will continue to explore for the foreseeable lifetime—love, morality, what it means to be human, the meaning of life, the limits of science, and much more.”

Skeptical Inquirer
“[Pigliucci] is that rare academic…who is both an evolutionary biologist and philosopher (he has doctorates in both fields), and so he knows, better than most, that both science and philosophy are essential to understanding ourselves and our world….[A] lively discussion.”

New Scientist
“[Answers for Aristotle] will make you reflect on both the meaning of science…and of your own life.”

Publishers Weekly
“[A] careful examination of the surprising connections between science and philosophy….[Answers for Aristotle] is a witty and insightful look at the relevance of philosophy today.”

Booklist Online
“Bravely renewing the entire Aristotelian project, Pigliucci surveys the latest scientific research in primatology, psychology, and neurobiology, always integrating the researchers’ empirical findings into a meaningful philosophical perspective. This scientific-philosophical (or “sci-phi”) perspective opens onto particularly provocative interpretations of human morality….Remarkably versatile....A book sure to spark debate.”

Kirkus Reviews
“A useful introduction to sources on both sides of the science-philosophy divide.”

Dario Maestripieri, Professor of Comparative Human Development, The University of Chicago, and author of Games Primates Play
“Massimo Pigliucci’s beautiful mind and encyclopedic knowledge are on full display in Answers for Aristotle. He is as comfortable discussing quantum physics and cognitive psychology as he is explaining the complexities of evolutionary biology and moral philosophy. Answers for Aristotle is a stimulating, entertaining book that demonstrates that we need both science and philosophy to make sense of who we are and how we live our lives.”

Glenn Branch, Deputy Director, National Center for Science Education
“From ethics to epistemology, from the self to the state, from the hormones of love to the heavens above, Massimo Pigliucci’s Answers for Aristotle argues for the mutual relevance of science and philosophy in understanding the world in which we live. Enthusiastic, enlightening, and enthralling.”

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (October 2, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465021387
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465021383
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.9 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #53,692 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Massimo Pigliucci is a Professor of Philosophy at the City University of New York. His research is concerned with philosophy of science, the relationship between science and philosophy, and the nature of pseudoscience.

He received a Doctorate in Genetics from the University of Ferrara in Italy, a PhD in Botany from the University of Connecticut, and a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Tennessee. He has published over a hundred technical papers and several books. Prof. Pigliucci has been awarded the prestigious Dobzhansky Prize from the Society for the Study of Evolution. He has been elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science "for fundamental studies of genotype by environmental interactions and for public defense of evolutionary biology from pseudoscientific attack."

In the areas of outreach and critical thinking, Prof. Pigliucci has published in national magazines such as Skeptic, Skeptical Inquirer, Philosophy Now, and The Philosopher's Magazine, among others. He has also been elected as a Consultant for the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. Pigliucci pens the "Rationally Speaking" blog (, and co-hosts the Rationally Speaking podcast.

Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
27 of 31 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "This book is for people who are weary of nonsense..." October 1, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
"This book is about what philosophy and science together can tell us concerning the big questions in life, and if we want to understand these questions in a new light we also need to look under the hood, so to speak. We will employ not only the logical scalpel of philosophy to parse what people mean by the different ideas that guide their lives but also the microscope of science to try to figure out how and why people behave in certain ways." ... "The basic idea is that there are some things that ought to matter, whatever problem we experience in life: the facts that are pertinent to said problem; the values that guide us as we evaluate those facts; the nature of the problem itself; any possible solutions to it; and the meaningfulness to us of those facts and values and their relevance to the quality of our life. Since science is uniquely well suited to deal with factual knowledge and philosophy deals with (among other things) values, sci-phi [shorthand for science-philosophy] seems like a promising way to approach the perennial questions concerning how we construct the meaning of our existence."

I hope these two quotes cover the gist of Professor Pigliucci's book. That said, this book has one major advantage, which also leads to its biggest disadvantage I believe - breadth of subject matter. Pigliucci has run through and tackled some of the biggest topics of interest to both professional philosophers as well as specialized scientists. He discusses a little bit of everything: evolution, morality, religion, decision-making, politics, free will, nature versus nurture, love, and friendship. He both introduces the reader to the issue and then encapsulates the puzzles which academics struggle with out in the field. I enjoyed reading what Pigliucci had to say regarding the different subjects.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
The dustcover intrigued me: how do we take the best of modern science and modern philosophy and construct a framework to help us live a fulfilling life. What the dustcover should have said is: how do we live a meaningful life according to Massimo. The writer attempts to cover a very large surface area, spanning everything from morality, to love, to God. Unfortunately, the end result is "mile wide, inch deep". I could live with that if the end result were sound, but what bothers me about this book is that Massimo dismisses frameworks he disagrees with by making statements like "it is obvious" or "it is reasonable" without providing a coherent and cogent argument to support it. I personally agreed with him in most cases, but that is not substitute for a deductive argument. In other cases the writer brings up the most extreme statements made by an advocate of a theory/framework he disagrees with (as in the case of evolutionary psychology) and then promptly dismisses the whole paradigm on that basis alone.

