Wednesday, September 30, 2020



David Hume Study Guide


In the eighteenth century, the words “natural religion” referred to religious beliefs based on reason and evidence instead of revelation. In Understanding David Hume, Professor Laurence Houlgate guides beginning philosophy students through the labyrinth of arguments for and against the existence and infinite nature of God, focusing mainly on the famous Design Argument. 

This is a philosophy study guide for students who want more substance than the "notes" that are found online.  Professor Houlgate breaks down the more lengthy dialogues into discrete and understandable short chapters, emphasizing critical thinking, but allowing students to easily navigate through the book. 

 Professor Houlgate uses the same approach to help students understand Hume’s essays concerning Miracles, Suicide and Immortality of the Soul. 

Questions for thought and discussion and ideas for student essays and term papers are to be found at the conclusion of each section.

Because of the frequent condemnation by the conservative Christian clergy in England and Scotland, it is no wonder that most of David Hume’s Dialogues and other writings on natural religion were not published until after his death. Hume was often accused of atheism and other heresies and was denied several university positions, despite his rising fame in eighteenth century scholarship. But Hume never gave up. He insured that his most contentious essays on natural religion would be published posthumously. Although he did not live to see it, David Hume is now regarded as one of the greatest philosophers of the Enlightenment and his writings are considered essential reading in most university courses in the philosophy of religion.


 Understanding David Hume is available at low cost in digital and print versions at



Thomas Hobbes Study Guide

 Thomas Hobbes' 17th century book Leviathan has been called "the greatest single work of political thought in the English language.” But it is not the most accessible work. Beginning philosophy students continue to struggle with Hobbes' old-English words and prose style.. 

Professor Laurence Houlgate's guide to Leviathan solves these problems by organizing each chapter into short sections while using contemporary examples and prose to explain the more difficult arguments and ideas. The result is an understandable student guide to Hobbes' Leviathan. 

Houlgate also provides two chapters showing how Hobbes answers the central questions of political philosophy, and compares Hobbes' answers to those of Plato and John Locke. 

As a bonus, each chapter ends with questions for thought and discussion, thereby helping students with exam preparation and providing ideas for successful term papers. 

The book concludes with an imaginary dialogue between Hobbes, Locke and James Madison on the impeachment clause of the U.S. Constitution.


Now available in digital and print versions, at low cost, at             




John Stuart Mill Study Guide

Understanding John Stuart Mill is the third book in a series of philosophy study guides for the classics of philosophy. The series is designed for beginning and intermediate philosophy students who would like more depth than they would ordinarily get from "Notes" books that only give outlines of the philosopher's thoughts and theories. 

At the same time, the Smart Student's books are not scholarly monographs designed for graduate students and professors.

Understanding John Stuart Mill focuses on both content and philosophical method in the sections on Mill's famous Utilitarianism and in his later but equally famous On Liberty. 

Each chapter breaks down the arguments of the philosopher into understandable parts, showing how the philosopher reaches his conclusions and how he defends against possible objections. Each chapter concludes with a set of questions for thought and discussion. Some of the questions are on topics that provide an excellent starting point for term papers. 

References to other books about the philosopher or the topic can be found at the end of the chapter, in footnotes, textboxes or at the end of the book.

Also in the Smart Student's Guide series are: Understanding Plato: The Socratic Dialogues and the Republic;  Understanding John Stuart Mill: Utilitarianism and On Liberty; Understanding Thomas Hobbes: Leviathan; Understanding John Locke: Second Treatise of Government

All books are available at, at low cost, in both digital and print versions.



Immanuel Kant Study Guide

This book is fourth in a series of philosophy study guides devoted to helping students understand some of the great works in ethics, social and political philosophy. 

 It has been said that Kant's Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals "is the single most important work in modern moral philosophy" (Henry Allison). 

 It is also one of the most difficult books to comprehend, especially for beginning philosophy students. Understanding Immanuel Kant makes Kant accessible to students while at the same time showing why his writings have had such a powerful influence on philosophical ethics.

Professor Houlgate's book is not a scholarly monograph on Kant, nor is it a bare-bones outline of Kant's writings. Instead, the book gives the reader an interpretation of Kant in ordinary language, explaining the technical words Kant uses ("analytic," "synthetic," "categorical imperative," "autonomy of the will") and using examples of moral problems drawn from everyday life. 

