Philosophers and people who don’t get philosophy, while perusing the local book store I fell upon a wonderful book that I think any person with at least a minimum college education and a good sense of humor will enjoy putting into their collection.
The book is called “Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar…” and was co-written by Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein (alumni of Harvard). I first though that this book was going to use the cheap jokes such as “Descartes walks into a bar…” and deal little with making you learn while you laugh than just making you laugh. However, this book (like many other books) was not what I was expecting. The jokes in here are some of the funniest I have seen and each one is brought up where you can get the most out of learning something new or old of a philosophical branch.
The book is broken up into ten sections dealing from Metaphysics to Relativity and even Existentialism (which is rarely brought up even in the “Philosophy for Dummies” type books except as a side note). For a recent graduate of a philosophy major at Stetson U., I was pretty well acquainted with most of what the book covered, but I was surprised how easily the authors were able to take something complex such as answering what metaphysics is and giving the reader a simple, and always funny, response. Yet, this is not simply book with bullet points explaining broadly what philosophy is and scattering jokes here in a there; it is a well put together book that contains something for everyone to laugh at. An example would be in the section on epistemology where a blank oval has the caption “Portrait of a ding an sich” or a list of quotes detailing the similar expressions of “Do unto others…” in religious scripts and adding a Soprano-like quote “Whack the next guy with the same respect you’d like to be whacked with, you know?”
You may now ask why I bring up this book. “Sure, it may be funny and a pleasant refresher of those subjects I slept through, but so what?” If you so rudely said this, I’d like to appeal to the teacher in all of us who continually struggles to explain what philosophy is to, as Nietzsche would call them, the herd (just don’t call them that to their faces). I remember coming home to a graduation party and finding people giving blank stares as I tried to explain what my senior thesis was about; here I though the title “Nietzsche’s Will to Power: An Analysis and Critique” was self explanatory. However, when I got this book and my uncle asked me to clarify what it meant to have a telos, I used the following joke from the book:
Mrs. Goldstein was walking down the street with her two grandchildren. A friend stopped to ask old they were. She replied, “The doctor is five and the lawyer is seven.”
From that he seemed to get what all this talk about teleology was without having to take a semester long course. I am finding this book to be instrumental in being able to get across to non-philosophers what it is that we actually do (besides sit all day in a town cafe sipping cafe and laughing at poorly written arguments found in newspaper editorials). You will find almost any joke to help the blank stares on a mass of philosophy subjects thanks to the width of the book’s scope. True, you may not learn much from this book in terms of new found knowledge, but you will find a way to make people laugh and learn a little. Maybe when your students look at you like you are speaking a dead language like French (my little joke) it might help to put away Kant and strike up a joke or two.
You can find more about this book at: