February 23, 1950
White Plains, New York, U.S.
City College of New York|
University of California, Los Angeles
Sheldon Goldstein (divorced)|
New York University
Rebecca Newberger Goldstein (born February 23, 1950) is an American philosopher, novelist and public intellectual. She has written ten books, both fiction and nonfiction. Her Princeton Ph.D. was in philosophy of science, and she is sometimes grouped with novelists, such as Richard Powers and Alan Lightman, who create fiction that is knowledgeable of, and sympathetic toward, science.
In her three nonfiction works she has shown an affinity for philosophical rationalism, as well as a conviction that philosophy, like science, makes progress and that scientific progress is itself supported by philosophical arguments. She has also stressed the role that secular philosophical reason has made in moral advances.
Increasingly, in her talks and interviews, she has been exploring what she has called "mattering theory" as an alternative to traditional utilitarianism. This theory is a continuation of her idea of "the mattering map", first suggested in her novel The Mind-Body Problem. The concept of the mattering map has been widely adopted in contexts as diverse as cultural criticism, psychology, and behavioral economics.
Early life and education
Goldstein, born Rebecca Newberger, grew up in White Plains, New York, and did her undergraduate work at City College of New York, UCLA, and Barnard College, where she graduated as valedictorian in 1972. She was born into an Orthodox Jewish family. She has one older brother, who is an Orthodox rabbi, and a younger sister, Sarah Stern. An older sister, Mynda Barenholtz, died in 2001.
After earning her Ph.D. from Princeton University, where she studied with Thomas Nagel and wrote a dissertation titled "Reduction, Realism and the Mind," she returned to Barnard as a professor of philosophy. There she published her first novel, The Mind-Body Problem (1983), a serio-comic tale of the conflict between emotion and intelligence, combined with reflections on the nature of mathematical genius, the challenges faced by intellectual women, and Jewish tradition and identity. Goldstein said she wrote the book to "...insert 'real life' intimately into the intellectual struggle. In short I wanted to write a philosophically motivated novel."
Her second novel, The Late-Summer Passion of a Woman of Mind (1989), was also set in academia, though with a far darker tone. Her third novel, The Dark Sister (1993), was something of a departure: a postmodern fictionalization of family and professional issues in the life of William James. She followed it with a short-story collection, Strange Attractors (1993), which was a National Jewish Honor Book and New York Times Notable Book of the Year. A fictional mother, daughter, and granddaughter introduced in two of the stories in that collection became the main characters of Goldstein's next novel, Mazel (1995), which won the National Jewish Book Award and the 1995 Edward Lewis Wallant Award.
A MacArthur Fellowship in 1996 led to the writing of Properties of Light (2000), a ghost story about love, betrayal, and quantum physics. Her most recent novel is 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction (2010), which explores ongoing controversies over religion and reason through the tale of a professor of psychology who has written an atheist bestseller while his life is permeated with secular versions of religious themes such as messianism, divine genius, and the quest for immortality. The book has a long nonfiction appendix (attributed to the novel's protagonist) that details 36 traditional and modern arguments for the existence of God together with their claimed refutations. The book was chosen by National Public Radio as one of the "five favorite books of 2010" and by The Christian Science Monitor as the best book of fiction of 2010.
Goldstein has written two biographical studies: Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Gödel (2005) and Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity (2006). Betraying Spinoza combined her continuing interest in Jewish ideas, history, and identity with an increasing focus on secularism, humanism, and atheism. Goldstein has described the book, which combines elements of memoir, biography, history, and philosophical analysis, as "the eighth book I'd published, but [the] first in which I took the long-delayed and irrevocable step of integrating my private and public selves.". Together with 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction it established her as a prominent figure in the humanist movement, part of a wave of "new new atheists" marked by less divisive rhetoric and a greater representation of women. In 2011 she was named "Humanist of the Year" by the American Humanist Association and "Freethought Heroine" by the Freedom from Religion Foundation.
In 2014, she published Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won't Go Away, an exploration of the historical roots and contemporary relevance of philosophy. The book alternates between expository chapters on the life and ideas of Plato in the context of ancient Greece and modern dialogues in which Plato is brought to life in the 21st century, and demonstrates the relevance of philosophy by arguing with contemporary figures such as a software engineer at Google headquarters, a right-wing talk show host, an affective neuroscientist, and others.
In addition to Barnard, Goldstein has taught at Columbia, Rutgers, and Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, and since 2014 she has been  a visiting professor at the New College of the Humanities in London. In 2016 she was a Visiting Professor in the Department of English at New York University. She has held visiting fellowships at the Radcliffe Institute, Brandeis University, the Santa Fe Institute, Yale University, and Dartmouth College. In 2011, she delivered the Tanner Lectures on Human Values at Yale University, titled "The Ancient Quarrel: Philosophy and Literature." She serves on the Council on Values of the World Economic Forum.
