Historical Dictionary of Metaphysics

Rosenkrantz, Gary S. & Joshua Hoffman. Scarecrow. (Historical Dictionaries of Religions, Philosophies, and Movements). 2011. 370p. bibliog. ISBN 9780810859500. $80. Online: NetLibrary, Overdrive, MyiLibrary, EBL, & Questia REF
Rosenkrantz and Hoffman (both, philosophy, Univ. of North Carolina, Greensboro) have written a volume on metaphysics in the Western tradition as developed under the influence of Greek philosophers. The text offers over 300 cross-referenced entries, in alphabetical order and of varying lengths, on metaphysicians from Thales of Miletus (c. 6250–545 B.C.E.) to Harty H. Field (b. 1956); key concepts like free will, God, personal identity, and the mind-body problem; and areas of thought including idealism, essentialism, and deism. Also included are a chronology, an excellent introduction, a list of symbols, and a bibliography. The editors know their subject matter and provide clear and understandable entries; however, the book suffers from editorial flaws. Important cross-references have been omitted, as in the case of Colin McGinn and Vienna Circle, which though mentioned in the entries on the mind-body problem and logical positivism, respectively, lack corresponding entries. Likewise, treatment of metaphysicians is uneven: some entries are pages long (e.g., Whitehead, Wittgenstein, Brentano), and others are given a mere paragraph (e.g., Merleau-Ponty, Peacocke). Finally, references are inconsistent, as in some cases the seminal works of a philosopher are mentioned, while sometimes no works are cited (e.g., Casteneda, Field, Merleau-Ponty, and Plantinga). BOTTOM LINE One wonders if the narrow format of dictionaries for niche topics has ceased to be useful. The broader A Companion to Metaphysics (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009, 2d ed.), which credits Rosenkrantz as an editor, is user-friendly and contains added features like expert-contributed essays. Although pricier, that is the reference to get if there is room on your shelf and in your budget. By contrast, this Scarecrow title suffers from inconsistent editing and a limited format that offers little value for a library or its users. Not recommended.—Jackie Parascandola, Columbia Univ. Libs., New York
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