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Book Review: “Four Views on the Book of Revelation” (Zondervan Counterpoints Series)

4vrI have been researching eschatology quite a bit of late. Please be aware, therefore, that this review comes from one who has only read a limited amount on the subject. I will not be offering insights from an expert, and am fully ready to admit that I am still learning. That said, I chose Four Views on the Book of Revelation because I enjoy reading from different sides of debates like these. I think it is important to have an understanding of each position from proponents of the different views. I will here offer a brief review of the book. [If you decide to get the book, please use the links in this post support my ministry through Amazon.]

Overview of Content


The work begins with a rather lengthy introduction to the book of Revelation and the various views regarding its content. The bulk of this section is its introductions to each of the views featured in the work. Interestingly, the historicist view is basically dismissed out of hand in the introduction:

This volume incorporates the current, prevailing interpretations of Revelation. Thus, while the historicist approach once was widspread, today, for all practical purposes, it has passed from the scene. (18)

Preterist View

Kenneth Gentry, Jr. begins his exposition of preterism with a bold claim: “I am firmly convinced that even an introductory survey of several key passages, figures, and events in John’s majestic prophecy can demonstrate the plausibility of the preterist position” (37). Before diving into this survey, however, Gentry outlines the importance of understanding that Revelation “is a highly figurative book that we cannot approach with… literalism” (38). He defends this claim with a number of points, including the precedent of earlier prophets who used symbolism and the difficulty of consistent literal readings (38-40).

Gentry’s case for preterism focuses squarely on the introduction to the book. This is not to suggest that is the only part of his argument, but rather than he himself recognizes the introduction as a central tenant of preterism. He notes the continued refrain of Jesus “coming soon” and argues that this suggests a reading of the text as real prophecies occurring within the lifetimes of those present.

Much of the rest of Gentry’s survey is built upon tying the prophecies in Revelation to the historical events of the attack upon Jerusalem. A good representation can be found in tying the “Beast” 666 to Nero and the seven mountains to Rome (67-69).

Idealist View

Sam Hamstra, Jr. argues that the core of the idealist view of Revelation is found in a message: “While at this moment the children of God suffer in a world where evil appears to have the upper hand, God is sovereign and Jesus Christ has won the victory” (96).

The idealist case centers around seeing Revelation as apocalyptic literature, and interpreting it through that lens (97). However, Revelation is not exclusively apocalyptic but is rather “a mixture of literary styles” (99). The idealist interpretation sees the use of “like” throughout the descriptions of Christ and elsewhere as supportive of the non-literal nature of the book (101ff).

Hamstra’s survey of the book of Revelation continues to note what he holds are the symbolic use of symbols and other imagery. Representative is the use of the number seven, which suggests “completeness… the author is speaking of the church at all times and in all places” (102).

For the idealist, then, the book of Revelation can have multiple fulfillment throughout time. It is a book which comforts Christians who see the constant wars, plagues, and the like seen in Revelation by reminding them that God is in charge. Ultimately, Pate’s view can be summarized easily: “the best understanding… is that Jesus’ utterances about the Kingdom of God were partially fulfilled at his first coming… but remain forthcoming until his return” (175).

Progressive Dispensationalist View

C. Marvin Pate’s progressive dispensationalism is grounded in the theme of “already/not yet” (135). This notion hints at eschatological tension which can be found throughout the book of Revelation, according to Pate. That is, there are things which may seem fulfilled “already” but have “not yet” reached their fullest completion. As an example, he notes “with the first coming of Jesus Christ the age to come already dawned, but it is not yet complete; it awaits the Paraousia for its consummation” (136).

The notion of already/not yet allows Pate to interpret some texts in a kind of preterist light, while maintaining that they still have yet to find their fullest realization. An example can be found in the letters to the churches in which Pate notes that these are set against the background of Caesar worship while also pointing forward to future events (139ff).

Pate’s view is decidedly focused on the millennium and a more literal reading of the texts than the previous two views. The interpretation of Christ’s return is illustrative (166ff).

Classical Dispensationalist View

Robert Thomas argues that dispensationalism must be viewed in light of its hermeneutical system, which attempts to remain as literal as possible throughout the itnerpretation of a text (180). Thus, Thomas is an ardent futurist, waiting for the events recorded in Genesis to come about.

