Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Pigs and Gyms

A few weeks ago I burned through two books in two days: The Pig That Wants to be Eaten by Julian Baggini and The Philosophy Gym by Stephen Law.

But before I continue, allow me to sidetrack a bit:

Say you relish philosophical argument and conundrums. Say you enjoy wrapping your brain round weird metaphysical puzzles. Say you salivate at pursuing the phrase “Well, what if …” to its oftimes bizarre and superficially illogical conclusions. But, let’s also say you don’t have the time, energy, inclination or acumen to wade through a dense, murky, thousand-page most-likely-translated philosophical treatise.

Well, I think these two books are fine alternatives to that last and oh-so-important point. I don’t feel like going in to a detailed review of either book, since I read each in one quick session and wouldn’t do either justice. But take that as a compliment – I couldn’t put them down, and they held my attention like the world’s most merciless vice (now there’s a strange image).

I liked The Pig That Wants to be Eaten better. Baggini chops up and offers the tastiest philosophical riddles and paradoxes in a hundred three-page chapters. Bite-size morsals. They’re thought-provoking, entertaining, and – most importantly – put forth in as ideologically neutral a way as possible. My favorite topics were Descartes’ evil genie, whch I blogged about last week, and the Ring of Gyges, upcoming. Plus the brain-in-a-vat scenario and its variations. I may write a story about that last one. And by that, I mean, an actual brain-in-a-vat.

Stephen Law’s The Philosophy Gym was good, too, subtitled 25 Short Adventures in Thinking. A lot of the topics Baggini covers are revisited here, sometimes a little more in depth or from different angles. However, I was a bit turned off early on as I detected a strong bias in the book. If by “detected” one means being hit over the head by a two-by-four with a ten-pound Weider weight duct-taped to it. The author is virulently anti-religion, anti-God only somewhat less so. And chapter 2 hits you with such a blatant pro-gay agenda you’d think you were the biggest, most unsophisticated troglodyte-neanderthal for adhering to 2,000-plus years of moral teaching. But he gives relativism such a cool smack-down I’m forced to recommend it.

LE’s verdicts?

The Pig That Wants to be Eaten – A
The Philosophy Gym – B


Anonymous said...

Did you ever find "the Pig?" I looked all over and it's not here! -J

LE said...

Yeah ... found it in a pile of books in the basement. Have no idea how it got there, though.