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Book by ODU’s Wittkower Encourages Readers to Apply Philosophical Framework to Everyday Questions

dwittkow-dylan-wittkowerD.E. Wittkower

In his teaching and writing, Old Dominion University's D.E. Wittkower strives to bring philosophy, his chosen academic discipline, back into the public dialogue. To do that, he has given us all homework.

The assignment does not involve in-depth analysis of the writings of Nietzsche, Kierkegaard or the other great philosophers, however. Instead, in his new book "The Philosopher's Book of Questions and Answers," Wittkower encourages readers to think about everyday questions - like "Could your work life be scheduled to give you more freedom?" and "Why is God telling you how to act?" - through a theoretical philosophy framework.

For each of the questions, the book includes worksheets where readers are encouraged to write the answers that best reflect their thoughts about each of the questions posed. Then, referencing the scholarly work of philosophers like Epicurus (on the subject of wealth) and Plato (for whether religious texts are God telling us how to act), Wittkower explains how theories of the famous philosophers are applicable to everyday dilemmas and entertaining questions.

The book addresses a wide range of topics, sometimes pressing and sometimes quirky, including why evil exists, whether we can tell if we're actually computer simulations, what technology has done to family "quality time," how "intelligent design" is different from science and how we are able to hear a series of notes as a "melody." It also takes up such subjects as gun control, genetic engineering, taxation and economic justice, justifications of the Iraq Wars and the meaning of death (and life).

"The Philosopher's Book of Questions and Answers" strives to help readers come one step closer to solving the uncertainties of life by encouraging them to dig deeper into the philosophical reasoning behind their everyday actions.

"I want to show here how the wisdom of the ancients and the speculation of contemporary philosophers can support your own engagement with the kinds of questions uniquely proper to philosophy: questions for which there are no clear and unambiguous answers, but which are of such great importance that we cannot attempt to answer them anyhow," Wittkower writes in the book's introduction.

The questions and answers are broken into themes in each chapter, from happiness and the meaning of life, to God, to human nature, to science, to death. Because each chapter includes several worksheets designed to elicit self-analysis, Wittkower suggests that readers could try several approaches to tackling the book.

"One is to try a daily routine: sit down with the questions in the morning over coffee, think about them during the day and make time to write about them, and then explore the philosophy in the evening," he writes. "Another possibility is the book club or 'Socrates Café' approach. As indispensable as it is to try to get clarity for yourself in writing, philosophy is best done along with others."

The book's attempt to make philosophy accessible fits with Wittkower's scholarly approach, which includes study of the philosophy of technology and the philosophy of everyday life and popular culture. Published by Adams Media, the book will be released May 18.

Wittkower, who joined the ODU faculty in 2011 as an assistant professor of philosophy, is also the editor of five books with Open Court Publishing: "Ender's Game and Philosophy" (forthcoming, with co-editor Lucinda Rush), "Philip K. Dick and Philosophy," "Facebook and Philosophy," "Mr. Monk and Philosophy" and "IPod and Philosophy." He has written articles for Slate and The Wall Street Journal's "Speakeasy" blog, as well as numerous academic journal articles and book chapters, and has recorded a dozen audiobooks with Librivox.org.