Goldstein's writing has been published not only in her books but also in chapters in a number of edited books, and in journals including The Atlantic, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The New York Times Book Review, The New York Review of Books, The New Republic, The Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, Tikkun (magazine), Commentary (magazine), and in blog format in the Washington Post "On Faith" section. She has served on book prize juries for the National Book Award and the Sami Rohr Prize of the Jewish Book Council.
She married her first husband, physicist Sheldon Goldstein, in 1969, and they divorced in 1999. They are the parents of the novelist Yael Goldstein Love and poet Danielle Blau. In a 2006 interview with Luke Ford, Goldstein said:
I lived Orthodox for a long time. My husband was Orthodox. Because I didn't want to be hypocritical with our kids, I kept everything. I was torn like a character in a Russian novel. It lasted through college. I remember leaving a class on mysticism in tears because I had forsaken God. That was probably my last burst of religious passion. Then it went away and I was a happy little atheist.
Awards and fellowships
- 2014 National Humanities Medal (presented September 10, 2015 at the White House by President Barack Obama) 
- 2014 Richard Dawkins Award
- 2013 Montgomery Fellow, Dartmouth College
- 2013 Moment Magazine Creativity Award
- 2012 Franke Visiting Fellow, Whitney Humanities Center, Yale University
- 2011 Humanist of the Year awarded April 2011 by the American Humanist Association
- 2011 Freethought Heroine awarded October 2011 by the Freedom from Religion Foundation
- 2011 Miller Scholar, Santa Fe Institute
- Best Fiction Book of 2010 ("36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction"), Christian Science Monitor
- Honorary Doctorate, Emerson College, 2008
- Humanist Laureate, awarded by the International Academy of Humanism, 2008
- Fellow, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, 2006–2007
- Guggenheim Fellow, 2006–2007
- Koret Jewish Book Award in Jewish Thought, 2006, for Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew who Gave Us Modernity
- Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2005
- Honorary Doctorate, Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership
- MacArthur Fellow, 1996
- National Jewish Book Award, 1995, for Mazel
- Edward Lewis Wallant Award, 1995, for Mazel
- National Jewish Book Award for her book of short stories, Strange Attractors
- Graduated summa cum laude from Barnard College, receiving the Montague Prize for Excellence in Philosophy
- While at Princeton University, she was awarded a National Science Foundation Fellowship
- Whiting Award, 1991
- Thirty-Six Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction (2010)
- Properties of Light: A Novel of Love, Betrayal and Quantum Physics (2000)
- Mazel (1995)
- The Dark Sister (1993)
- The Late-Summer Passion of a Woman of Mind (1989)
- The Mind-Body Problem (1983)
- Strange Attractors: Stories (1993)
- Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won't Go Away (2014)
- Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity (2006)
- Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Gödel (2005)
- American philosophy
- Jewish atheism
- List of American philosophers
- List of novelists from the United States
- Philosophical fiction
- Communications, NYU Web. "Rebecca Newberger Goldstein Named 2014 National Humanities Medal Recipient". nyu.edu.
- Lightman, Alan (15 March 2003). "Art That Transfigures Science" – via NYTimes.com.
- Goldstein, Rebecca Newberger (14 April 2014). "How Philosophy Makes Progress" – via The Chronicle of Higher Education.
- Anthony, Andrew (19 October 2014). "Rebecca Newberger Goldstein: 'Science is our best answer, but it takes a philosophical argument to prove that'" – via The Guardian.
- "Feminism, Religion, and 'Mattering'". www.secularhumanism.org.
- "The Machinery of Moral Progress: An Interview with Rebecca Newberger Goldstein - TheHumanist.com". 27 August 2014.
- Grossberg, Lawrence (1992). We Gotta Get Out of This Place: Popular Conservatism and Postmodern Culture. Routledge.
- Grossberg, Lawrence (2010). Cultural Studies in the Future Tense. Duke University Press.
- Kashak, Ellyn (2013). "The Mattering Map: Integrating The Complexities of Knowledge, Experience and Meaning". Psychology of Women Quarterly. 37 (4): 436–443. doi:10.1177/0361684313480839.
- Loewenstein, Meine, G., K. "On Mattering Maps" in Understanding Choice, Explaining Behavior: Essays in Honour of Ole-Jørgen Skog, Jon Elster, Olav Gjelsvik, Aanund Hylland and Karl Moene (Eds.). Oslo, Norway: Oslo Academic Press. pp. 153–175.
