Synopses & Reviews
In the wake of his enormously popular books The Armchair Economist and More Sex Is Safer Sex, Steven Landsburg uses concepts from mathematics, economics, and physics to address the big questions in philosophy: What is real? What can we know? What is the difference between right and wrong? And how should we live?
Widely renowned for his lively explorations of economics, in his fourth book Landsburg branches out into mathematics and physics as well—disciplines that, like economics, the author loves for their beauty, their logical clarity, and their profound and indisputable truth—to take us on a provocative and utterly entertaining journey through the questions that have preoccupied philosophers through the ages. The author begins with the broadest possible categories—Reality and Unreality; Knowledge and Belief; Right and Wrong—and then focuses his exploration on specific concerns: from a mathematical analysis of the arguments for the existence of God; to the real meaning of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle and the Godel Incompleteness Theorem; to the moral choices we face in the marketplace and the voting booth.
Stimulating, illuminating, and always surprising, The Big Questions challenges readers to re-evaluate their most fundamental beliefs and reveals the relationship between the loftiest philosophical quests and our everyday lives.
"With an folksy style and overly reductive economics, Landsburg (The Armchair Economist) solves, to his own satisfaction, a host of such philosophical problems as the limits of knowledge, what reality is and why we should reject liberal social policies based on fairness. With a founding claim that mathematical objects are 'real' (albeit real in a way that is never made quite clear) the author argues for the necessity of the universe, before offering refutations of intelligent design and St. Anselm's proof for the existence of God. The possibility of knowledge is demonstrated by familiarizing the reader with a few ideas the author simply knows to be true such as Gdel's theorem and Heisenberg's uncertainty principle. Sections on morality and 'the life of the mind' apply the 'Economist's Golden Rule' to questions of right and wrong before advising the reader not to bother studying English literature. While serving up plenty of sound economics, the book falls short on the philosophy, displaying not only conceptual inconsistencies but an intolerance for the irrational dimensions of human existence." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Steven E. Landsburg's latest book of economic brain teasers resembles one of those Hanayama metal puzzles that you're supposed to pull apart: They drive me crazy, yet I can't put them down. Landsburg is the University of Rochester professor who brought us The Armchair Economist and More Sex Is Safer Sex.... In The Big Questions, he attempts something more ambitious and slightly less flip: to sum up his ideas about 'the nature of reality, the basis of knowledge and the foundations of ethics."' Be prepared for a diverting journey into the maze of one man's mind, a supply-and-demand version of the movie Being John Malkovich. -- Bloomburg News "In The Big Questions, Steven Landsburg ventures far beyond his usual domain to take on questions in metaphysics, epistemology and ethics. . . . [T]his must make Steven Landsburg history's most courageous mathematician because for Landsburg mathematical abstractions are not like Mount Everest, rather Mount Everest is a mathematical abstraction. Indeed, for Landsburg, it's math all the way down--math is what exists and what exists is math, A=A. Read the book for more on this view, which is as good as any metaphysics that has ever been and a far sight better than most." -- MarginalRevolution.com "The Big Questions is a funky book, like an intellectual roller coaster ride through some of the most fascinating ideas in science, math and economics. These are the ideas, says the author - a University of Rochester professor of economics - that unlock the most perplexing mysteries in philosophy and life, in general. His book is a thought provoking blast." -- David Henderson
About the Author
Steven E. Landsburg is a Professor of Economics at the University of Rochester. He is the author of More Sex Is Safer Sex, The Armchair Economist, Fair Play, two textbooks on economics, and over thirty journal articles in mathematics, economics, and philosophy. He writes the popular “Everyday Economics” column in Slate magazine and has written for Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, and other publications.