Have You Read?: Philosophy, humor make a refreshing mix
January 15, 2008
“Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar…” by Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein
Reading “Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar…” is like taking a philosophy survey course team-taught by a couple of zany professors. This slim volume is broken down into the typical philosophical categories: i.e., metaphysics, logic, ethics, etc., but it will break you up, because all the principles are illustrated by jokes.
It is worth reading if only for the jokes, of course, but I am not sure the book would inform someone coming in brand-new to the world of philosophical thinking. I found it enjoyable as a refresher. It is just not often, pity, that you come across a conversation about the categorical imperative, and it was nice to be reminded of it.
I’ll discuss a few of my favorites. One was epistemological pragmatism: “The truth of a statement lies in its practical consequences.” That is, “We choose our truth by what difference it will make in practice.”
A woman describes her missing husband to the police as being 6 feet, 3 inches, well-built, with beautiful hair. Her friend objects that he is really 5 feet, 3 inches, bald, big-bellied. The wife concludes, “Who wants that one back?”
Another is determinism vs. free will: Are human beings free to form their own actions and decisions, or are they determined by external forces? Asked if he believed in free will, the writer Isaac Bashevis Singer said, “I have no choice.” Baruch Spinoza believed God determined everything down to the last detail.
Moses, Jesus and a bearded old man are playing golf. Moses parts the water, and his ball achieves a hole-in-one. Jesus stands on the water and hits his hole-in-one. The bearded old man hits his ball into a fence, it bounces into the street, ricochets off a truck, lands on a lily pad in the water and is swallowed by a frog, which is snatched by an eagle who flies over the hole, popping the ball into it. Moses turns to Jesus and says, “I hate playing with your dad.”
The chapter on logic is especially good, dealing with some logical fallacies – ways of thinking that appear logical but really are not, and the chapter on paradoxes is one of my favorites – a paradox being a bit of good reasoning based on true assumptions that leads to a contradiction or false conclusion. One of the latter:
Salesman: This vacuum cleaner will cut your work in half.
Customer: Great! I’ll take two!
A nice paradox: There is a town where the only barber (a man) shaves all the men who don’t shave themselves: Does the barber shave himself? Funny, huh? Just like “The Cretan said all Cretans are liars.” Endlessly looping back on itself, over and over.
Another good chapter, giving a fairly thorough examination of its topic, is the one on existentialism: Does existence precede essence? Do we arrive here ready-made, or do we make ourselves? In 11 short pages, the authors cover the big names, dealing with existential angst, authentic living and overcoming the fear of death. In other words, they are a load of laughs.
This book might be sought out by anyone who likes to ponder big questions, by someone wishing to refresh their academic philosophy, or by someone wanting to ease into the study of philosophy. Or by philosophy teachers who might need some new jokes.
– Peggy Meyer is a library assistant at the Lake Tahoe Community College Library.