Belief and Unbelief: A Philosophy of Self Knowledge (1994)

Date: January 14, 2013

Belief and Unbelief: A Philosophy of Self Knowledge

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This is perhaps the most widely read of Michael Novak’s books. Belief and Unbelief attempts to push intelligence and articulation as far as possible into the stuff of what so many philosophers set aside as subjectivity. It is an impassioned critique of the idea of an unbridgeable gap between the emotive and the cognitive — and in its own way, represents a major thrust at positivist analysis.

Written in a context of personal tragedy as well as intellectual search, the book is grounded in the belief that human experience is enclosed within a person to person relationship with the source of all things — sometimes in darkness, other tunes in aridity, but always in deep encounter with community and courage. It is written with a deep fidelity to classical Catholic thought as well as a sense of the writings of sociology, anthropology, and political theory—from Harold Lasswell to Friedrich von Hayek.

This third edition includes Novak’s brilliant 1961 article “God in the Colleges” from Harper’s — a critique of the technification of university life that rules issues of love, death, and personal destiny out of bounds, and hence leaves aside the mysteries of contingency and risk, in favor of the certainties of research, production, and consumption. For such a “lost generation” Belief and Unbelief will remain of tremendous interest and impact.

When the book first appeared thirty years ago, it was praised by naturalists and religious thinkers alike. Sidney Hook called it “a remarkable book, written with verve and distinction.” James Collins termed it “a lively and valuable essay from which a reflective, religiously concerned reader can draw immense profit.” And The Washington Post reviewer claimed that “Novak has written a rich, relentlessly honest introduction to the problem of belief. It is a deeply personal book, rigorous in argument and open ended in conclusions.”

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“A remarkable book…by Michael Novak…who writes with verve and distinction about God, man, and the world. Impressed by the scrupulous restraint with which naturalist philosophers refuse to read their fears or hopes into the universe and by the depths of their tragic humanism, he has made a fresh attempt to restate the case for Christian theism and to meet the challenge of naturalism without sacrificing or diluting his own faith.”
Sidney Hook
Commentary

“This is a lively and valuable essay in philosophy from which a reflective, religiously concerned reader can draw immense profit…. Anyone who accomplishes this much is well launched in philosophical work.”
James Collins

“Among the many books about the approach to faith in God that I have read in recent years, I have found this the most convincing and also the most moving.”
John C. Bennett
President, Union Theological Seminary

“Novak has written a rich… relentlessly honest introduction to the problem of belief. It is a deeply personal book, rigorous in argument and open-ended in its conclusions. There can be no doubt that Novak has opened up a new philosophical quest for contemporary Christian intellectuals.”
Kenneth Woodward
Washington Post

“This is a book to ponder, argue with, and enjoy.”
Frederick Ferre
Critical Reviews

“The author finds a natural alliance between those believers and those nonbelievers who are faithful to understanding, against the hucksters who compete with them for the American soul.”
Dallas Texas News

“Belief and Unbelief is an exciting essay. The pleasure gained from reading a tightly reasoned argument is matched by discovering a profound biography of the spirit, Mr. Novak’s blood pulses though his concepts.”
Fred Denbeaux
(Boston) Morning Globe

“A carefully reasoned, logically structured and vitally experienced attempt to discover (or rediscover) ‘the avenue of knowledge’ that leads to belief in God… the author’s treatment is sincere, honest, reasonable and compelling. It is a provocative discussion that will stimulate both believer and unbeliever… the generosity of his feeling for those on the side of unbelief is open, full and sympathetic.”
Robert E. McNally
Commonweal

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