- "Rebecca Newberger Goldstein". National Endowment for the Humanities. 2 September 2015.
- "Rebecca Goldstein web site". Retrieved 2006-11-07.
- Goldstein, Rebecca. "Strange Attractors: Stories".
- Dickstein, Lore (October 29, 1995). "World of Our Mothers". The New York Times.
- McAlpin, Heller (November 23, 2010). "People Are Talking About These Five Books". National Public Radio.
- editor, Marjorie Kehe, Monitor book (1 December 2010). "Best books of 2010: fiction" – via Christian Science Monitor.
- Rebecca Newberger Goldstein (December 22, 2015). "Flourishing in the Company of Like-Minded People". The Humanist.
- Jacoby, Susan. "Atheists — naughty and nice — should define themselves". The Washington Post.
- Sage Center for the Study of the Mind, "Distinguished Fellows for 2013-2014"
- ""Rebecca Newberger Goldstein Named 2014 National Humanities Medal Recipient". New York University. September 3, 2015.
- "Global Future Councils". World Economic Forum.
- "Articles, Chapters & Stories - Rebecca Newberger Goldstein". www.rebeccagoldstein.com.
- "Rebecca Goldstein". www.faithstreet.com. Retrieved 2015-11-02.
- Luke Ford, "Interview with Novelist Rebecca Goldstein - The Mind-Body Problem", conducted by phone April 11, 2006, transcript posted at lukeford.net
- Crace, John (June 17, 2008). "Interview: Harvard University's Steven Pinker". The Guardian. London.
- Greg Epstein, photograph taken December 2, 2007, "Greg Epstein, Rebecca Goldstein & Steve Pinker after Greg officiated at their wedding", flickr.com
- "President Obama Awards 2014 National Humanities Medal". National Endowment for the Humanities. 2 September 2015.
- http://secularsites.net/AAA-live/richard-dawkins-award-presentation/[permanent dead link]
- "Redirect". www.secularhumanism.org.
- "Fellows - Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study". Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study. 2018. Retrieved January 25, 2018.
- "Jim Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation - Fellows". Jim Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. 2017. Retrieved January 25, 2018.
- "Koret Foundation -". Koret Foundation.
- "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter G" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 16 April 2011.
- "Rebecca Newberger Goldstein bio". Retrieved 2007-09-12.
Media related to Rebecca Goldstein at Wikimedia Commons
- Official website
- Profile at The Whiting Foundation
- Colin McGinn (2014) Book Review: "Plato at the Googleplex" by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein
- Rebecca Goldstein (2014) What would Plato Tweet? Opinion piece in "The Stone", New York Times
- Rebecca Goldstein (2014) discusses "Plato at the Googlepex" with Robert Pollie, host of the 7th Avenue Project Radio Show.
- Ophelia Benson (2014) Interview with Rebecca Goldstein on Plato at the Googleplex, philosophy for the public, and everything.
- Hope Reese (2014) Why Study Philosophy? 'To Challenge Your Own Point of View'. An interview with Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, author of Plato at the Googleplex
- Ron Charles (2010) Review of "36 Arguments for the Existence of God" in the Washington Post.
- Peter Lopatin (2010) Review of "36 Arguments for the Existence of God", in Commentary
- Interview on CBC Writers & Company with Eleanor Wachtel
- Dialogue with Robert Wright on bloggingheads.tv
- Jake Wallis Simons (2010) There's a third person in this marriage - Spinoza, Profile in The Times
- Jenny Attiyeh (2010) Rebecca Goldstein, the atheist with a soul in an interview on Thoughtcast, which was also broadcast on WGBH (FM)
- Steve Paulson (2007) Proud Atheists, in Salon.
- Luke Ford (2006) Interview on personal life at lukeford.net
- Robert Pollie (2010) Author in dialogue on 36 Arguments for the Existence of God from the 7th Avenue Project Radio Show.
- Paul Comstock (2007) Interview on Baruch Spinoza from California Literature Review.
- Rebecca Newberger Goldstein (2006) "Reasonable Doubt", an essay on Spinoza's influence on John Locke at Edge.org
- Michael Weiss & Rebecca Goldstein (2007) "A Kibitz on Pure Reason": A three-day dialogue on "Betraying Spinoza" from Jewcy.
- Rebecca Goldstein Theory, Literature, Hoax in New York Times Sunday Book Review.
- Thomas Apolis (2010) Response to "Theory, Literature, Hoax"
- Caitrin Nicol (2010) "Disenchanting Determinism", commentary on 36 Arguments for the Existence of God in The New Atlantis.
- Caroline Seabohm (1983) Review of "The Mind Body Problem" in the New York Times