A major challenge for this view is the interpretation of texts about Christ coming “soon” and “quickly.” Thomas notes that this theme can be grounded in the notion of imminence in which we are to always be ready for Christ’s return as opposed to a notion of immediacy (189).

A typical classical dispensationalist reading of Revelation can be found in Thomas’ interpretation of the horsemen. He notes that the first “portrays a rider on a white horse, who represents a growing movement of anti-Christian and false Christian forces at work early in the period… the third… rider on a black horse [represents] famine-inducing forces….” (193-194). Thomas also argues that Israel is not the church and so must have the promises fulfilled to Israel as a nation (196ff).

Thomas argues that the major issue is dependent upon which hermeneutical system one employs. If one employs a literal hermeneutic, he contends, one will be dispensational. Period (211-214).


I will only briefly comment on each view here.


Gentry’s case is quite strong, but I have to wonder about the appeal to the language of “coming soon,” particularly in light of the constant refrain in the Hebrew Scriptures of the day of the Lord being “near.” These prophets clearly did not witness the “day of the Lord” (which, on preterist views is either the 70AD destruction of the Temple or still is yet to come), and so such language has a precedent for longer periods of time than the preterist appeals to.

Overall, however, some of the themes Gentry points to does hint at the possibility for interpreting certain prophecies as fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem.


The idealist position has some draw for me because it focuses on the applicability of the book to all Christians in every time and place. In particular, the idealist interpretation of the letters to the churches is, I think, spot on. It allows for historicity while also noting the fact that we continue to live in an age in which all those types of churches still exist.

Yet I can’t help but also note that the idealist interpretation at times seems to play too fast and loose with the text, assuming that certain persons or events are types when it seems more clearly to point to a future fulfillment. Of course, the idealist could respond by saying many of these still are in the future after all.

Progressive Dispensationalism

There is great appeal in the notion of the already/not yet aspects of Revelation, which seems to give proper deference to the historical background of the book while also grounding it ultimately in the future promised fulfillment.

It is interesting to see that Pate is willing to interpret some aspects of the text figuratively, yet remains convinced that there will be a literal 1000 year reign, among other things. One could charge him with inconsistency here (as Robert Thomas does).

Classical Dispensationalism

I admit Thomas’ view was the most confusing for me. He insists that one must read the text literally, but then says that the white horse is not a white horse with a rider but rather “anti-Christian and false Christian forces.” Frankly, that is not the literal meaning of the text. It is commendable to desire to stay as true to the text’s meaning as possible, but using the word “literal” in this way seems to be abuse of language.

But Thomas’ view also has more to recommend it, such as his focus upon the future fulfillment. It is hard to read Revelation and not see many of the events as yet to occur, particularly if one desires to read the text as literally as possible.

General remarks

One thing I must note is that I did experience some great disappointment with the book in that it did not follow the standard format of the Zondervan Counterpoints series. Specifically, the book does not have each author interacting with the others after each view. Although the authors clearly had access to the other essays and were given the opportunity to interact via footnotes throughout their own essay, the level of interaction was not on par with other books in the series.

Others have expressed displeasure with the fact that the book does not present the historicist view of Revelation. I share some of that, though I would still maintain that–despite other reviewers [mostly on Amazon] are saying–there are definitely four distinct views presented in this book. They do not cover all the views as comprehensively as some might like, but the views which are included are each unique and worth reading. The quick dismissal of historicism in the introduction may be the consensus of scholarship, but historicism remains a major view among the laity as well as many clergy and some scholars. To have it not included is not the greatest crime, but it does hint at a lack of completeness with the survey here.

Overall, I would recommend this book as a way for those interested in Revelation and eschatology more generally to read. It presents four major views of the interpretation of Revelation by giving each author a rather lengthy section to make their case. Readers will be familiarized with the different views, along with arguments for and against each view. Although the book could be improved by the inclusion of the historicist position and greater interaction between the views, Four Views on the Book of Revelation is a worthy read. Let me know what you think. What is your view on Revelation?


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Book Review: “Understanding End Times Prophecy” by Paul Benware– I review a book on eschatology written from the premillenial dispensationalist position.

