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What Is Marriage?: Man and Woman: A Defense Paperback – December 11, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


"What Is Marriage? There is the question. Thanks to these three eloquent authors for so cogently reminding us of that, and for showing us how reflective reason answers it."
-- Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York

"This book brilliantly explains why the definition of marriage is so critical and why the strengthening of marriages is absolutely essential to our freedom and our future."
-- Dr. Rick Warren, Author of The Purpose Driven Life and Pastor of Saddleback Church

"A lot more is at stake in the marriage debate than the definition of a word, and this book reveals just how much. Its defense of marriage is philosophical and sociological, not theological, but people of all faiths will find it illuminating and edifying."
-- Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, Zaytuna College

"What Is Marriage? is the most insightful, eloquent, and influential defense of marriage as it has been historically and rightly understood. People of all traditions--and everyone who cares about the future of this central and sacred social institution--owe Sherif Girgis, Ryan T. Anderson, and Robert P. George an extraordinary debt."
-- Meir Soloveichik, Associate Rabbi at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun and Director of the Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought at Yeshiva University

"With many countries on the verge of redefining a basic social institution, What Is Marriage? issues an urgent call for full deliberation of what is at stake. The authors make a compelling secular case for marriage as a partnership between a man and a woman, whose special status is based on society's interest in the nurture and education of children."
-- Mary Ann Glendon, Learned Hand Professor of Law, Harvard University

"What a joy to see this book by Sherif Girgis, Ryan T. Anderson, and Robert P. George, which presents the most philosophically astute and historically accurate defense of traditional marriage to date. It exposes the incoherence of attempts to radically redefine marriage by showing the inherent wisdom in what is our oldest social institution."
-- David Novak, J. Richard and Dorothy Shiff Chair in Jewish Studies, University of Toronto

About the Author

Sherif Girgis is a Ph.D. student in philosophy at Princeton University and a J.D. candidate at Yale Law School. After graduating Phi Beta Kappa and summa cum laude from Princeton, where he won prizes for best senior thesis in ethics and best thesis in philosophy, as well as the Dante Society of America's national Dante Prize, he obtained a B.Phil. in moral, political, and legal philosophy from the University of Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar.

Ryan T. Anderson is William E. Simon Fellow at the Heritage Foundation and the editor of Public Discourse: Ethics, Law, and the Common Good, the online journal of the Witherspoon Institute. A Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude graduate of Princeton University, he is a Ph.D. candidate in political philosophy at the University of Notre Dame. He has worked as assistant editor of First Things and was a Journalism Fellow of the Phil­lips Foundation. His writings have appeared in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, First Things, the Weekly Standard, National Review, the New Atlantis, and the Claremont Review of Books.

Robert P. George is a Visiting Professor at Harvard Law School and McCormick Profes­sor of Jurisprudence and Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institu­tions at Princeton University. He is a member of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, and previously served on the President's Council on Bioethics and as a presi­dential appointee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights. He is a former Judicial Fellow at the Supreme Court of the United States, where he received the Justice Tom C. Clark Award. He is a recipient of the United States Presidential Citizens Medal and the Honorific Medal for the Defense of Human Rights of the Republic of Poland.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 152 pages
  • Publisher: Encounter Books; 1St Edition edition (December 11, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594036225
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594036224
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 5.8 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (197 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #46,416 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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First, I should say a bit about my own background. I graduated from Princeton University in June 2012. During my senior year at Princeton, I took both of Professor Robert George's (one of the book's co-authors) courses, "Constitutional Interpretation" and "Civil Liberties." Before I took these classes, I was a pro-life libertarian, similar to Ron Paul. I was definitely in favor of gay marriage: I actually wrote my "Christian Ethics" midterm paper on how the Bible's stance on homosexuality had been widely misinterpreted. But during my senior fall, I was assigned the article version of "What is Marriage?" and I found its arguments quite convincing. Over the course of the next few months, I became a traditional marriage advocate and eventually became a social conservative.

Second, I thought I would offer a little perspective on how Professor George is seen by his fellow faculty and by his students. As you might imagine, the average student and the average professor at Princeton is quite liberal (the school newspaper published a survey in 2008 that showed that 80% of the student body and 95% of the faculty had voted for Obama). However, Professor George is widely respected on campus, even by those who vehemently disagree with him, because he takes care to have a strong rational principles for his beliefs, because he takes care to address the criticisms of the other side, and because of his personal warmth.

This balanced and rigorous approach to the material was borne out in our course readings, where Professor George always assigned the best arguments on both sides of the issue--he told us to let him know if we thought a particular position wasn't well-defended and that he would replace the reading with one we thought was better.
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What is Marriage? is an outstanding piece of persuasive writing. It is not a pop-politics book in the manner of Rachel Maddow, Glenn Beck, or Ann Coulter. It is not angry, snide or snarky It is a serious book about public policy.

The authors are careful not to make arguments based on religion. There is also no anti-gay animus (unless you think that supporting marriage as it has been traditionally known is per se anti-gay). Frankly, the book is not about gays or gay marriage. It is about marriage and what distinguishes it from all other relationships.

I think defenders of traditional marriage (or what the authors call conjugal marriage) have frequently had a difficult time articulating their arguments because it's like arguing why a table must have a horizontal surface. It seems so obvious and has been defined thusly for so long that few serious scholars have thought about defending that definition. I am grateful that these authors have done such a good job articulating this defense.
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After juxtaposing "Tricky Nicky's" review with "What is Marriage," I have to wonder if we read the same book. One of the best aspects of this eloquent, succinct resource is its ability to define its answer to the question it poses distinctly from peripheral irrelevances. For example, the book's introduction explains what the book is not. This is helpful in discounting Tricky Nicky's critique, as well as others, as mischaracterizations of the authors' argument.

While Tricky Nicky seems to think that the authors are simply clinging (perhaps Tricky Nicky would add "bitterly"?) to the definition of marriage because of its historical rooting - a history that Tricky Nicky then goes on to undermine - the authors in fact distinguish their argument from history or religious tradition. As the authors say, "from a thousand facts about how marriage has been, one can deduce nothing about how it should be." History is only employed here to the extent the history of marriage has a constant, which is that "the conjugal view of marriage is not uniquely Jewish or Christian; something quite similar to it was developed apart from these traditions." Nor is the common critique that the definition marriage has something to do with hatred to homosexuals relevant here. As the authors note, also at the outset, "the philosophical and legal principle that only coitus could consummate a marriage arose centuries before the concept of a gay identity . . . and even in cultures very favorable to homoerotic relationships (as in ancient Greece), something akin to the conjugal view [of marriage] has prevailed - and nothing like same-sex marriage was even imagined.
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Format: Paperback
It is very hard to find material on this topic that does not, in some way, rely on irrelevant arguments. Most of what you will find focuses either on the immorality of homosexuality, or on the bigotry of those who oppose recognizing same-sex marriage. It is not only a relief but also a great help to have a book that does neither. Whatever angle you come at the debate from, this is a worthy read. If you agree with the authors, you will undoubtedly find new insights. If you do not, you will find the best philosophical arguments in opposition, as opposed to a screed against homosexuality. I highly recommend this book, for anyone interested in the topic.
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