Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar by Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein


The subtitle of this book, Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes, gives you the idea. A more accurate, though less catchy subtitle would be Jokes That Illustrate Some Philosophical Concepts; I doubt anyone had any "Aha" moments. And if the joke made me laugh, sometimes I forgot the concept being illustrated. Usually the joke did make me laugh and I made the connection with the philosophical concept, if only fleetingly. 

The chapter about epistemology (the theory of knowledge) explores how we know anything is real for certain or if we know anything is real for certain. In the middle ages this question boiled down to whether divine revelation trumps reason as the source of human knowledge or vice versa. Here's the illustrative joke:

A man stumbles into a deep well and plummets a hundred feet deep before grasping a spindly root stopping his fall. His grip grows weaker and weaker and in his desperation he cries out, "Is there anybody up there?" He looks up and all he can see is a circle of sky. Suddenly the clouds part and a beam of bright light shines down on him, a deep voice thunders, "I, the Lord, am here. Let go of the root and I will save you." The man thinks for a moment and then he asks, "Is there anybody else up there?" 

Hanging by a root has a tendency to tip the scales toward reason. In the seventeenth century Rene Descartes opted for reason over a divine source of knowledge. This came to be known as putting de cart before the source. 

Ok, some of the jokes are real moaners and lots were familiar, but what a fun book this was.

Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein, Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar, Penguin Books, 2008, 215 pages (I listened to the audiobook). Available at the public library and through Amazon.

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