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The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener 2nd Edition

32 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0312206826
ISBN-10: 0312206828
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Editorial Reviews

Review

Gardner [is]...at the glorious zenith of his diversified powers. (The Boston Globe)

Martin Gardner is one of the greatest intellects produced in this country in this century. (Douglas Hofstadter)

For more than half a century, Martin Gardner has been the single brightestbeacone defending rationality and good science...He is also one of the most brilliant men and gracious writers that I have known. (Stephen Jay Gould)

Martin Gardner is that rarest of all contemporary species: a scholar in nobody's pocket; a sparkling, pellucid science and mathematics writer who can discuss Sigmund Freud, Sherlock Holmes, and proofs of God with equal fluency. (Stefan Kanfer, former book editor of Time Magazine)

Martin Gardner's contribution to contemporary culture is unique. (Noam Chomsky)

From the Publisher

"Martin Gardner is one of the great intellects produced in this country in this century." - Douglas Hofstadter

"For more than half a century, Martin Gardner has been the single brightest beacon defending rationality and good science.... He is also one of the most brilliant men and gracious writers that I have known." - Stephen Jay Gould

"Martin Gardner's contribution to contemporary culture is unique." - Noam Chomsky

"Martin Gardner is that rarest of all contemporary species: a scholar in nobody's pocket; a sparkling, pellucid science and mathematics writer who can discuss Sigmund Freud, Sherlock Holmes, and proofs of God with equal fluency." - Stefan Kanfer, former book editor of Time magazine

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin; 2nd edition (August 21, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312206828
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312206826
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #251,205 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

For 25 of his 95 years, Martin Gardner wrote 'Mathematical Games and Recreations', a monthly column for Scientific American magazine. These columns have inspired hundreds of thousands of readers to delve more deeply into the large world of mathematics. He has also made significant contributions to magic, philosophy, debunking pseudoscience, and children's literature. He has produced more than 60 books, including many best sellers, most of which are still in print. His Annotated Alice has sold more than a million copies. He continues to write a regular column for the Skeptical Inquirer magazine.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

53 of 53 people found the following review helpful By Bradley P. Rich on May 28, 2002
Format: Paperback
As anyone who has read Martin Gardner knows, he is both a compelling writer and possessed of a great mind. He is best known as skeptic and debunker, usually in reviews for NY Review of Books, and in columns in various magazines, most notably Scientific American. Like Stephen Jay Gould, he has a tremendous intellectual range and can make anything interesting, including topics that you believe you could not possibly care about prior to reading Gardner on the subject.
All of Gardner's compilations are worth reading and may represent a better introduction to Gardner's thought than the present volume. Nevertheless, this book has a charm that cannot be denied. The book is unlike anything else I have ever read. It is basically a series of musings about various philosophical issues: free will, evil, economics, politics and the nature of god. Gardner begins by giving a simple, understandable summary of the area, including the arguments of the great thinkers on the subject. Gardner then moves to a thorough analysis of the weight of the arguments, and concludes with his own position on the issue.
In general reading this book has the feel of being included in the private musings of a great intellect. Gardner is careful to develop his arguments thoroughly and simply so that the neophyte philosopher will not be left behind. (Though in fairness, some terms are not defined, an a Dictionary of Philosophy would be useful in getting the casual reader up to speed.)
Gardner's style is charming. He takes up a topic such as determinism versus free will and examines the philosophical arguments that have been raised against the existence of free will. Having admitted the power of the arguments arrayed against free will, Gardner confesses that he believes in free will anyway.
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 6, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I'm writing chiefly to defend this book against charges -- made by earlier reviewers -- that this book is pleasant enough reading, but weak in the philosophy department. As someone who spent too much time doing graduate work in philosophy, I find Gardner to be philosophically sophisticated yet thoroughly unpretentious. Sort of like a really good jazz musician with a strong background in music theory, Gardner mastered theory and technique, and then forgot it. Now he uses philosophy to think about the problems that interest him, rather than to write unreadable treatises about trendy issues that will nudge him closer to tenure or full professorship. Would that some of my philosophy profs had taken this approach! Moreover, Gardner's arguments, far from being trite, combine the views of disparate thinkers, such as Carnap and Unamuno (what the heck...?) in original and imaginative ways.
I recommend this book to readers versed in philosophy as well as to those with no background in the subject. As far as his political and economic views, I'm thoroughly sympathetic with Gardner, but have no background in these matters. I leave it others to judge the worth of these portions of the book. But I would suggest that the dated examples don't seriously undermine his arguments.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 11, 1999
Format: Paperback
Gardner starts off with "This is a book of essays about what I believe and why." Gardner has a fantastically clear mind and is able to communicate apparently difficult ideas with great ease. He rejects various philosphical positions in the 1st few chapters, then proceeds to explain his positions on issues. He also explains why some things that can never be proven (including God). He inspires a sense of wonder. But I most recommend this book to those struggling with the issue of God. Gardner is a theist--he believes in a personal God who can be prayed to--and offers arguements as to why that belief is rational in this age of science where many people (properly he says) reject the stories of traditional religion as absurd. Gardner is one of the treasures of the 20th century and it is a shame he is not more widely read.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By S.A. Alenthony on June 17, 2009
Format: Paperback
"Philosophy is concerned with two matters: soluble questions that are trivial, and crucial questions that are insoluble."-Stefan Kanfer

With that epigraph, Martin Gardner begins his wonderful book, The Whys Of A Philosophical Scrivener--a book that has been, for me, one of those special ones I keep at my bedside so I can repeatedly browse it and scribble notes in its margins.

Gardner is a prolific author of over 70 books on mathematics, puzzles, skepticism, science, and philosophy. He wrote for Scientific American from 1956 to 1981, and has been a key figure in the modern effort to debunk pseudoscientists and paranormalists of all stripes. A founding member of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, he wrote a column for their magazine, Skeptical Inquirer, from 1983 to 2002. He has been a loud critic of creationism, and has earned the respect and friendship of the likes of the late Carl Sagan and Stephen Jay Gould, as well as Michael Shermer, James Randi, and Douglas Hofstadter.

In short, he's just the sort of brilliant mind and gifted writer that we freethinkers love to have in our corner. But here is the surprise: Martin Gardner is a theist. And this book, in which he attempts to set out and justify all of his philosophical positions, is mostly about his personal religion, and how he tries to reconcile it with his considerable rational prowess, skepticism, and education.

Before I address the theological topics that comprise the bulk of the book, I'll briefly gloss over some of the other subjects he considers. Each chapter title is of the form "Why I Am Not An ( X )".
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