Source: Four Views on the Book of Revelation edited by C. Marvin Pate (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998).



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Theistic Idealism

I’ve written about Idealism (which I’ve also referred to specifically as Immaterialism) before. I’ve also written about what I call the paucity of objections to Berkeley’s Immaterialism. Now I would like to return to the subject of my first post (the first link above) and discuss briefly (my definition of briefly is likely different than that of others’) what the philosophy known as Idealism can do in interactions with Theism. I am certainly both an Idealist by philosophy and a theist by religion, so these naturally combine for me.

I do not, however, think that Berkeley’s Immaterialism is correct. Rather, I see it as a step along the way to a kind of Idealism that I’ve been developing by piecing together Berkeley’s Immaterialism, some parts of Kant’s Transcendental Idealism, Husserl’s Phenomenology, and my own ideas. Berkeley has a great point, in my opinion, when he starts out by pointing to the idea that “to be is to be perceived (or to perceive).” But one of the things that Berkeley leaves out (at least in the writings of his that I’ve read–currently reading through Three Dialogues) is the demand for the ego or the “I” to be the view of reality. Berkeley makes no claims of exclusivity of mind for interpretation in the sense of demanding that the mind is where all perception must start. He assumes that people should know this, but, as with anything in philosophy, that’s not fair to the audience, no matter how studied. I believe that the ego must first be established in order to maintain an idealist philosophy. Further, I believe that there is literally no way to escape the inevitable conclusion that it is indeed “I” who ultimately interpret reality for myself (note that I’m not saying I determine reality or create it or sustain it, only that I am the ultimate arbiter for interpreting). Because “I” cannot escape myself (such an attempt would indeed be ludicrous) I must start off with glancing from myself to others. But it is the ego that ultimately interprets reality, this is a crucial point that cannot be stressed enough. But anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself and into issues I’m not planning to address here.

The problem, I believe, is that people tend to simply grant that objects in themselves are not only possible, but actual. I don’t see any grounds for granting that objects can or do exist of themselves, as mind-independent things, for there is no way for us to give something any kind of properties, modally or otherwise, that are not dependent, ultimately, on the mind. Assuming a priori that objects-in-themselves are actual is unfounded because, as our ego is the interpreter of reality, we cannot actually demonstrate that objects are mind independent, for there is no way for us to escape our ego in order to do so. We cannot become some being outside of mind that can objectively view such things.

Husserl, in a work with an extremely long title that I’m not going to type out here despite the fact that I will type it below and have now used more space than I would have just typing it out to begin with (and it is usually just referred to as Ideas anyway, which means I’ve spent a whole lot of extra time typing that I really did not have to), states, “…all real unities are ‘unities of sense.’ Unities of sense presuppose… a sense-bestowing consciousness which, for its part, exists absolutely and not by virtue of another sense-bestowal” (Ideas… 107, emphasis his). This is where theism comes into play. While Husserl was not here referring specifically to God, one can find the roots of immaterialism and idealism throughout his Ideas (something which apparently alienated him from his earlier followers). Husserl rightly notes that the thing which the physicist explores is necessarily the thing that is perceived, it is not something outside of perception (Ideas, 99). He states earlier that “…one must not let oneself be deceived by speaking of the physical thing as transcending consciousness or as ‘existing in itself'” (Ideas, 89). Husserl’s goal in Ideas was to found phenomenology as a science that explored essences (I’m heavily summing up), but I think he clearly has some very insightful thoughts on idealism in these and other passages. Husserl, mind you, does believe in a world external to our minds. I agree.

Here again theism permeates my philosophy, for I see the physical, external world as the ideas of God, who views them objectively (in the sense of absolutely, not in the sense of “as objects”) whereas we view them subjectively (here in the sense of not absolute, perhaps flawed, not complete, etc.). So without this absolute sense bestower (to use Husserl’s terms), there can be no perception, no sense. For in Him we move and have our being (Acts 17:28). So within our ego we have a kind of inescapable interpretation, we view reality from this perspective that we cannot escape. But we can clearly show that for any two people A and B, A and B’s perceptions of the world are going to be different on a number of points. But there must be some kind of objective (absolute) world from which we derive sensations and perceptions. However, because we cannot discuss any object as mind independent, this objective world is not mind-independent either, or if it is, then it is such in a way that we cannot access or understand, and in either case it is dependent on something else. So, in either case we have a metaphysics, not a physics, for physics deals with that which is perceived. If we want to establish how that which is perceived came to be, we must move into the realm of metaphysics, beyond the clutches of naturalism, beyond the access of science and firmly into the realm of philosophy, which governs both naturalism and science to begin with.


