101 Philosophy Problems Paperback – 6 Feb 2007
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Praise for previous editions:
'You can't just read philosophy, you've got to actually do it ... 101 Philosophy Problems is an all too rare example of a book that does just that.' – The Philosophers' Magazine
'Introduces philosophy in a novel way, with helpful tools for leading students into the world of philosophy.' – The Times Higher Education Supplement
About the Author
Martin Cohen is editor of The Philosopher, the journal of the Philosophical Society in England, lecturer and a successful author and journalist. His bestselling 101 Ethical Dilemmas, second edition, is also published by Routledge (2007).
Top customer reviews
What is Martin Cohen's own view of what philosophy is that permeates his book? It is the view that philosophy is an activity: the intellectual activity of engaging with philosophical problems, discussing proposed solutions to the problems, disputing arguments for proposed solutions, identifying and questioning assumptions underlying problems, solutions and arguments. This view, of course, is not unknown in Philosophy Departments, even though most professional philosophers tend to emphasize the theories which embody attempts to answer particular problems. Cohen emphasizes the problems themselves, or at least the value of the problems, from which any answers derive such value as they may possess. 101 Philosophy Problems is basically an invitation to think critically about philosophical problems, often by way of conducting thought experiments.
What is this book like? Both in regard to its structure and the style in which it is written, it is very unconventional. The first part of the book consists of a series of very short stories or narrative texts, grouped by subject-matter, setting out problems or puzzles of philosophical interest. Some of these problems are well-known in philosophical literature, e.g. the paradox of Epimenides the Cretan, who said: 'All Cretans are liars'. In the second part of the book, entitled 'Discussions', Cohen provides explanations and analyses of the issues raised by each of the problems, with some references to the treatment offered by particular historical philosophers. These discussions are intelligent and balanced, if (in most cases at least) inevitably inconclusive.
The last two sections, 'Glossary' and 'Reading Guide', offer helpful pointers to further philosophical study of a more 'academic' character.
The style of the writing is equally unconventional. Cohen always writes clearly, untechnically and informally - these being virtues which are rare enough, but not exclusive to him - and further he writes in a self-consciously comic manner. His sense of humour is mostly of the gentle P.G. Wodehouse-type variety, but occasionally explodes in Stoppardian slapstick. So, in a parody of the sceptical doubt he writes: How do I know that I haven't fallen into the clutches of a malignant demon, intent on deceiving me? Or perhaps a malignant doctor? One who has recovered my brain after some nasty accident (involving too many chip butties and driving, no doubt) and is now keeping it suspended in a vat of chemicals as part of a ghastly medical experiment. Feeding it made-up 'sense-data' along coloured wires: purple for hearing, black for touch, yellow for taste, blue for vision...?'
I find this way of presenting philosophical problems very entertaining and I am keen to try it on my students. [To put their brains in vats? Asst. Ed.] I think that the more attractive the presentation of philosophical problems to beginning students, the better the chance of giving them the 'bug' of philosophical engagement, and helping them, step by step, to the dizzying heights of abstract thinking. Finally, how is this book to be read? Cohen is emphatic that this is not to be read cover to cover, as in a frenzy. 'Take the problems,' he advises, 'at a more leisurely pace, one by one, or at most, group by group... The discussions should be seen as an aid to this process of philosophizing, rather than rapidly read by those in search of 'answers'. In any case, the pause for thought will tend to make eventual discussion more interesting, and indeed, to make the problem so. For the answers, as Bertrand Russell has already observed, are less important than the questions.
This seems to me to be sound advice for any introduction to philosophy.
Cohen's droll wit and lively, succinct story-telling are applied to a series of very short stories and puzzles which demystify this hitherto often offputting topic, and give a painless, palatable, enjoyable way of learning.
Rather than offering knee-jerk, definitive answers to these eternal conundrums, Cohen offers gentle guidance in discussing them, yet leaves the questions dangling for further musings by the reader.
Meanwhile Cohen under-statedly shows how philosophy is not some abstract 'dead' area with no relevance to the so-called 'real world', but - au contraire - it may be applied to everything that happens or can be thought about.
Complete with a dummy's guide to landmark philosophers through the ages, and a basic glossary, "101..." is the thinking person's philosophy book. It is recommended as a standard text for beginners' philosophy classes or the armchair rationalist, and whets one's appetite for future volumes.
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