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Plato and a Platypus Walk Into A Bar: Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes    by Thomas Cathcart & Daniel Klein order for
Plato and a Platypus Walk Into A Bar
by Thomas Cathcart
Order:  USA  Can
Harry N. Abrams, 2007 (2007)
Hardcover, CD
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The back of this erudite little book calls Plato and a Platypus Walk Into A Bar 'a crash course in philosophy via jokes'. Emceed by Harvard philosophy majors Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein, its opening quote is Groucho Marx's apt 'These are my principles; if you don't like them, I have others.' The text is enlivened by the occasional, amusing cartoon, like one of an Ethical Meatshop. There's a glossary of terms at the back as well as a hilarious timeline of Great Moments in the History of Philosophy.

This small volume, dense in both philosophy concepts and humor, opens with an Introduction to Philogagging - and to infinite regress - informing us that 'philosophy and jokes proceed from the same impulse: to confound our sense of the way things are, to flip our worlds upside down, and to ferret out hidden, often uncomfortable, truths about life.' The book continues to show 'how philosophical concepts can be illuminated by jokes and how many jokes are loaded with fascinating philosophical content', with chapters on Metaphysics, Logic, Epistemology, Ethics, Philosophy of Religion, Existentialism, Philosophy of Language, Social and Political Philosophy, Relativity, and Meta-Philosophy.

Though all I knew of philosophy before opening the book was from casual reading and chatting to my son about his introductory philosophy course, I was able to follow the authors' articulate explanations of basic concepts (the jokes don't hurt either!) I enjoyed it all from Mrs. Goldstein's perspective on the meaning of life to the Mormon Irishman, engineering students' discussion of the nature of God, and neofeminist jokes. I particularly liked this lead-in to the chapter on Ethics: 'Sorting out what's good and bad is the province of Ethics. It is also what keeps priests, pundits, and parents busy. Unfortunately, what keeps children and philosophers busy is asking the priests, pundits, and parents, "Why?"'

Still wondering about the title? In the conclusion, stand-up comic Tasso takes the mike at the Acropolis Comedy Club and summarizes the book - and all of philosophy - in one page of jokes, ending: 'Hey, the other day Plato and a platypus walked into a bar. The bartender gave the philosopher a quizzical look, and Plato said, "What can I say? She looked better in the cave."' I recommend Plato and a Platypus Walk Into A Bar to anyone who enjoys philosophic jokes or funny philosophy - it also makes a great holiday gift.

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