Berkeley, George. The Works of George Berkeley, Volume I. Bibliobazaar.

Husserl, Edmund. Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy: First Book. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. 1982.


The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.

The Paucity of Objections to George Berkeley’s Immaterialism

Immaterialism is a topic I’ve been reading [and writing] a lot on recently (particularly the works of George Berkeley, and reading Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason to go along with it as a balance of [transcendental] idealism).

The more I read it, the more it appeals to me, and the more I’ve been writing on the topic myself. What continues to shock me is the utter lack of any kind of good objections to immaterialism. The objections people come up with are readily answered by anyone who reads even a bit of George Berkeley’s Principles of Human Knowledge.

So I decided to make a blog on it, of course!

One of my favorite web sites for cursory research on philosophy is the Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. They generally provide some awesome work as far as philosophy is concerned, and I highly recommend it for those who want a free, quick research tool. Anyway, they list a few objections to Berkeley’s immaterialism (sometimes called universal immaterialism or dogmatic idealism), and, frankly, not one of them needed more than a few seconds of thought to answer.

For example:

One of the problems that people often bring up with Berkeley’s immaterialism relates to his principle, “Esse est percipi” or “to be is to be perceived.”

The argument is basically the classic question, “If a tree falls in a forest with no one around to hear it, does it make any sound?” A similar objection is written in a famous limerick:

There was a young man who said God,
must find it exceedingly odd
when he finds that the tree
continues to be
when noone’s about in the Quad.

But, it can be answered in a number of ways. The first is a counter-limerick (which I appreciate greatly):

Dear Sir, your astonishment’s odd
I’m always about in the Quad
And that’s why the tree
continues to be
Since observed by, yours faithfully, God (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

In other words, immaterialists could simply reply:

Well, obviously someone hears/sees the tree, God is omniscient, after all.

But, it could be countered that God isn’t a given at all. Is there still a counter to this problem? Well, despite the fact that  I personally think Berkeley’s form of immaterialism makes the existence of God almost necessary, let us assume we aren’t to use that as a way out with his theory. After all, Berkeley himself, I don’t think, would want us to not subject his theory to further investigation. If there is a God to continually perceive everything, then it is a given that things exist, but let us look for other evidence. I suggest there are at least two answers to this objection to immaterialism:

1. So what? What does it matter if objects wink into and out of existence if there is no one to observe them? I think it’s very unclear as to how this objection really serves a defeater of immaterialism whatsoever. The objection suggests that if something doesn’t exist if it’s not perceived, then things are continually coming into and out of existence. But what relevance does that have to the truth claims of immaterialism itself? I think Berkeley would counter by simply saying that even asking this question is begging the question in favor of materialism. Further, there is no way to say whether or not objects actually do come into and out of existence, because if esse est percipi, then no one could ever observe such an occurance!

2. I’m about to make a point that I am continually shocked that people miss in response to such objections to Berkeley, for he basically makes this point himself: If someone asks the a question like that above (“If a tree falls…”), they have already answered the question for themselves, for the fact that they are asking about the tree means that they are actively conceiving of it in their minds, and therefore they are perceiving it actively. Thus, to even ask such a question is unreasonable, for when one asks such a question, he or she is perceiving of the item in question, and therefore it simply does exist, based on the core principle esse est percipi.

It is worth observing that even the Stanford entry misses this rather simple answer entirely.

There are certainly other objections to Berkeley’s immaterialism, but as I have neither the time nor the motivation to go into any more here, that is all for now.

