New Books in Philosophy

Discussion with philosopher about their new books

ELIZABETH BRAKE Minimizing Marriage: Marriage, Morality, and the Law

Elizabeth Brake

From the time we are children, we are encouraged to see our lives as in large measure aimed at finding a spouse.  In popular media, the unmarried adult is seen as suspicious, unhealthy, and pitiable.  At the same time, marriage is portrayed as necessary for healthy and flourishing adult life. And we often see the event of a wedding to have a morally transforming power over the individuals who get married.  But with only a little bit of reflection, our popular conception of the meaning and significance of marriage begins to look problematic. 

Is marriage really so different from other kinds of interpersonal relations that it should be accorded such a central place in our popular views about adulthood?  Are those who happen to never fall in love and so never get married really doomed to an inferior or morally impoverished kind of life?  And when one considers the significant social and legal benefits, rights, and privileges that accrue to individuals in virtue of their being married the standard picture seems all the more objectionable.  These thoughts have led some to conclude that marriage should be disestablished as a civic status.

In Minimizing Marriage: Marriage, Morality, and the Law (Oxford University Press, 2012), Elizabeth Brake criticizes the popular view of marriage as intrinsically dyadic, heterosexual, and focused on romantic love and sexual exclusivity.  She also rejects the idea that marriage is a unique kind of moral relation, one that differs in kind from friendships and other kinds of caring relationships.  Brake also challenges the current political and legal significance that currently attaches to marriage. Yet she also rejects marriage disestablishment; employing arguments drawing from John Rawls’s later work, Brake opts instead for a conception of minimal marriage in which marriage is conceived as a relation between two or more people for purposes of mutual care.

PAUL THAGARD The Cognitive Science of Science: Explanation, Discovery, and Conceptual Change

Paul Thagard

We’ve all heard about scientific revolutions, such as the change from the Ptolemaic geocentric universe to the Copernican heliocentric one. Such drastic changes are the meat-and-potatoes of historians of science and philosophers of science. But another perspective on them is from the point of view of cognition. For example, how do scientists come up with breakthroughs? What happens when a scientist confronts a new theory that conflicts with an established one? In what ways does her belief system change, and what factors can impede her acceptance of the new theory?

In his latest book, The Cognitive Science of Science (MIT Press, 2012), Paul Thagard considers the nature of science from this cognitive science perspective. Thagard, who is a professor of philosophy at the University of Waterloo, presents a comprehensive view of such aspects of scientific thinking as the process of discovery and creativity, the nature of change in scientific beliefs, and the role of emotions and values in these processes. He defends an explanatory coherence model of belief revision, proposes a model for explaining resistance to new scientific ideas, and even suggests why so much creative thinking goes on in the shower.

Jason Brennan, “The Ethics of Voting” Princeton University Press, 2011

Jason Brennan

It is commonly held that citizens in a democratic society have a civic duty to participate in the processes of collective self-government. Often, this duty is held to be satisfied by voting. In fact, the sentiment is commonly expressed that voting is always a good thing for citizens to do, no matter how they vote. Similarly, it is widely held that when citizens neglect to vote they violate a civic duty, no matter how uninformed or misguided their votes would have been. These popular pieties about voting are, at the very least, philosophically suspicious. In voting, citizens perform a collective action that impacts the lives of others for better or worse; voting thus seems to be the kind of act that can be performed well or badly. Indeed, it seems that there should be circumstances under which it would be wrong for some individuals to vote.

In The Ethics of Voting (Princeton University Press, 2011)Jason Brennan presents a provocative case for thinking that citizens who choose to vote have a duty to vote well. He then argues that voting well is difficult, and concludes that not only is there not a strong duty to vote but, for many citizens, there is a duty not to vote. Importantly, Brennan takes his view about voting to be fully and enthusiastically democratic.