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on 30 June 2007
Cathcart and Klein call it philogagging and I have to say it is a very approachable way to introduce philosophy. Short and precise and most importantly a far cry from the usual pagelong sentences of genius philosophers. For a reader like myself who doesn't have the obtion to brag about knowledge of philosophy - Plato and a Platypus is a humorous introduction full of one-liners. For a reader with a philosophical background Plato and a Platypus is a great little curiosum, that will bring out a smile and a laugh. The jokes really are funny!!

Plato and a Platypus is interesting the other way around as well. Who would have thought that jokes, including lawyer-jokes and the occasional knock-knock-jokes are so deep as to examplify philosophy.

Plato and a Platypus is divided in chapters according to philosophical disciplin and within each chapter are the different theories.

I would recommend Plato and a Platypus for a newcomer in the field of philosophy and the philosophical genius, who needs to lighten up and realize that philosophy can be funny, laughable and very down to Earth.
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on 11 December 2007
I found this book to be informative and fun. I had always thought of formal philosphy as being, well, dry. However, within the confines of this brief book, philosophy comes alive, surprisingly with....humour.

The concepts and various philosophies are easily explained away with wit and charm. Quite a number of times, I found myself laughing out loud, and desirous of sharing many of the jokes.....thus, best not to read it outside your house (unless you want to entertain perfect strangers).

The format is punchy and straight. There is no time for boredom, or too much reverence.
A very enlightening, light and jaunty read.
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Philosophical discussions can be pretty hypothetical and abstract (what is the sound of two hands clapping if both hands stop short of touching one another?). Instead of scanning your brain madly for some point of reference (you often won't find one), you can read a joke from this book instead . . . that captures the essence of the point. The short jokes often explain more than the material that precede them, but in very few words.

I took philosophy in college and loved it. I even considered becoming a philosophy major. But I thought this book was so much more fun than when I studied philosophy formally.

If you have never studied philosophy but would like to learn a little, this book is an excellent choice. Most major philosophical perspectives are represented (except the purely mathematical ones) so you can look up a brief explanation and example anytime you want to understand a reference to a certain kind of philosophy. The approach is much briefer than a book on philosophy for unphilosophical people might be, but a lot more relevant and fun.

If you have studied philosophy, you owe it to yourself to see what jokes the authors have picked to represent various philosophies. I promise you'll be fascinated.

Does the book have a drawback? Sure. If you know a lot of jokes, you'll find many old chestnuts in the book. In fact, you may well anticipate the selection of some of these jokes (such as the one chosen for exemplifying relativism). The jokes are a lot more fun if the joke is new to you. I'm glad that the joke reflected in the book's title was saved to the end: It was a nice surprise.

For those who are new to philosophy, you may not get a few of the jokes. Some of the jokes refer back to elements of the philosophy or philosophy that you may not be familiar enough with after reading the brief sections in this book.

I strongly urge scholars and writers to use the same joke-example method to explain other disciplines. It's a winner!

Okay, so here's an example from the book's beginning which addresses teleology (do things have an innate purpose?):

"Mrs. Goldstein was walking down the street with her two grandchildren. A friend stopped to ask her how old they were.

"She replied, 'The doctor is five and the lawyer is seven.'"

As you can see the joke doesn't exactly fit the philosophy, but the joke does make a nice transition into a discussion of whether human life as a purpose.

Topics covered include metaphysics, logic, epistemology, ethics, philosophy of religion, existentialism, philosophy of language, social and political philosophy, relativity, and metaphilosophy.

The humor also extends to cartoons and a hilarious timeline at the book's end called "Great Moments in the History of Philosophy." Even the glossary has lighthearted references in it.

If being philosophical can be this much fun, we should all turn into philosophers!
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on 13 November 2008
I bought this to pass a transatlantic flight, and it did, wonderfully. Not many philosophy books will achieve that. So it's funny, entertaining, and OK, everyone will know some of the jokes, but few will have read them like THIS before. I have always felt kind of ignorant about this discipline (while also thinking "life is too short for this abstract wiffling", if I'm honest), especially in comparison with my OH who went to the philosophy lectures at uni for FUN while doing a science degree. This book doesn't bring me anything like up to his level, of course, but at least I do know what he's talking about now (he enjoyed it too) and might read more widely. I'd say this is a great book for bright young teens upwards: those who read it before anyone mentions Wittgenstein to them will feel less baffled and alienated than I did when one of my uni lecturers started questioning the innate nature of his lectern and whether it was the same as its name. (Cue a whole hall of students uneasily looking for the door.) That was how not to start on philosophy: this is most definitely how to do it.
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on 11 January 2010
I liked the book a lot. It's so good I wished I had thought of it. Trouble though, I can't remember the points now - this in no way means the book's crap, just that I' dense. Truth be told, I got the book at first to read the jokes. But it was so well written I ended up reading the book cover to cover. Now waiting for to get the other one - the one with the religion and jokes, I think. Like the way the book explains philosophy without being heavy.
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on 7 December 2009
It's nice to find a little gem like this book. In condensed form, it let's one understand the essential philosophical issues down through the ages. What makes it so readable is the excellent use of humour to reinforce a point. This seems to keep the mind focused, relaxed and engaged. Personally I need to memorize some of those golf jokes which should come in handy on the right occasion.

