Icons of Unbelief: Atheists, Agnostics, and Secularists

By S. T. Joshi | Go to book overview

Paul Kurtz

Bill Cooke

Paul Kurtz was born into a family with relatively recent memories of Russia and with a great enthusiasm for American society and what it could offer those who worked hard. Martin Kurtz, a businessman, and his wife, Anna, lived in Newark, New Jersey, when their son Paul was born on December 21, 1925. The value of education was well understood, and Paul was destined for a university education. But soon after enrolling at Washington Square College of New York University and not quite nineteen, he volunteered for military service. His unit was rushed to the front during the height of the Battle of the Bulge. A few months later he was among the forces that liberated Dachau concentration camp. He stayed with the American forces in Germany for eighteen months after the war before being demobilized.

Once again a civilian, Kurtz resumed his studies at New York University before moving on to Columbia University, where he took his PhD in 1952. At NYU he was a student of Sidney Hook and retained a lifelong relationship with the older philosopher. And through Hook, Kurtz stands in a direct line from John Dewey. It is not overstating things to say that Kurtz’s work cannot be understood without an appreciation of how comprehensive the influence of Dewey and Hook has been. Like Hook, Kurtz has always been keen to distance humanism from dogmatic interpretations and unsavory allies. And like Dewey, Kurtz has wanted to emphasize the positive elements of nonreligious living. At the same time, h e has also been more willing to criticize religion than either of his predecessors. Originally he was willing to use religious language to articulate humanist concepts and values, but after the 1970s he turned against this approach. In the tradition of Dewey and Hook, Kurtz has devoted his career to outlining a naturalistic and optimistic philosophy of life. But it was Kurtz’s fate to be prominent at a time of resurgent fundamentalism, on the one hand, and postmodernism, on the other, which required a whole

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Icons of Unbelief: Atheists, Agnostics, and Secularists
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Series Foreword vii
  • Preface ix
  • Ayaan Hirsi Ali 1
  • Charles Bradlaugh 9
  • Richard Dawkins 27
  • Daniel C. Dennett 39
  • John Dewey 51
  • Albert Einstein 67
  • The Existentialists 79
  • The Founding Fathers 97
  • Sigmund Freud 125
  • Sam Harris 141
  • Thomas Henry Huxley 153
  • Robert G. Ingersoll 175
  • Paul Kurtz 193
  • Corliss Lamont 211
  • H. P. Lovecraft 223
  • H. L. Mencken 241
  • John Stuart Mill 261
  • Kai Nielsen 279
  • Friedrich Nietzsche 297
  • Madalyn Murray O’Hair 319
  • The Philosophes 335
  • Bertrand Russell 357
  • Carl Sagan 379
  • Leslie Stephen 389
  • Mark Twain 401
  • Gore Vidal 415
  • Voltaire 427
  • General Bibliography 443
  • About the Contributors 449
  • Index 455
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