Tuesday, October 02, 2007

What's popular in philosophy?

The campus bookstore at my university has invited the philosophy department to assemble a shelf of book recommendations. Presumably these should be books that might actually sell, and not, for example, Quine’s Word and Object or Carnap’s Aufbau, no matter how influential they might have been.

This has prompted me to consult Amazon for popular titles in “Philosophy.”

What counts as “philosophy,” or as “metaphysics” for that matter, depends on who you ask.

The Amazon listing of bestselling philosophy books includes titles such as “The 48 Laws of Power” (#231) and “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens” (#26,114).

One wonders about the prevalence of numbers in the titles of popular books--perhaps Wittgenstein could be a popular author if instead of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus it were titled “7 Propositions on Language and Reality.” Especially since language seems to be a hot popular philosophy topic, with Steven Pinker showing up in every list.

So, if we confine our picks to Philosophy that Philosophers Would Recognize, the bestselling list looks something like this:
Steven Pinker, The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature (#70)
Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (#303)
Thomas Cathcart and David Klein, Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar: Understanding Philosophy through Jokes (a humorous but respectable survey of philosophy assembled by non-philosophers) (#384)

After that, the next most popular titles are clearly bought as college course texts:
Anthony Weston, A Rulebook for Arguments
Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
Plato, The Republic
Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish
(that last one is a surprise, eh?)

One of the most popular collections of current philosophical research articles is
The Daily Show and Philosophy (#2976), which probably explains why my students write essays about that utilitarian, Jon Stewart Mills.

In philosophy of science, the most popular books are
Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (#103) and
Daniel Dennett, Breaking the Spell (#3539)
which makes me wonder when it was that philosophy of science became engulfed by questions about religion.

Meanwhile, some of the books that I had hoped to pick for the bookstore shelf like Philip Kitcher, Science, Truth, and Democracy are ranked lower (higher?) than 200,000.

1 comment:

Boram Lee said...

Poor Jon Stewart Mills. It's true he supported British colonialism, but still... he doesn't deserve getting his names misspelt by thousands of clueless undergrads each semester.