Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein's book Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar: Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes is the perfect thing for a smart and sexy person with a good sense of humor. As someone who posses two of these three qualities, I greatly enjoyed 2/3 of this book. Plus I have been a lot of studying a lot of philosophy lately, so soon I will be able to fully enjoy this book!
But to be completely serious for a moment, this book is excellent! In 200 short pages this book explores concepts of Philosophy and concepts of Religion, not to mention concepts of the Philosophy of Religion, all in a way that will not only enlightens your mind, but also lightens your spirits. The material is drawn from the ideas of some of the greatest minds the world has ever known: Kant, Mills, Marx (Groucho that is) to name only a few.
The stated aim of the authors is to explain the basic ideas of philosophy and illustrate those principles through jokes. The book strikes a healthy balance between entertainment and education. The hybrid created in this book Cathcart and Klein have dubbed "philogagging." While this may make you think that you are going to be fed philosophy to the point it makes you want to gag, it actually refers to the practice of dressing up philosophic ideas as jokes, or the other way around dressing up jokes as philosophic ideas. There is a healthy interplay between these two areas and the text is constructed in such a way that they are seamlessly woven together.
The intellect of these authors shows through in this book just as much as their sense of humor. The way they play with words and turn words around on themselves is not only enjoyable to read, but is rather impressive.
Though this text treats heavy issues in a lighthearted way it does so with respect and restraint. Dealing with ideas held sacred by different types of people has the potential to offend somebody. Yet this book treats the subject matter with a type of respectful irreverence. It is even handed as well, ribbing disciples of all of the traditions covered equally well, whether the tradition in question be a religious one or an intellectual one.
The book is a great read, and it stands to be read over and over. It is a great book to read long passages while traveling. It is also a great book to keep as desk companion to be read in shorter intervals for a nice bit of mental refreshment. The book consists of small chunks grouped thematically into chapter, which makes it perfectly suited to be read in either fashion.
Even though the book touches on some lofty ideas it is very accessible. You don’t need to be some brazen Ivy Leaguer egghead to enjoy this. However, personally I am very drawn to this book as a fellow graduate of the wonderful Ivory Tower that is Harvard. Like these two authors I also believe in putting humor on an equal footing with intellectual pursuits, so much so that during my time as an undergraduate at Harvard College my friends on more than one occasion accused me of “lowering the level of discourse.” It also drove me to write a mock senior thesis during my senior year at Mother Harvard. I wrote a series of humor pieces and then organized them into a collection, which I prefaced with a parody of the introductory chapter of the average senior thesis. To ensure a high level of authenticity in this I even went to the Harvard archive to view some award winning writing samples from past honors-thesis papers. Upon completion I handed in a copy of my work to two departments where I had never so much as taken a class. The collection I produced is very idiosyncratic and pokes fun at some very obscure academic conventions that are foreign to most people. Plato and a Platypus on the other hand is full of great jokes that ring true to a wide audience. So I guess the lesson I learned from this book is that if you can’t find truth in philosophy, you can always find truth in comedy!
by Cameron Hatch
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