Wednesday, July 04, 2007

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

Customer in a restaurant: "How do you prepare your chickens?"
Cook: "Oh, nothing special really. We just tell them they're gonna die."

Have you been meaning to study philosophy, so you can separate epistemology from existentialism? You might start with Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar ... Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein, who went into social work and comedy after philosophy school, have written a primer with a big twist of humor. Every section is full of jokes to introduce philosophical concepts, such as metaphysics, logic, and ethics.

Salesman: "Ma'am, this vacuum cleaner will cut your work in half."
Customer: "Terrific! Give me two of them."

This customer obviously has not studied philosophy, for if she had, she would know Zeno's Paradox. Every time that you cut something in half, you still have a half remaining. In theory, you never reach zero, but in reality, people actually do finish projects. How can this be? Cathcart and Klein toss this paradox around and then go on to more jokes.

Joe: "What a fabulous singer, huh?"
Blow: "Ha! If I had his voice, I'd be just as good."

Epistemology is a study of knowledge and knowing what you know. When you define something as something, is it really something? The authors may not agree. Maybe.

I enjoyed Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar ... on an airplane, completing it during the return flight from Washington, D.C. to Chicago. It can easily be set down and picked up again without losing the discussion line. Most of the jokes are actually longer than these samples. Some of them will offend gentle readers, but those who enjoy Las Vegas stand-up comedy will be prepared.

More serious students will want Philosophy for Dummies by Thomas V. More or Philosophy Made Simple by Richard Henry Popkin.

Cathcart, Thomas and Klein, Daniel. Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar...: Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes. New York: Abrams Image, 2007. ISBN 081091493x

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