Textbook

Books Price Comparison (Including Amazon) - Guaranteed Lowest Prices on Books


 

101 Philosophy Problems

 
 
 
 
101 Philosophy Problems
Author: Martin Cohen
ISBN 13: 9780415404020
ISBN 10: 415404029
Edition: 3
Publisher: Routledge
Publication Date: 2007-04-05
Format: Paperback
Pages: 256
List Price: $25.95
 
 

This book is described in the blurb as 'a fresh and original introduction to philosophy...intended for those with little or no knowledge of philosophy, such as A-level students or readers in further education courses, as well as all introductory philosophy courses'. The description seems entirely appropriate, yet it is necessary to add the qualification that the book is a highly unconventional specimen. Indeed, I suspect it may not be recognized as a real philosophical book by some people whose view of what philosophy is, what a philosophical book is like, and how such a book is to be read is formed by the content and style of the great philosophical works that form the staple in the curricula of Philosophy Departments. What is Martin Cohen's own view of what philosophy is that permeates his book? It is the view that philosophy is an activity: the intellectual activity of engaging with philosophical problems, discussing proposed solutions to the problems, disputing arguments for proposed solutions, identifying and questioning assumptions underlying problems, solutions and arguments. This view, of course, is not unknown in Philosophy Departments, even though most professional philosophers tend to emphasize the theories which embody attempts to answer particular problems. Cohen emphasizes the problems themselves, or at least the value of the problems, from which any answers derive such value as they may possess. 101 Philosophy Problems is basically an invitation to think critically about philosophical problems, often by way of conducting thought experiments.

What is this book like? Both in regard to its structure and the style in which it is written, it is very unconventional. The first part of the book consists of a series of very short stories or narrative texts, grouped by subject-matter, setting out problems or puzzles of philosophical interest. Some of these problems are well-known in philosophical literature, e.g. the paradox of Epimenides the Cretan, who said: 'All Cretans are liars'. In the second part of the book, entitled 'Discussions', Cohen provides explanations and analyses of the issues raised by each of the problems, with some references to the treatment offered by particular historical philosophers. These discussions are intelligent and balanced, if (in most cases at least) inevitably inconclusive.

The last two sections, 'Glossary' and 'Reading Guide', offer helpful pointers to further philosophical study of a more 'academic' character. The style of the writing is equally unconventional. Cohen always writes clearly, untechnically and informally - these being virtues which are rare enough, but not exclusive to him - and further he writes in a self-consciously comic manner. His sense of humour is mostly of the gentle P.G. Wodehouse-type variety, but occasionally explodes in Stoppardian slapstick. So, in a parody of the sceptical doubt he writes: How do I know that I haven't fallen into the clutches of a malignant demon, intent on deceiving me? Or perhaps a malignant doctor? One who has recovered my brain after some nasty accident (involving too many chip butties and driving, no doubt) and is now keeping it suspended in a vat of chemicals as part of a ghastly medical experiment. Feeding it made-up 'sense-data' along coloured wires: purple for hearing, black for touch, yellow for taste, blue for vision...?'

I find this way of presenting philosophical problems very entertaining and I am keen to try it on my students. [To put their brains in vats? Asst. Ed.] I think that the more attractive the presentation of philosophical problems to beginning students, the better the chance of giving them the 'bug' of philosophical engagement, and helping them, step by step, to the dizzying heights of abstract thinking. Finally, how is this book to be read? Cohen is emphatic that this is not to be read cover to cover, as in a frenzy. 'Take the problems,' he advises, 'at a more leisurely pace, one by one, or at most, group by group... The discussions should be seen as an aid to this process of philosophizing, rather than rapidly read by those in search of 'answers'. In any case, the pause for thought will tend to make eventual discussion more interesting, and indeed, to make the problem so. For the answers, as Bertrand Russell has already observed, are less important than the questions.

This seems to me to be sound advice for any introduction to philosophy.

The Philosopher (U.K.)

This book is described in the blurb as 'a fresh and original introduction to philosophy...intended for those with little or no knowledge of philosophy, such as A-level students or readers in further education courses, as well as all introductory philosophy courses'. The description seems entirely appropriate, yet it is necessary to add the qualification that the book is a highly unconventional specimen. Indeed, I suspect it may not be recognized as a real philosophical book by some people whose view of what philosophy is, what a philosophical book is like, and how such a book is to be read is formed by the content and style of the great philosophical works that form the staple in the curricula of Philosophy Departments.

What is Martin Cohen's own view of what philosophy is that permeates his book? It is the view that philosophy is an activity: the intellectual activity of engaging with philosophical problems, discussing proposed solutions to the problems, disputing arguments for proposed solutions, identifying and questioning assumptions underlying problems, solutions and arguments. This view, of course, is not unknown in Philosophy Departments, even though most professional philosophers tend to emphasize the theories which embody attempts to answer particular problems. Cohen emphasizes the problems themselves, or at least the value of the problems, from which any answers derive such value as they may possess. 101 Philosophy Problems is basically an invitation to think critically about philosophical problems, often by way of conducting thought experiments.

What is this book like? Both in regard to its structure and the style in which it is written, it is very unconventional. The first part of the book consists of a series of very short stories or narrative texts, grouped by subject-matter, setting out problems or puzzles of philosophical interest. Some of these problems are well-known in philosophical literature, e.g. the paradox of Epimenides the Cretan, who said: 'All Cretans are liars'. In the second part of the book, entitled 'Discussions', Cohen provides explanations and analyses of the issues raised by each of the problems, with some references to the treatment offered by particular historical philosophers. These discussions are intelligent and balanced, if (in most cases at least) inevitably inconclusive.

The last two sections, 'Glossary' and 'Reading Guide', offer helpful pointers to further philosophical study of a more 'academic' character.

The style of the writing is equally unconventional. Cohen always writes clearly, untechnically and informally - these being virtues which are rare enough, but not exclusive to him - and further he writes in a self-consciously comic manner. His sense of humour is mostly of the gentle P.G. Wodehouse-type variety, but occasionally explodes in Stoppardian slapstick. So, in a parody of the sceptical doubt he writes: How do I know that I haven't fallen into the clutches of a malignant demon, intent on deceiving me? Or perhaps a malignant doctor? One who has recovered my brain after some nasty accident (involving too many chip butties and driving, no doubt) and is now keeping it suspended in a vat of chemicals as part of a ghastly medical experiment. Feeding it made-up 'sense-data' along coloured wires: purple for hearing, black for touch, yellow for taste, blue for vision...?'

I find this way of presenting philosophical problems very entertaining and I am keen to try it on my students. [To put their brains in vats? Asst. Ed.] I think that the more attractive the presentation of philosophical problems to beginning students, the better the chance of giving them the 'bug' of philosophical engagement, and helping them, step by step, to the dizzying heights of abstract thinking. Finally, how is this book to be read? Cohen is emphatic that this is not to be read cover to cover, as in a frenzy. 'Take the problems,' he advises, 'at a more leisurely pace, one by one, or at most, group by group... The discussions should be seen as an aid to this process of philosophizing, rather than rapidly read by those in search of 'answers'. In any case, the pause for thought will tend to make eventual discussion more interesting, and indeed, to make the problem so. For the answers, as Bertrand Russell has already observed, are less important than the questions.