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Philosophy in thin slices


Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar…Understanding Philosophy through Jokes by Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein

On Bullshit and On Truth by Harry G. Frankfurt

Reviewed by Alice Gay, Library volunteer

Three slim volumes to provide clues as to the nature of a modern form of misrepresentation, some good reasons to heighten respect for truth, a fresh look at philosophy and incidentally a whole repertoire of jokes.

Given the prevalence of such fakery in our culture, it is curious that though widely used, it is poorly understood. Professor Frankfurt, an eminent moral philosopher from Princeton, took up his pen (so to speak) to address the subject and gave us the first of these three titles. On Bullshit is a light-hearted analysis of the phenomenon, all-pervasive in this period of election and advertising campaigns, scandals of various kinds and economic instability. He concludes that bullshit is not intended to convey information, but to advance an agenda. Once the text was published and became a bestseller, Professor Frankfurt‘s wife urged him to explore by contrast the nature of truth. In this attractive volume, On Truth, he again prefers the practical to the theoretical, explodes some New Age notions on the way, and finding that “we cannot fail to take the importance of factuality and reality seriously,” gives us some useful tools to distinguish truth from bullshit and lies.

In Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar, Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein bring their intellect and humour to bear on what would appear to be a serious subject. They both majored in philosophy at Harvard but pursued wildly different paths thereafter. Their method of introducing us to some of the major disciplines – metaphysics, logic, epistemology, etc. – though seemingly frivolous, is clear and highly entertaining. If you are not in a particularly philosophical frame of mind, you can always read Plato and a Platypus for the jokes – they are clever and classy. On the other hand, if you feel more inclined to skip the jokes, you have a great  summary of philosophical thought from Socrates to Sartre.

These books can be found in the Library  Basement:

On Bullshit at 177.3 F853o

On Truth at 121 F853o

Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar at 102 C284p

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