I close with the thought that has been nagging me ever since I first started reading Berkeley: it seems that ever since he published his works, they have been largely ignored or the arguments therein have been made straw men and knocked over. I think that this is due to a few reasons, but the most obvious are that 1. it is a hard philosophy to really even conceive of, and 2. it is a philosophy that stands wholly in opposition to the core materialist assumptions of the Western world. I think that if 1. were answered in a satisfactory way, 2. could possibly be overthrown.


Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

The Works of George Berkeley, Volume I. Bibliobazaar. [Specifically Principles of Human Knowledge, and Three Dialogues…]

The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy.

The Oxford Guide: Philosophy.

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.

Immaterialism and Idealism within Theism

Immaterialism/Idealism (essentially the same thing) is a philosophy that I believe can prove fertile for theism. I will start with an exploration of the Immaterialist views of Berkeley, an outline of his arguments, a brief critique, and how I believe Immaterialism can be used within theism.

Bishop George Berkeley was one of the pioneers of what he called Immaterialism, a philosophy that can generally be referred to as Idealism.

Immaterialism is the rejection of matter. It is the claim that “two kinds of things exist in reality: (1) minds (or spirits), and (2) the ideas they perceive (Lawhead, 321).”

Berkeley writes, “Some truths there are so near and obvious to the mind, that a man need only open his eyes to see them… all [the objects in the universe] have not any subsistence without a mind, tha t their being (esse) is to be perceived or known; that consequently so long as they are not actually perceived by me, or do not exist in my mind or that of any other created spirit, they must either have no existence at all, or else subsist in the mind of some eternal spirit… To be convinced of which, the reader need only reflect and try to separate in his own thoughts the being of a sensible thing from its being perceived (Berkeley, 89).”

Outside of being perceived, objects do not exist. There is no such thing as matter. Berkeley’s philosophy is probably that which lead to the question: if a tree falls in a forest, and no one hears it, does it make a sound? Berkeley would respond by saying that just the fact that we conceive of such a question means that yes, because by our act of even imaging such a thing, it brings it into our mind and therefore into perception.

It follows from this that we can’t simply bring things into perspective on our own. There must be a cause for these perceptions. Our minds have images of a “w0rld” in them, but it doesn’t follow that these are created by oneself. Berkeley claimed that our perception is directly projected into our minds by God.

Berkeley brought up a few arguments for his Immaterialism, believing that it was wholly rational to hold such a view. He is famously known for saying “Esse est percipi” or “To be is to be perceived.” The first is a set of arguments:

“1. Primary (solidity, motion, rest, quantity, etc.) and secondary qualities (color, taste, etc.) cannot be separated in the mind, because they always appear together and are perceived in the same way

2. Thus, if one quality is mind dependent, the other will be also

3. …Secondary qualities are mind dependent

4. Therefore, primary qualities are mind dependent (Lawhead, 325)”


“1. All properties which are relative are subjective

2. Primary properties are relative properties

3. Therefore, primary properties are subjective (Geisler, 145)”

This argument leads to the entire world, including such objects as dirt, flowers, birds, and the like, to be equivalent to imagined things such as a flying pig. All of these things are subjective and have qualities that are mind-dependent.

Another argument was his argument from the mental dependency of ideas:

“1. Sensible objects are things present to us in sense experience

2. What is presented to us in sense experience consists solely of our ideas

3. Ideas exist solely in our minds

4. Therefore, sensible objects exist solely in our minds (Lawhead, 323)”

Again the argument seems sound.

It is telling that Berkeley’s arguments are still debated in philosophy. Generally speaking, the only way any one has ever gotten around them was by arguing either Occam’s Razor (which I don’t think applies, as it’s not really multiplying entites, rather, Immaterialism would vastly reduce the entities involved) or by rejecting them based on common sense (i.e. we can see that there is a material world, so there is one–an argument that seems circular at best). Hume said of Berkeley’s views that ‘Their only effect is to cause… momentary amazement and irresolution and confusion.” I would tend to agree, in light of the following two problems.

The first is that if our thoughts and the things we conceive are projected into our minds by God as defined by Christianity, then why do we have in our thoughts evil things? The problem of evil is particularly strong against Berkeley’s view that all of our thoughts are projected into our minds by God–or at least sustained by Him. Why would God project evil, or why would He sustain evil thoughts so that we could conceive of or perceive them?

