What's with the Cover?

By Richard Carrier

Buy Sense and Goodness without God!


Many people have asked me how I came by the strange cover art for my book Sense and Goodness without God (shown left) and why I chose it for the cover in the first place. So I have provided a comprehensive answer here, for those who are curious.

The origin of the image is easy to explain: it's my own oil painting. In fact, it is the only oil painting I have ever done--indeed, the only painting of any sort whatever. But why did I choose to use that for the cover art? There were several reasons, given below in no particular order.


(1) It's my painting, so I own the copyright to it. Indeed, it was the most interesting visual that I owned the rights to, eliminating the hassle and expense of procuring the rights to anything else, and avoiding the use of some boring and meaningless pattern instead.

(2) It's an inside joke for attentive readers. If anyone bothered to read the cover credit on p. iv, they would know the image was "One and Only Oil by Richard C. Carrier." Then they would read my example on pp. 313-14, "of course, there are non-normative values: we each value some things because they are special to us, while others couldn't care less. I doubt my one and only oil painting has any intrinsic value, but it has personal value to me." Thus, the example I use in the book is actually right on the cover of the book.

(3) It's comparable to my book as a personal achievement. Like my book, my painting represents another careful and disciplined effort of mine to produce a work of art and thought. Even though the painting is pretty awful, it's not bad for a first try, a child compared to the adult that is my philosophy. It only seemed fitting that they should be published together.

(4) It represents an example of what I consider worthwhile art. I discuss the value and purpose of art in the book (Part VI, "Natural Beauty," pp. 349-66), and this painting attempts to conform to what I argue are the highest values of art (pp. 363-66). Apart from what it can communicate (see points made above and below), in style my painting is an example of realist art, not abstract art, and though it's not any good, it at least represents an effort to approach the style of art that I defend in the book as the human ideal.

(5) It contains symbolic references to my philosophy. Symbolism, especially through metaphor and analogy, is one of the key elements of the value of art, and though my painting was finished years before I completed my book, its symbolic importance in relation to the content of my book is at least fourfold:

(a) The blue sky and green grass and foliage represent the natural world, while the craft and spacesuit represent humanity's technological improvement upon, and conquest of, that natural world, two things highly valued in naturalism: an appreciation for nature and for humanity's scientific and technological achievements. I even refer to humanity's ability to survive in the vacuum of space as an example of the empirical proof of the success of human reason (p. 184), and showing a space traveler on the cover doubled as a suitable reference to that.
(b) The man (or woman) is alone, as we are alone in the universe. Yet s/he is exploring the world, just as we ought to explore the world. And just as the reader is being asked to explore a new and possibly alien worldview, the astronaut in the painting is setting out to explore a new and possibly alien world. That person on the cover, in fact, is you.
(c) The geometry evoked by the shape of the spacecraft represents the fact that my metaphysics is based on geometry: matter-energy organized geometrically within space-time produces all the different things we know, by being organized in different patterns. For example, see my discussion of modal properties and abstract objects (§ III.5.4, pp. 124-28).
(d) Ayn Rand once proposed a really excellent metaphor for the pursuit of philosophy. Using an astronaut in a spacecraft landing on an alien world, she proposed that his first questions would be "Where am I? How do I know it? What do I do?" representing metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics, the three central branches of philosophy. Though I do not agree with Rand's philosophy and I find her style overly polemical and her beliefs often false or illogical, this particular metaphor impressed me. Thus, my painting is an homage to her metaphor, which makes it a good cover image for a book aiming to answer those very questions.


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