George Scialabba

George Scialabba writes about books for The Boston Globe, Dissent, and The Boston Review, and other publications.

Recent Articles

Free to Choose

Moral Freedom: The Search for Virtue in a World of Choice , by Alan Wolfe. W.W. Norton 224 pages, $24.95. As every parent knows, sometimes the only answer to "Why?" is "Because I say so." For a long time that was, at least in form, the most common answer to society's ultimate why question: "Why be moral?" And of course, for an even longer time that question rarely arose, which greatly simplified matters. From the moral standpoint, modernity may be defined as the unwillingness of the many, and no longer only a privileged or heroic few, to take "Because I (we) say so" for an answer. This fateful recalcitrance had many sources. One was a lightening of the burdens of daily life, thanks to the agricultural innovations of the late Middle Ages and the trickle-down effect of growing trade. Another was the evolution and differentiation of nation-states and national churches. Yet another was the success of natural philosophy, later called science, which made asking "Why?" seem in general a more...

Thinking about Thinking

The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America, Louis Menand. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 480 pages, $27.00. N ot long ago the philosopher Daniel Dennett called Darwinism--the theory of evolution by means of natural selection--"the best idea ever." It is certainly one of the most consequential. As an explanation of an enormous range of biological and cultural phenomena and, perhaps more important, as a mode of explanation, it has altered the intellectual landscape decisively. Even Karl Marx, only a few years after the publication of On the Origin of Species, sought permission (unsuccessfully) to dedicate Das Kapital to Charles Darwin. ("Organisms of the universe, unite... . "?) One of Darwinism's consequences, as Louis Menand tells it, was a change in the character of philosophy in America. Before Darwin, philosophy was in effect an adjunct of religion. There were few philosophy professors in the young United States, and they were largely concerned with justifying the ways of God...