This book can be put into the hands of anyone for an enjoying read. Perhaps it's best read a chapter or so at a time rather than end-to-end. Also you will need to go to other sources if you want more in-depth on a subject, however this book gives you all the original thinkers you need to start with. Maybe for most people just getting a better idea / reminder of these concepts from ethics to existentialism is enough.

The best recommendation I can give is after reading this one, I definitely would be interested in similar books in this series.
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on 3 August 2010
Once upon a time I knew all about Philosophy:- I read Sophie's World and felt I understood the whole subject, all those Kierkegaards, Aristotles, Kants and Hegels. It all made sense and fitted together. I hoped this book would have a similar effect, making an outsider in the subject feel like an insider. It sounded like a great idea - jokes and comedy can often make very clever and perceptive points or illustrate subtle and complicated ideas.

However I found this book a bit of a let-down. It is really just a collection of jokes (and I'd heard all the better ones already) grouped by topic and padded out by some glib explanation of the philosophical issue in question. The style of writing was clever and smug - for example they make a big deal of the fact that Sherlock Holmes used INDUCTION rather than DEDUCTION - he didn't DEDUCE anything - well, maybe we didn't know, but maybe we didn't care either. It seemed to me a bit like the bore who explains to you, with a triumphant smile, that Frankenstein wasn't the monster, but the doctor. Similarly, there was a few 'in-jokes' about Plato and his cave but the whole Plato/Aristotle debate was never explained.

Presenting Philosophy by topic (metaphysics, ethics, existentialism, philosophy of language) as it is done in this book leaves a muddled picture if you are not already familiar with the concepts. Philosophy makes much more sense in its historical context; we understand how one way of thinking leads into another, or how a new school of thought arises in reaction to a previous one. Without that framework this book really only managed to explain some philosophical terms without giving a real sense of the wider picture. And I think if I had come to it as a complete novice I would have struggled to get anything at all out of it. Despite (or maybe because of) its jokey, irreverant style I didn't find it very clear in explaining things.

This book would be of most interest to people who already knew their philosophy and wanted jokes to illustrate various concepts - but even at that I didn't think the jokes were particularly perceptive - I imagine anyone with a moderate knowledge of philosopy, and a reasonable jokebook could put together a similar book in an afternoon. I notice that the authors have a couple of other books out in the same style, I suppose it's hard to make money doing anything else if you are a Harvard philosophy graduate!

Another thing I didn't like:- there were a fair amount of 'adult' jokes included. This was absolutely unnecessary, there's no reason why this sort of book shouldn't be suitable for an intelligent 10 year old.

Finally, in a discussion on Western thought versus Zen Buddhism the authors posed the riddle "what is the difference between a duck" but didn't bother to give the answer - everyone knows it is that "one of its legs is both the same"!
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Embarrisingly funny! I started reading this on a commuter train journey, and the jokes are just so great that I had to stop! I was sat there, tears streaming down my face - I'm sure people must have thought I was very upset, but I was actually trying not to burst out in uncontrollable laughter! I've really enjoyed this book - and the jokes have been well received by everyone. And the added bonus - they're making a serious (kind of!) point! Thoroughly recommended to anyone looking for great jokes, or for philosophy students looking for a lighter touch on the subject
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VINE VOICEon 11 March 2010
The philosophy of diminishing returns overtook me somewhere around half way through this little book. At first, the formula seemed clever and apt, but after a while it became possible to guess the form of the joke before it arrived; alternatively, someone really smart would be able to read a joke and work back to the relevant philosophy.

The formulaic approach can have its virtues, but it has weaknesses, too. There are some good gags here and there but the the jokes don't get better as the book progresses: in time they simply come to seem repetitive.
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The book outlines a large number of philosophical issues in simple and understandable terms. That might make it quite a useful little introduction for people who would find other introductions rather too heavy for them. The expositions are themselves generally jokey in tone, with some excruciating puns; and they are interlarded with lots of jokes which are supposed to illustrate them. Sometimes they do that: particularly apposite are those in the chapter dealing with logical fallacies. But often their connection with the exposition is more stream-of-consciousness than anything else. Some of the jokes are very funny, others only mildly so; a few are groan-inducing; many are bawdy; some are shaggy-dog stories; quite a few are Jewish.

Few philosophers display any sense of humour in their writing, alas - but then, in my opinion, our two gagmeisters here rather overdo the facetiousness. I find this all the more surprising because Daniel Klein has written that wise and far from facetious book “Travels with Epicurus” (see my Amazon review).
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