49 of 52 people found the following review helpful
on 31 October 2005
Overall I enjoyed this book. The idea of using a hypothetical scenario as an introduction to a great philosophical idea or problem is a good one as it does not require the reader to have any previous knowledge or understanding of the subject. This means that anyone can pick this book up and immediately be introduced with ease to a subject they previously knew nothing about.
The wide range of scenarios and ideas presented is also useful as it means if you are not interested in one thing on offer there is likely to be something else for you. As well, it also means that if you have read about something before and know a bit about it this book does not feel like re-visited territory. The sceanarios that are linked to each other are referenced at the end of each segment so if you are interested in that specific theme then you can go straight to the next thought experiment without having to read through a load of others first, which is another useful feature.
The only thing about this book I was vaguely dissatisfied with was the because of the huge number of ideas presented here sometimes it felt like you were just being offered a taste of a much larger subject when you wanted to know more about it. Because of the very nature of the book I realise that this should be the way the ideas are presented but occasionally this meant it was slightly unfufilling to read.
However, it has prompted me to go on and read more about those areas I was interested in so perhaps it did a great job after all! If you do not know much about philosophy and are keen to get a broad, easily accessable overview then this book is excellent. However, if you already know what you are interested in and like to learn about in it any great depth this book is not designed for you. Pretty good though - interesting and provoking.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 23 June 2014
This has been, for a few months, my "coffee table book". It is one I have close by in the living room and dip into from time to time. As the subtitle “(and 99 other thought experiments)” implies, there are 100 little scenarios put forward, each of which takes about 3 pages to fill. First, there is a statement of the issue and then Baggini gives us some brief thoughts on the matter.
So it's great to look at for 5-10 minutes and have a little think, if you get such pockets of time available at points dotted through a day. What it isn't is a book to sit down and read cover to cover over a rainy weekend. The shortness of each section shouldn't deceive you, Baggini doesn't just provide food for thought, he gives us a taster menu taken from a wide range of (mostly) western philosophy, ranging from Plato to Chomsky, taking in the likes of George Berkeley, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Soren Kierkegaard and David Hume along the way, along with some ideas taken from modern fiction, including Philip K Dick and, of course, Douglas Adams, whose idea gave rise to the title of this work.
The idea is not really for Baggini to pontificate (though he does this on occasion) but for him to oil your mental gears and get the reader thinking. If that is his aim, he does, for the most part, an excellent job. Some other reviewers of the book seemed to miss this point entirely, as they were disappointed he didn't go into more depth. While I think that theirs is an invalid criticism, there are others which are more pertinent.
For one, the whole approach of the book is to look at philosophy, predominantly moral philosophy, at the boundaries of possible experience. The idea of the thought experiment is useful in many areas, not least those used by Einstein in thinking through his special theory of relativity. Yet here, what we end up doing is trying to feel our way around the borders of the room, without looking into the centre of the room. Here, I side much more with Stanley Hauerwas' view of ethics as a whole way of being rather than a mere exercise in "what to do if..."
In addition to this, when you read through a few of the mini essays, one gets the distinct impression that Baggini has a clear idea of what morality entails and how a moral person might behave, yet in looking at the fringe scenarios, the basics seem rather taken for granted and go unquestioned. Perhaps a little more probing here might be welcome. As it is, it seems that these assumptions go some way to shaping the conclusions Baggini reaches. So whilst happy to (rightfully) probe at the assumptions of those he disagrees with, a fair treatment must do the same to Baggini himself. As might be expected if one has read some of Baggini's other works, he is rather biased and muddled when it comes to matters of religion. Mostly, these are examples of questions which, though not wholly leading, are phrased in such a way as to incline the reader in a certain direction. The other point I would note is that a fair few of the scenarios either centre on or at least involve utilitarianism.
Given the piecemeal nature of the chapters, can one assess the book as whole? Well, it is a good introduction to many ideas in philosophy, which are made readily accessible. The fact that he provides references for most of his scenarios allows the reader to follow up on any points that pique their interest. If one reads through this and finds no such points well….maybe philosophy isn’t your thing. This is a fun book, with an edge of seriousness, not an academic treatise. So please do read it, think about it and enjoy.
49 of 53 people found the following review helpful
Douglas Adams posed many a philosophical question in his works. For some, the most hilarious - or disturbing, was the meal that introduced itself and recommended certain portions for consumption. In a society fully detached from the processing of living flesh into oven-ready tidbits, Adams portrayal of "the pig that wants to be eaten" seems outlandish. Yet, is there truly a moral issue in developing a food that not only embraces the opportunity to be consumed, but has the capacity to help the diner choose the more desireable cut. ?