The second problem is that of Christianity itself. It seems that, if we are just minds and there is no actual matter or a “world,” there should be no need for Jesus as a physical “New Adam” and savior. Why would God work within the seemingly obvious universe in a historical fashion (i.e. being historically tied into Jesus), if history is so tied into matter and the physical world, which does not exist? It seems backward.

A third problem that I don’t think is valid is the argument that what we see is obvious–there is a physical world. Logically, this argument doesn’t seem to have a foot to stand on, especially given that Berkeley’s arguments specifically break down such an argument. Generally, this third problem is the reason Immaterialism is rejected: we just can’t make any sense of it.

I do believe that Immaterialism could prove a fertile ground for the Christian. The first point I’d make is that the arguments for it seem fairly conclusive. I’ve read some arguments that supposedly refute Immaterialism, but they all generally amount to my third objection. Just because we innately view the world as physical does not mean it is. The second point is that if Immaterialism, especially that of Berkeleyan influence, were true, then theism is unavoidable. These two points seem to make Immaterialism more appealing to theists.

I suggest two ways to approach Immaterialism in a theistic way. These two ways are wholly different.

1. The first way would be to argue that Immaterialism is indeed unavoidable. But rather than embracing the idea that perceived objects are projected into our minds by God, one could rather argue that perceived objects do in fact exist as sustained immaterial (here using “immaterial” only to mean not-made-of-matter) objects.

In other words, Berkeley’s premise that things that are not perceived do not exist is true, but we can focus on the point he follows that with: that all things subsist in the mind of some immaterial spirit (in other words, all “things,” “objects,” etc. exist in terms of being perceived by some being). Further, rather than saying that this spirit then projects these objects and thoughts into our minds, one could embrace the idea that such things are rather projected into a universe–one that is not matter per se but some kind of non-matter substance. Perhaps some kind of idea-substance.

Everything in the universe would therefore be ideas, but individual created minds (i.e. ours) could have some control over how these things interact. Evil is in the universe because God created us and granted us some influence over this universe. Our ideas corrupted it on the fall into sin. While this view seems at first glance rather nonsensical, I believe that it gains footing with Berkeley’s arguments for Immaterialism, as well as the idea that “matter” is itself just super-condensed energy. Ideas, thoughts, and the like, could be energy, but not some kind of undefined substance known as “matter.”

Thus there is a real world and it is the one we experience, but our understanding of it is completely wrong. Rather than some physical, material world, the world is wholly sustained and upheld by the Creator. Matter as we know it is undefined and is, in actuality, incarnations of ideas into the universe. Incarnation here being defined as a “manifestation of a non-material thing (i.e. an idea) into something that can be defined as, for lack of a better term, ‘physical.'” I would call this view Incarnationalist Immaterialism (a term I coin here). It’s not one I’ve read anywhere, but one I’ve developed myself (though I don’t necessarily believe it–see below).

-I tend to think of this first view as a sort of compromise between what I tend to think of as a very solid case for Immaterialism and the “common sense argument” for an actual world.

2. Rather than embrace Immaterialism in any form, a theist could point to such arguments as evidence for God. If we cannot prove that there is even a physical realm, what grounds do we have for assuming such things as naturalism, phsyicalism, and the like. Note that with this view, the theist does not even need to agree with any for mof Idealism/Immaterialism, he or she can simply incorporate it into a general pattern of argumentation, using arguments for Immaterialism to show that the way we perceive the universe, including such basic things as matter, is questionable. Theism points to something unquestionable and objective: God.

-These views are wholly different, and I’m not sure which I myself would conform to, if either. What I do believe, however, is that Berkeley’s argumentation for Immaterialism is nearly flawless. It is when he attempts to incorporate God as the all-perceiver that his argument suffers the problem of evil. Nevertheless, Immaterialism is a compelling view that, while it may not have much sway in the so-called real world, philosophically speaking is of great interest.

Sources (not any particular format):

Berkeley, George. Edited by G.N. Wright. The Works of George Berkeley, Volume I. Bibliobazaar.

Geisler, Norman and Paul Feinberg. Introduction to Philosophy. Baker Academic.

Lawhead, William. The Voyage of Discovery. Thomson Advantage Books.

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