Monday, January 2, 2017

Book Review: ‘PLATO and a PLATYPUS WALK INTO A BAR

‘PLATO and a PLATYPUS WALK INTO A BAR’ by Thomas Cathcart & Daniel Klein, introduces us to fairly complex philosophical questions of metaphysics, logic, epistemology, existentialism, ethics, and many other topics having potential for obscurity. Such topics are presented in the form of lively, humorous story snippets, each illustrating another important facet.
Like that of a  Harvard  professor,  while experimenting, inhaled laughing gas, and thought he saw the ultimate unity of  all things, but, after the drug wore off, he couldn't remember his cosmic insights. So, the story goes, the next time he sniffed laughing gas, he tied a pen to his hand and a book open in front of him. Sure enough, a brilliant idea came to him, and this time he managed to get it down on paper. Hours later, in his unaltered state, he read the philosophical breakthrough he had recorded: “Everything has a petroleum-like smell!” Disappointed at first, the professor soon came to his philosophical senses. The real question, he realized, was whether a) ideas that appeared brilliant to him under the influence of laughing gas were actually banal; or b) “Everything has a petroleum-like smell” cannot be appreciated as a philosophical proposition unless one is under the influence of laughing gas.
Or, like that of a famous art collector is walking through the city when he notices a mangy cat lapping milk from a saucer in the doorway of a store. He does a double-take. He knows that the saucer is extremely old and very valuable, so he walks casually into the store and offers to buy the cat for two dollars. The store-owner replies, “I’m sorry, but the cat isn't for sale.”
The collector says, “Please, I need a hungry cat around the house to catch mice. I’ll pay you twenty dollars for that cat.” The owner says, “Sold,” and hands over the cat. But the collector continues, “Hey, for the twenty bucks I wonder if you could throw in that old saucer. The cat’s used to it and it’ll save me from having to get a dish.” The owner says, “Sorry, buddy, but that’s my lucky saucer. So far this week I've sold thirty-eight cats.”
Or the one about a western anthropologist and a Voohooni (a tribe), who says that 2 + 2 = 5. The anthropologist asks him how he knows this. The tribesman says, “By counting, of course. First I tie two knots in a cord. Then I tie two knots in another cord. When I join the two cords together, I have five knots.”

Explanations of this nature, bit humorous, much entertaining, and also demystifying in full, for a substantial number of philosophical terms are included in this page turner. In short, this is philosophy in non-philosophical terms, easy even for the uninitiated, and thoroughly entertaining, especially for those, who have taken pains to follow such esoteric topics.

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