Julian Baggini poses this and ninety-nine other questions in this tantalising collection. Many of the topics he raises have been with us for millennia - remaining unresolved today. The author draws the old questions to centre stage, clad in modern finery and make-up. The new appearance helps bring the reader into the questions with a greater sense of comfort, one hopes. But when the last line has been read, it's clear that this isn't just an entertaining recasting of old conundrums, but of serious issues we confront daily. Reading them all in one go could be dangerous to your mental health!
Many readers will have encountered these issues previously: if your brain is transplanted to another body, are you still you? Or if that bastion of "consciousness" is instead placed in a vat of nutrients and wired into a computer that feeds it sensory information, are you still "real"? If your ATM grants you ten thousand dollars when you asked for a hundred, are you "morally bound" to return it [assuming the bank's auditors can't track where it went]? On a lighter note, we might consider whether a sculpture produced by Nature is a work of art. If it is, who sets a value on it? How much would you pay for it?
Baggini manages to prompt us with [mostly] plausible circumstances and definitely important questions. He does it in a couple of pages dedicated to each, and never provides a satisfactory answer to any of them. That's right and proper, since the questions posed must be applied by the reader to their own circumstances. He raises questions of who can pollute and the options confronting us all on how far our committments can reach in an increasingly interconnected world. The author's style is that of a fellow commuter on the bus or train every morning. The reading is easy, the format is simple. And each question generates long periods of reflection or exchanges over a beer. Few are resolved easily. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 16 December 2009
This is a book of a 100 `thought experiments' to provoke us into thinking - thinking about moral and philosophical issues. Each chapter presents a story, often developed from the ideas of a famous philosopher such as Plato, Descartes, Berkeley, Rawls or from more populist authors such as Philip Dick and Douglas Adams. Baggini then discussed the issue raised in a few paragraphs, so that each chapter is exactly 3 pages long and the book 300 pages long.
I first met Julian Baginni at a `Sea of Faith' conference - or rather I heard a talk of his on `Selfhood', without talking to him personally. His lecture was entertaining and approachable, yet touched on profound issues. So I was inclined to buy one of his (several) books when browsing in a bookshop a few months ago.
The format of the book encourages you to pick it up and put it down at short intervals, while one digests the individual chapters. At first I thought it slightly lightweight. Some of the thought experiments did not quite work for me - maybe I chafed against the necessary restrictions and unreality of artificial, fanciful `thought experiment' situations. I could see that some raised important and tricky issues, but then felt unsatisfied by the mere few paragraphs that Baggini used to cover the issue, leaving many things unresolved. I even put the book down for a few weeks (though that is a common thing I do, since I often read many books in parallel).
When I picked it up again, I found familiar issues returning with a fresh perspective, and further commentary. I started to follow the connections to other chapters he suggests, and re-read earlier ones. I started to make notes on the book. Themes started to emerge from the mist. Baggini deliberately jumbles up the themes - but ultimately you realise that they are all related. So the book gained depth and weight, as I read backwards and forwards. I became more and more interested, and appreciated his self-restraint in limiting his commentary in each chapter. Instead a more resonant meta-commentary was emerging. I realised the author is an eternal questioner and is forever prising apart our `rationality' our `morality' our `common sense'. He does not propose evangelical solutions, but leaves a huge, sparkling scepticism hanging in the air, like stars in the night sky.
As an example, thought experiment #89 is titled `Kill and let die'. Here a man at a junction box knows a runaway train is going to kill 20 men in a tunnel, but he can divert the train to another track where he knows for certain it will kill only 5 men. What should he do? The Benthamite philosophy of the greatest good for the greatest number would dictate he flicks the switch to kill only the 5 men, rather than let the 20 men die. Doing nothing causes the greater harm, but flicking the switch requires an act on his part which is tantamount to choosing to kill the 5 men on the other track.
The thought experiment rules require that we introduce no excuses about uncertainty or a third way; by remorselessly focusing on this dilemma it forces us to decide and clarify our fuzzy, contradictory thoughts. So Baggini is charmingly slamming us up against a brick wall with a loaded gun to our heads, and forcing us to think, to work things out for ourselves.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 3 August 2012
Finally I have found a suitable introduction to philosophy. After much searching and frustrated struggling through complicated books fulls of philosophical jargon this book came as a breath of fresh air.
Complicated philosophical and ethical problems and ideas are presented in bite-sized, easily digestible chunks. Most importantly, I feel, each problem is presented along with a (mostly) real life example. This was immensely helpful for illustrating complicated philosophical concepts, especially things such as "the true nature of reality" and "the subjectivity of experiences" et cetera. There are, of course, some things that are simply too complicated to express entirely through a "tangible" example, but the author does a brilliant job of trying.
This book is wide and shallow rather than narrow and deep. The topics are not covered in great detail, but I think it's enough to whet the readers appetite and give them a stable groundwork on which more complicated texts can build. Books such as Think: A Compelling Introduction to Philosophy and The Philosophy Book, which I have found assume a little prior knowledge of the topic, would be my recommended next steps.
