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Rebecca Newberger Goldstein (born February 23, 1950) is an American philosopher who is also a novelist and public intellectual. She is the author of ten books, many of which cross the divide between fiction and non-fiction. 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.[2]

In her three non-fiction works she has shown an affinity for philosophical rationalism, as well as a strong conviction that philosophy, like science, makes progress [3] and that scientific progress is itself supported by philosophical arguments.[4] 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.[5][6] This theory is a continuation of her idea of “the mattering map” that she had 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,[7][8] psychology,[9] and behavioral economics.[10]

Goldstein is a MacArthur Fellow and has received the National Humanities Medal,[11] the National Jewish Book Award, and numerous other honors.

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 she also has 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 on "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."[12]

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.[13] A fictional mother, daughter, and granddaughter introduced in two of the stories in that collection became the main characters of [14] Goldstein's next novel, Mazel (1995), which won the National Jewish Book Award and 1995 Edward Lewis Wallant Award.

A "genius grant" from the MacArthur Fellows Program in 1996 led to the writing of Properties of Light (2000), a ghost story about love, betrayal, and quantum physics. Her most recent novel was 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 contains a lengthy nonfiction appendix (attributed to the novel's protagonist) which details thirty-six traditional and modern arguments for the existence of God together with their refutations. The book was chosen by National Public Radio as one of the "five favorite books of 2010"[15] and by The Christian Science Monitor as the best book of fiction of 2010.[16]

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.".[17] 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.[18] 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 with 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 she has been since 2014 [19] a visiting professor at the New College of the Humanities in London. As of 2016, she will be a Visiting Professor in the Department of English at New York University.[20] 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, entitled "The Ancient Quarrel: Philosophy and Literature." She serves on the Council on Values of the World Economic Forum.[21]

Goldstein's writing has been published not only in her books but also in[22] 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.[23] She has served on book prize juries for the National Book Award[citation needed] and the Sami Rohr Prize of the Jewish Book Council.[citation needed]

Personal life

Goldstein lives in Boston and Truro, Massachusetts.[citation needed]

She married her first husband, physicist Sheldon Goldstein, when she was 19 (in 1969)[24] and they were divorced in 1999.[24] She and Sheldon Goldstein 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.[24]

She married[25] Harvard cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker in December 2007.[26]



  • 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)

Short stories

  • 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)

Awards and fellowships


  1. ^
  2. ^ “Art That Transfigures Science,” by Alan Lightman, New York Times, March 15, 2003.
  3. ^ “How Philosophy Makes Progress,” The Chronicles of Higher Education, April 14, 2014
  4. ^ Interview in The Guardian, by Andrew Anthony, October 19, 2014,
  5. ^ “Feminism, Religion, and Mattering.” Free Inquiry, Volume 34, Issue1
  6. ^ Moral Progress: In Interview with Rebecca Goldstein,” by Andrew Norman The Humanist, August 27, 2014
  7. ^ Grossberg, Lawrence (1992). We Gotta Get Out of This Place: Popular Conservatism and Postmodern Culture. Routledge. 
  8. ^ Grossberg, Lawrence (2010). Cultural Studies in the Future Tense. Duke University Press. 
  9. ^ 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. 
  10. ^ 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. 
  11. ^
  12. ^ "Rebecca Goldstein web site". Retrieved 2006-11-07. 
  13. ^
  14. ^ Lore Dickstein, "World of Our Mothers," The New York Times, October 29, 1995 URL=
  15. ^ Heller McAlpin, "People Are Talking.. About These Five Books," November 23, 2010, URL=
  16. ^ a b
  17. ^ Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, "Flourishing in the Company of Like-Minded People," The Humanist, December 22, 2015 | URL=
  18. ^ Jacoby, Susan. "Atheists — naughty and nice — should define themselves". The Washington Post. 
  19. ^ Sage Center for the Study of the Mind, "Distinguished Fellows for 2013-2014"
  20. ^ New York University, "Rebecca Newberger Goldstein Named 2014 National Humanities Medal Recipient," Sept. 3, 2015 |URL=
  21. ^
  22. ^ List of linked articles, chapters and stories from author's official website |URL=
  23. ^ FaithStreet Retrieved 2015-11-02.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  24. ^ a b c Luke Ford, "Interview with Novelist Rebecca Goldstein - The Mind-Body Problem", conducted by phone April 11, 2006, transcript posted at
  25. ^ Crace, John (June 17, 2008). "Interview: Harvard University's Steven Pinker". The Guardian. London. 
  26. ^ Greg Epstein, photograph taken December 2, 2007, "Greg Epstein, Rebecca Goldstein & Steve Pinker after Greg officiated at their wedding",
  27. ^
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^ "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter G" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 16 April 2011. 
  31. ^ "Rebecca Newberger Goldstein bio". Retrieved 2007-09-12. 

External links