The book also shows how Kantian ethics differs from the theories of the other great philosophers represented in the series (Plato, Locke, Hobbes, Hume and Mill).

Each chapter concludes with questions for thought and discussion and within these questions students will find many topics that can be pursued in term papers. 

Understanding Immanuel Kant can be purchased at low cost at



Plato Study GuideUnderstanding Plato is the prize-winning first book in the six-book series on the classical philosophers. The series is designed for beginning and intermediate philosophy students who would like more depth than they would ordinarily get from books that give only notes and outlines of the philosopher's thoughts and theories.

Unlike other philosophy study books, each book in the series focuses on both content and philosophical method. Each chapter breaks down arguments of the philosopher into understandable parts, showing how philosophers reaches their conclusions and how they defend against possible objections. 

Each chapter concludes with a set of questions for thought and discussion. Some of the questions are on topics that provide an excellent starting point for term papers. References to other books about the philosopher or the topic can be found at the end of the chapter, in footnotes, textboxes or at the back of the book.

Understanding Plato  contains a complete discussion of four of the early Socratic dialogues (Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Meno) and Plato's longer and more famous work, The Republic.

Available at low cost in digital and print versions at


Friday, September 4, 2020

How Education Can Combat Racism

 It’s common to hear people say that education can combat racism, but is this statement accurate and if so, in what sense? The idea that racism is simply a matter of ignorance is arguably a dodge. As Victor Ray and Alan Aja pointed out in The Washington Post, “The highly educated designed America’s system of segregation and America’s prison system.” 

Why? Because racism helped maintain a political and economic order from which those highly educated people benefited. Systemic inequality is a much more sweeping problem than individual bigotry.

If racism is not caused solely by a lack of education, is there anything education can do to combat racism? According to an article by Pirette McKamey in The Atlantic, anti-racist teachers go out of their way to engage with black students, to value their classroom contributions, and to critique their own approach to teaching. Rather than assuming that a struggling student is under-motivated or not prepared for class, they combat racism by trying to figure out why they’re not reaching that particular student.

The assumption that racism is caused by ignorance is essentially passive. It allows highly educated people to assume that they are not racist, even while contributing to systemic racism. Anti-racist education takes an active approach. It assumes that systemic racism is present and seeks ways to confront its destructive effects.

Of course, there’s a limit to how much education can do about systemic racism without deeper changes. For example, as long as education funding is tied to property taxes there will be deep inequalities between the education available in different communities. These inequalities will continue to drive other inequalities such as the percentage of students who go on to higher education and the types of jobs they pursue after graduation. Education can be used to combat racism, but in the end systemic racism is still the primary driving force behind racial injustice.

The Post Office: A Bulwark of Democracy


In the past few weeks, controversial changes at the United States Postal Service by Trump appointee Louis DeJoy have raised concerns about the democratic process, especially considering that these changes are happening right before a presidential election. The Post Office has been removing mailboxes and mail sorting machines, while also cancelling overtime for postal workers. The question is this: will these changes affect the democratic legitimacy of the upcoming election?

Many of our states are simply so big that the average voter would have to drive a considerable distance to vote if voting in person was the only option available. This is especially true now that states such as Kentucky have drastically cut down on the number of polling places. Voting by mail makes it much easier for many people to vote at all, and that increases the percentage of the population that participates in the democratic process. According to Pew Research, 65% of Americans support no-excuse absentee voting due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so voting by mail is likely to be a more popular option than ever. 

When the USPS removes mailboxes, discards mail sorting machines, and cancels overtime for postal employees, it stands to reason that the mail will move more slowly. If record numbers of people vote by absentee ballot – which seems almost certain – then it also stands to reason that the USPS will have trouble collecting all those ballots. 

President Trump seems to be perfectly aware of this. In his own words, he is opposed to more Post Office funding because, “they need that money in order to have the post office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots. But if they don’t get those two items, that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting”. 

If the President doesn’t want to fund the Post Office because that would lead to too many people voting, then it’s obvious that a functioning post office is essential to American democracy. For the presidential election to have democratic legitimacy, we must be able to count on the Post Office.