Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar: Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes by Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein

“I’ve never had much luck with the abstract concepts that make up the study of philosophy. That’s just not how my brain is wired. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t long to understand the basic tenets of existentialism, pragmatism, emotivism, et cetera. This book, which attempts to explain all this and more, using jokes to help clarify them, seemed like it would be worth a try. After all, as the authors explain, philosophical concepts and jokes do have similarities. Both “confound our sense of the way things are, flip our worlds upside down, and ferret out hidden, uncomfortable truths about life. What the philosopher calls an insight, the gagster calls a zinger.”

I discovered that not all philosophy is deep and murky.  The chapters on ethics, the philosophy of religion, and social and political philosophy mostly made sense to me, and were definitely enlivened by the jokes. But I fear that I may never quite grasp metaphysics, relativity or existentialism, no matter how many jokes I’m told.  Here’s one from the metaphysics chapter that illustrates the debate between metaphysicians and non-metaphysicians about infinity:   Two cows are standing in the pasture. One turns to the other and says, “Although pi is usually abbreviated to five numbers, it actually goes on into infinity.” The second cow turns to the first and says, “Moo.”

       The library owns this book in both print and audio versions. For a light introduction to basic philosophical concepts, I highly recommend either version. The audio misses out on the cartoons included in the book, but is narrated by Johnny Heller, who used to be a stand-up comedian, and so is perfect for the job. There is also a website is devoted to this book, complete with videos.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

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