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A Very Bad Wizard: Morality Behind the Curtain Paperback – November 17, 2009

4.9 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"An intellectual feast, completely engrossing."
— Ian McEwan

“A thought-provoking and entertaining tour of one of the frontiers of human knowledge — the roots of our moral sense.”
— Steven Pinker, Harvard College Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of How the Mind Works and The Stuff of Thought

“Tamler Sommers has become something of a legend in the world of philosophy, not only for his profound insights into human morality, but also for the almost supernaturally funny and engaging way he presents philosophical ideas.… These interviews give the reader a real sense for some of the most important new research in the cognitive science of morality, but they also do an amazing job of capturing some of the verve and excitement of this emerging new field.”
— Joshua Knobe, Assistant Professor, Program in Cognitive Science and
Department of Philosophy, Yale University

From the Inside Flap


?Do we have free will? What counts as justice in the Peruvian Amazon? Does evolutionary theory make ethics a sham? Is Catherine Zeta-Jones objectively hotter than Drew Barrymore?

These are just a few of the questions that philosopher Tamler Sommers attempts to answer in his interviews with ten acclaimed researchers in the burgeoning field of moral psychology.

Philip Zimbardo discusses his famous Stanford Prison Experiment, why he had to stop the study after only six days, and how what happened sheds light on the abuses of Abu Ghraib. Harvard neuroscientist Joshua Greene and Liane Young use MRI machines to investigate the neuroscience behind moral judgment. Jonathan Haidt tells us why we think sleeping with our siblings is wrong and how this relates to the clash between liberals and conservatives. Renowned primatologist Frans de Waal explains what his research on chimpanzees and bonobos can tell us about love and war. And much more.

A Very Bad Wizard is essential reading for anyone curious about the origins and inner workings of our moral lives.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: McSweeney's; annotated edition edition (November 17, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 193478138X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1934781388
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.5 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #222,278 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By David on August 31, 2012
Format: Paperback
Disclaimer: I know the author personally, and do work on similar topics (although, for the record, I am not a philosopher).

That said, the reason I came to know the author in the first place was that I admired his work. This book is a great example of why. He has a real talent for bringing out clarity in concepts and arguments that are often so very unclear to non-philosophers. He also has a great knack for zeroing in on the central issues of a topic, and does not shy away from asking the hard, controversial questions. While asking these questions (or discussing such controversial topics) might be very uncomfortable, he adds humor and lighthearted fun so that what was previously uncomfortable to discuss somehow becomes enjoyable. I think these are all reasons why he is able to get such a great list of scholars to agree to do this kind of interview in the first place (and have it published).

Finally, although I am his friend and probably could have pressured him into giving me a free copy, I personally bought two copies (after giving my first one away). If you're even bothering to read the reviews on a book like this, I'm sure you'll love it.
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Format: Paperback
*A Very Bad Wizard* was a McSweeney's Book Release Club selection, and it took me a while to even pick this book up and start it because, frankly, it just didn't seem like it would be that interesting. But I was wrong - this relatively informal philosophy book is absolutely amazing. Here are nine casual, thought-provoking conversations covering the role of evolution in morality, the existence (or non-existence) of free will, moral relativism, etc.

This is a wonderfully edited, enjoyable, often humorous, fascinating read. This is the kind of book I am going to lend to a friend and then make sure I get it back so I can lend it again.
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I loved reading about some of the questionable experiments discussed in this book and the authors interpretations of the human condition in general. Very insightful look into the human psyche and the field of psychology in general. I was particularly interested in the section regarding the experiment making students into "prison guards" and "inmates". It is rather appalling to see how quickly we go from civilized to barbaric when constraints are removed. I thought the author wrote very well and clearly articulated his meaning. Also, the layout of the book was well done and lent itself to a good flow for an easy but thought provoking read.
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Format: Paperback
I have never written an Amazon review for a book, but I feel compelled to do so for this thought provoking and perception altering look at morality by Tamler Sommers.

Although not relevant to the book, I feel it serves to note that I have always been a big Sam Harris fan, and have valued his work on many different subjects. The reason I mention this is because the book The Moral Landscape by Harris was the only ideology I had encountered or read about seriously before picking up this book. I have always had a strong interest in philosophy, and I have dabbled here and there with shorter works by philosophers, but it is easy for the layman to be bogged down by the numerous options and opinions, along with the complex language, used to describe philosophical concepts by various philosophers throughout time.

It was immediately apparent after beginning this book that I was opening Pandora's box in regards to ethics and morality, and that Harris' viewpoint of the subject was grossly insufficient in approaching this topic.

I love the fact that Sommers interviews prolific minds from many different backgrounds. To hear about morality as described by an anthropologist, versus a primatologist, versus a philosopher, versus a sociologist, one begins to see just how complex the matter of morality really is, and why it is a subject that science is ill equipped to deal with in its entirety, if at all. Sommers treats all of his interview subjects with fairness and asks excellent questions, but also pokes and prods to find the flaws or inadequacies in their own fields of study, revealing the the boundaries each of these fields of studies bumps into when trying to broach the subject of morality.
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Talmar Sommers has a great interview style. The book is fantastic and covers some great areas of Philosophy with some of the greatest superstars of our era. I had the privilege to take a class from Prof Sommers, the book is better than his class, which was already amazing!
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This is a fascinating book, without doubt. It will be found challenging by the very religious and by Rational Mind uber alles types alike (a good gift for both types of friends/family members). The interdisciplinary interview serial was a refreshing approach at illuminating a challenging topic. Rather than try for a comprehensive thesis which would inevitably be dry and incomplete (for some) Sommers has created an armature of thoughtful conversations about cutting edge research. From there, readers are invited to contemplate morality and free will and pursue their own musings from the conversation.
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