In summary I would say that if you have done some reading about philosophy and evolutionary sciences this book can be seen as entertaining banter with a well informed friend with set opinions. If, on the other hand, you are looking for an introduction - or if you are looking for what the dustcover advertises: a philosophically and scientifically grounded guide to a more fulfilling life, I would suggest you look elsewhere.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Anwers for Aristotle September 30, 2012
By weston
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
"Answers for Aristotle" by Massimo Pigliucci: The thesis of this book is that the answer to life's great questions--morality, justice, love,gods, etc.--can be understood by combining the empirical evidence of science and the value judgments of philosophy--SciPhi as the author terms it. The science he is referring to is evolutionary biology, cognitive science, psychology and even softer stuff, and the philosophy is mostly Aristotle/Socrates with a little Hume, Kant and others thrown in. The scientific state-of-the-art is using MRI to measure blood flow rates in different parts of the brain when different mental tasks are undertaken or different chemicals are ingested, which allows an association of various parts of the brain with various subjects and an indication of the effect of drugs on brain function. The book is valuable for the insight it provides on the status of this sort of scientific research and for relating it to the philosophy of Aristotle, who it appears was mostly right in this arena, in contrast to the fate of his ideas in the physical sciences, but then the bio sciences are in their early days. The breadth of the author's knowledge is impresssive, and he has done us a service by pulling all of this together into an accessible form.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sci-Phi with Professor Massimo Pigliucci November 21, 2012
Philosophy, or the love of wisdom traditionally is regarded as a manner of exploring broad, difficult questions about the nature of life, thinking, and ethics. Part of philosophical thinking is determining whether and how this can be done. In his new book, "Answers for Aristotle: How Science and Philosophy can Lead us to a More Meaningful Life" Professor Massimo Pigliucci, develops tentative approaches and tentative answers to philosophical questions through an approach he calls "Sci-Phi" -- a combination of the best of science and philosophy. Pigliucci is Professor of Philosophy at the City University of New York. He holds three PhD's in genetics, biology, and philosophy of science. He puts his formidable learning and intellect to work in informing science with philosophy, and the other way around. This was my first exposure to Pigliucci's work. He is a prolific writer and editor who has partaken in many controversies and debates surrounding the theory of evolution in particular and who maintains an active presence on the web explaining his scientifically influenced, secular philosophizing.

"Answers for Aristotle" is an engagingly written, sweeping introductory account of how science and philosophy together can provide guidance to understanding and to living a rewarding, meaningful life. Pigliucci sees the Greek philosopher Aristotle as the first thinker who attempted to integrate the science of his day with philosophy. As both science and philosophy developed, they diverged. Pigliucci wants to bring them together. Aristotle is also a dominant philosophical influence, particularly in ethics. Aristotle found that the good life consisted in a state and activity he called eudamonia, or human flourishing. Pigliucci agrees and expands upon Aristotle's account.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Avuncular
What I liked most about the book is the range and scope. It was cogent and relevant. I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in philosophy and science, but who is... Read more
Published 24 days ago by Multiversalist
5.0 out of 5 stars A very extensive and clear "exposé" on the interface between...
I love it ! Massimo Pugliucci is an excellent science educator who is not afraid to look at the hard questions. It's a page turner !
Published 3 months ago by Nicolas Klépinine
4.0 out of 5 stars Well Done But Not Deep
This book is about deep subjects and thinking but the book itself covers such a broad subject that it comes off as very light. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Book Fanatic
3.0 out of 5 stars Philosophy and Science
Massimo Pugliucci's book "Answers for Aristotle" charts a middle course between those scientists like Stephen Hawkins who debunk Philosophy and those Philosophers that debunk what... Read more
Published 8 months ago by GVC
4.0 out of 5 stars A thoughtful and well-written book
You may not agree with all the conclusions the author reaches--particularly regarding religion--but his reasoning and writing style are highlights of the book.
Published 9 months ago by Dr. Ronald W. Pies
4.0 out of 5 stars Solid, readable, philosphical.
Pigliucci does a great job going after the big questions, he brings the tutor of Alexander the Great. An easy read but drives lots of thinking. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Nidan
5.0 out of 5 stars A self help book for people who don't like self help books.
I was initially drawn to philosophy for its therapeutic attributes, which may be an odd thing to hear. How does an often times esoteric academic discipline help one out? Read more
Published 13 months ago by Hernandez.M
5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome Massimo Rules
Clear, concise, written with no spin! The definition of rationality and reason.A must have if your a skeptic seeking some information and data on philosophy.
Published 15 months ago by David Dees
4.0 out of 5 stars For those who like to use their most important organ (their brain!)
"Answers for Aristotle" is an entertaining and intelligent book that looks to combine science with philosophy to refine human behavior and eradicate or diminish our irrational... Read more
Published 15 months ago by Arash Farzaneh
3.0 out of 5 stars easy read but nothing new
If you are relatively up on the latest in philosophy & science you will learn little new. If not then you may find many of the topics & intersections between science & philosophy... Read more
Published 16 months ago by R. Newsom
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