I would whole-heartedly recommend this book to anyone, philosopher or not, as it presents interesting and sometimes quite thorny philosophical arguments in an easy-to-understand format. It really makes you think about things too!
60 of 68 people found the following review helpful
on 20 August 2005
If, like me, you agree that 'philosophy's a clever word for not enough to do' (Mitch Benn) or believe that 'philosophers spend their time giving advice to people who are happier than they are' (Tom Lehrer), this book will shatter your preconceptions. It's fun, thought-provoking and great for dipping in and out of. All the 'biggies are there' from Descartes to Zeno, from Jean-Paul Sartre to Bertrand Russell, but it is the clarity, simplicity and humour of the book which sells the subject, bringing in everything from Coronation Street to Big Brother to the ultimate nightmare England manager Glenn Robson-Keeganson. It not only makes philosophy, morality and ethics enjoyable but - and this sounds barely believable - succeeds in making them seem relevant...easier said than done in today's world. The expression 'it makes you think' has been reduced to a cliche these days, but here it really does apply. Buy it - you won't be disappointed!
34 of 39 people found the following review helpful
Came across this book by chance in a review in the Sunday Times and went online to order it. When it came I could hardly put it down - truly fascinating and thought provoking.
Julian Baggini has pulled together 100 stories that make you think about your own perception of the world, right and wrong, your own morale's without forcing one view or opinion on the reader. The format of the book makes it very easy to pick it up whenever you have 5 mins free and just read one or a couple of the stories.
I have used the stories with my friends and I have recommended the book to many friends and colleagues. Highly recommended for anyone looking for a simple yet thought provoking book, or wondering what philosophy is all about or simply curious to find out if a tree falls down in a forest with no-one around whether it makes a sound or not - it doesn't ;) (or does it...?)
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 24 November 2006
Baggini has collected an entertaining and eclectic list of 100 moral problems from many sources for us to ponder over. The problems have an everyday feel to them that adds to their discussion-worthiness. Short and sweet, each need occupy no larger chunk of time than the average tea break. Baggini follows each problem with a short commentary of his own intended to provoke further thought. He does point you in a certain direction in his usual common-sense way but does not beat you about the head and is perfectly happy to leave an issue wide open. In terms of readability and relevance to everyday life this collection knocks spots off '101 Philosophy Problems' by Martin Cohen, which is strained by comparison.
on 13 November 2012
This book contains 100 of what philosophers call thought experiments. The purpose of thought experiments is to isolate and control variables in order to make you think about what you would do in hypothetical situations. Baggini has authored a book of such thought experiments as 'Bank error in your favour', 'Would you return £100,000 you received with a receipt for £100?' 'The Experience Machine' offers you the chance to the opportunity to fulfil your dreams of becoming a rock star with all the adulation that comes with it. Would you sign the consent form to be perpetuated into a virtual-reality environment, mind you that's you for good, you'll never be back here again! 'Free Simone' is about the 'computer under slavery!
My favourites are 'Double Trouble', and 'Pre-emptive justice'. Pre-emptive justice' deals with being able to predict who will commit particular crimes in the future, then they would be sent to jail. For example, a future murderer would be jailed to ensure they didn't commit such offences. When they have undergone tests to show that they won't go on to murder, it is only then that they will be released.
I propose that the 'Pre-emptive Justice' thought experiment can be extended to profiling foetuses/embryoes. What if science enables the DNA of foetuses to be profiled for future crime such as serial armed robbery, rape, murder? Wouldn't that create some ethical and moral issues? Moreover, what if all governments made these profilings mandatory? Each thought experiment is no more than three to four pages long. It's good value for the price and mine won't be lent to anyone.
Baggini has collected some well (and less well) known, typical questions and thought teasers here, in order to provoke an imaginary dialogue with the reader, and a bit of pondering from the reader's side to follow.
The individual cases each have a brief introduction to the problem or conundrum, a source, and then a concise answer or guide to the avenues one needs to consider when going about answering, and which other of the 100 cases are connected / similar. At the relatively compact size, the answers will definitely not be comprehensive, or even detailed enough to capture all the nuances - they are more of a rough guideline (all in there are 3 pages per case on average), the rest being left to the reader.
As such it will be an interesting source / collection of cases one can use in a teaching environment as a discussion kick-off. Someone with a deeper grounding in philosophy will get little new and the value to interested novices will largely depend on whether they want a complete solution in one book (in which case it is not comprehensive enough) or use this as a first step, going more in depth with other sources afterwards (in which case it works reasonably well).
In the Kindle format the 'other connected cases' could be linked, too - so that one does not need to scroll through if one is not reading the book cover to cover.