Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar: Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes [NO TEXT]
Thomas Cathcart & Daniel Klein
Publisher: Abrams Image, New York(May 1 2007)
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Nonfiction > Philosophy > History & Surveys
Entertainment > Humor > Essays
About the book
Here's a lively, hilarious, not-so-reverent crash course through the great philosophical traditions, schools, concepts, and thinkers. It's Philosophy 101 for everyone who knows not to take all this heavy stuff too seriously. Some of the Big Ideas are Existentialism (what do Hegel and Bette Midler have in common?), Philosophy of Language (how to express what it's like being stranded on a desert island with Halle Berry), Feminist Philosophy (why, in the end, a man is always a man), and much more. Finally-it all makes sense!
Tom Cathcart and Daniel Klein pursued the usual careers after majoring in philosophy at Harvard. Tom worked with street gangs in Chicago, doctors at Blue Cross and Blue Shield, and dropped in and out of various divinity schools. He lives with his wife on Cape Cod. Dan has written jokes for various comedians including Flip Wilson and Lily Tomlin. He lives with his wife in the Berkshires. Together, they are authors of the politically incorrect book of daily affirmations, Macho Meditations.
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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