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Customer Review

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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