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Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar: Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes Hardcover – May 1, 2007

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Editorial Reviews


“The zaniest bestseller of the year.”—The Boston Globe

“I laughed, I learned, I loved it.”—Roy Blount, Jr. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

Tom Cathcart and Daniel Klein pursued the usual careers after majoring in philosophy at Harvard. Tom worked with street gangs in Chicago, doctors at Blue Cross and Blue Shield, and dropped in and out of various divinity schools. He lives with his wife on Cape Cod. Dan has written jokes for various comedians including Flip Wilson and Lily Tomlin. He lives with his wife in the Berkshires. Together, they are authors of the politically incorrect book of daily affirmations, Macho Meditations.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Abrams Image; 1 edition (May 1, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 081091493X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0810914933
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 7.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (305 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #102,605 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

190 of 203 people found the following review helpful By Shashank Tripathi on May 18, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Ok, I admit it, I was one of those flyballs with disheveled hair in college who spewed paragraphs from Sophie's World and felt warm and fuzzy about it. Over the years, sanity would prevail and I'd adjust my diet to include relatively more benign doses of, say, Woody Allen's satire (e.g., Without Feathers, which has among the best essays I have ever read on philosophy, with tongue firmly in cheek). But it is difficult to find a book with which I could perpetuate that passion and inflict it on my Regular Bloke buddies and be assured that it'd actually be read.

Well, this peppy little compilation of jokes might just be that perfect gift item. It takes philosophy to task with such flair and gusto that I nearly read it from cover to cover, not like one is supposed to savor a joke book--in sporadic doses, flicking random pages. The jokes are absolutely spot-on, definitely beyond your average "my karma ran over your dogma" variety, and often give a whole new meaning to the term "wisecrack". For instance, a Buddhist walks up to a hot-dog stand and says, "Make me one with everything". He then pays the vendor and asks for change. The vendor says, "change comes from within". This is not the funniest one, mind you, just one of the brief ones that a lazy codger such as myself will take the time to reproduce.

But the romp is not merely for laughs. These cracks are organized into streams/schools of philosophies as it were, which means the book also serves as a pretty good primer in philosophy over the years.
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218 of 236 people found the following review helpful By Margherita S. Smith on May 2, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This is such a profound and hilarious treasure of a little book that I have ordered several as gifts for family and friends.

Because I am long removed from the formal study of philosophy in college, I am grateful to be so smoothly and delightfully reintroduced to philosophical concepts. I intended to read only a brief section (one concept) at a time--each takes no mote than fifteen minutes-- but couldn't keep away for long, and finished the book in a day. Now I've lent my copy to a friend, but I can hardly wait to get it back and read it again.

In an early 20h century Webster's, philosophy is defined as "Literally, the love of, inducing the search after, wisdom; in actual usage, the knowledge of phenomena as explained by, and resolved into, causes and reasons, powers and laws."

Plato and the Platypus describes the findings of the great philosophers throughout history who have conducted the search after wisdom and taught their explanations of phenomena. And then it illustrates the causes and reasons, the powers and laws, with jokes--good jokes, relevant jokes, jokes that made me laugh aloud even as they stimulated my own search.

I don't think I have ever before had such a joyful read.

Peggy Smith

author, Mark My Words: Instruction and Practice in Proofreading
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172 of 194 people found the following review helpful By John Zxerce on May 14, 2007
Format: Hardcover
The Roman satirist Juvenal famously quipped "Difficile est saturam non scibere" -- it's difficult not to write satire. It was difficult nearly two millennia ago, and Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein prove it still is today.

Satire provides a profound examination of an idea. Aristotle wrote "Humor is the only test of gravity, for a subject which will not bear raillery is suspicious, and a jest which will not bear serious examination is false wit."

It's been said he identified a very compelling reason for using humor: it's a test of ideas. Humor is a challenge to the very core of an idea -- its gravity, its seriousness. If an idea can't withstand humor it will crumble under intellectual scrutiny.

In a section on Aristotle contrasting between "essential" and "accidental" properties, Cathcar and Klein offer this illustrative joke:

<<When Thompson hit 70, he decided to change his lifestyle completely so he could live longer. He went on a strict diet, he jogged, he swam and he took sunbaths. In just three months' time, Thompson lost 30 pounds and reduced his waist by six inches. Svelte and tan, he decided to top it off with a new haircut. Stepping out of the barbershop, he was hit by a bus.
As he lay dying, he cried out, "God, how could you do this to me?"

And a voice from the heavens responded: "To tell you the truth, Thompson, I didn't recognize you." >>

We laugh - why? The answer to the question 'why' gives us understanding about philosophy, ourselves, and the world around us.
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28 of 32 people found the following review helpful By John Hanscom on June 13, 2007
Format: Hardcover
First of all, the book is very readable, and the idea of the book almost precious. The jokes are usually funny. I am not sorry I read it.

However, it ultimately fails. The tiny book does not do justice to the philosophical concepts it covers, and anyone with more than a little knowledge in the discipline will know how limited the explanations are. In addition, as funny as they are, some of the jokes are REALLY a stretch, made to fit sometimes as a negative example.

If a reader wants a fun read, fine. If the reader really wants to know about philosophy, I would suggest going elsewhere.
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