Thursday, June 5, 2014

Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar by Thomas Cathcart & Daniel Klein

Ah, airport bookshops. Like I said in my Teaser Tuesday, I get strangely drawn to non-fiction there. And I try to make it a habit to buy at least one book while passing through an airport.

Now, the main question for this book is 'can you really understand philosophy through jokes like the subtitle claims?'. And the answer is what I learnt in Theory of Knowledge, history and just about every humanities class "Yes, to a certain extent."

Yes because this book does contain many jokes and they do explain philosophy. But, this isn't just full of jokes, they actually *gasp* explain the jokes. Or use the jokes as illustration for explanations. So no, just reading the jokes will not help you understand philosophy. You have to read the explanations too. But the jokes do help in understanding (hence the "to a certain extent".)

One of my friends has read it before and he told me that I'd be in stitches. Well, I did chuckle quite a bit, but not as much as he probably did. For example, not all jokes in the feminist section (especially the one about the woman in the plane about to crash) were funny. In fact, the one about the plane was downright sexist. But to be fair to the book, they did admit it was over the top. However, the authors never clearly stated their position, so I'm not sure whether they were trying to undermine feminism in that section (especially since they talked about the 'Politically incorrect joke' and how it can make a joke seem funnier).

Oh, and they have this bit about argument from analogy (and why it's a bad argument). One group they singled out for attention were the creationists. I can understand the need for examples, but I felt that they should have also added that atheists use arguments from analogy as well. For example, Richard Dawkins has said that
“Nobody has actually seen evolution take place over a long period but they have seen the after effects, and the after effects are massively supported. It is like a case in a court of law where nobody can actually stand up and say I saw the murder happen and yet you have got millions and millions of pieces of evidence which no reasonable person can possibly dispute.” (1)
I would think that the fair thing to do was to point out that both sides use this argument.

So basically, other than the argument from analogy section, and the feminism section (which had a joke which, in my opinion, really shouldn't have been there), this was a pretty good book. Most of the jokes work. However, I can't really say if it makes philosophy accessible to the beginner. I've had quite a lot of previous exposure to philosophy, so this was more of a refresher course than anything.

(1)The Genius of Charles Darwin, Series 1, (UK) Channel 4 TV: Sat 11 Oct 2008.

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