- Paperback: 296 pages
- Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell; 1 edition (May 27, 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1405140372
- ISBN-13: 978-1405140379
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #493,571 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Philosophical Tales: Being an Alternative History Revealing the Characters, the Plots, and the Hidden Scenes That Make Up the True Story of Philosophy 1st Edition
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“A lover of philosophical ideas and practiced debunker of intellectual sham, Martin Cohen knocks some thirty important philosophers from Socrates to Derrida off their pedestals, and presents in a series of philosophical tales various aspects of their thought, life and personality which few of us ever suspected.” – Zenon Stavrinides, University of Bradford
"Philosophical Tales is highly recommended, not only for debutants but also for the cognoscenti who will find much here both amusing and stimulating." The Philosopher
Philosophers, more even than poets and composers, set themselves apart from common humanity to engage in their uncommonly rarefied practices. In the unlikely event of their productions becoming even vaguely well known they shun publicity. Their obituaries and encyclopaedic entries condense life long achievements into garbled accounts of their philosophies, dates of publication of their more respectable works and odd biographical details.
Fortunately, in Philosophical Tales Martin Cohen has compiled highly entertaining accounts of all too human aspects of thirty philosophers, presumably the more quirky of the breed. But of course the whole point of the exercise is selection of behaviours exponent of, or in marked contrast to, their perpetrators' stated philosophies. Schopenhauer, an example of the former, and Marx, of the latter, appear prominently on the cover. Raul Gonzalez III's illustrations complement the text admirably. His Augustine is a masterpiece, suitable for reproduction as a missal book mark.
Philosophical Tales is both readable and enjoyable with the added advantage that potted versions of their philosophies, required to appreciate the relevance of accounts of their misdemeanours, illuminate these thirty philosophers' works remarkably well. They are longer than encyclopaedia entries, shorter than extended essays and allow a generally rounded account....
Philosophers are frequently pompous; Cohen's own, tongue-in-cheek, Pompous Footnotes show him consciously capable of the genre but so do several judgements of his with which I totally disagree, such as the one above. However, as the objective of this book is to entertain and stimulate, let no one be in any doubt that it achieves both admirably.
An interesting diversion Scholarly Appendix: Women in Philosophy calls Diotima the Mother of Western philosophy, in so far as she taught Socrates, spokesperson for Plato's philosophy. Whitehead proved the point with his dictum that Western philosophy is no more than a footnote to Plato. ...
Whether or not Pascal was right in his assertion: To make light of philosophy is to be a true philosopher, levity certainly makes the subject more enjoyable and could well lead to deeper exploration. Therefore, Philosophical Tales is highly recommended, not only for debutants but also for the cognoscenti who will find much here both amusing and stimulating.
Great philosophers only become well known after their deaths. Indeed, to speak of contemporary celebrity philosophers is oxymoronic. Still, one can't help wondering who amongst living philosophers will merit future Philosophical Tales. -- Colin Kirk, The Philosopher Autumn 2008
“A lover of philosophical ideas and practiced debunker of intellectual sham, Martin Cohen knocks some thirty important philosophers from Socrates to Derrida off their pedestals, and presents in a series of philosophical tales various aspects of their thought, life and personality which few of us ever suspected.” Zenon Stavrinides, University of Bradford
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Top customer reviews
The damnable thing about this delicious book is how sobering it is. Take the egos of Plato, Descartes, Hume, Leibniz, Schopenhauer, Wittgenstein, et al. and you'll get an edifice taller than Shelley's fallen statue of Ozymandias thus making it clear that the Bible (or at least Ecclesiastes) has it right that even among the philosophers, all is vanity! Certainly Hume had it right when he declared that reason is, and ought to be, the slave of the passions even among those supposedly most removed from the call of the flesh. Indeed, what I think Cohen has demonstrated here is just how wrong Plato was in thinking that philosophers ought to rule. Let's hear it for Sarah Palin! Well, maybe that is going a bit too far, although she has done a great job of upstaging Paris Hilton. But I digress.
Nonetheless, Cohen assures us that his purpose is the "reinvigoration of philosophy, not its destruction." (p. xi) Meanwhile we are reminded that Plato's Republic is a fascist state where music and poetry are banned, where sex is for procreation only, and where women are chattel. As we read further we find that Aristotle had it mostly wrong and that progress in science has come from getting rid of his "essentialist method" (quoting Karl Popper, page 17). As for Pythagoras, he was a wacko with weird rules for his followers including "abstain from beans; never touch a white cock [ha, ha]; do not allow swallows to live under your roof," and so on. (p. 34).
But enough about the ancients. How about St. Thomas Aquinas who proved both that God exists and that he doesn't exist. Or arriving at a "modern" philosopher, how about Descartes who thought he proved he exists with "I think, therefore I am," which really just assumes what he thought he was proving.
Or how about Hobbes who squared the circle, thereby exceeding the abilities of God--or at least some versions of God. Dare I mention John Locke who inspired the political ideal of the equality of men while supporting the institution of slavery? And how sad it is to realize that my favorite philosopher, le bon David Hume was really le gros David, a man full of appetite and sneakiness who wasn't above skullduggery when it suited his vain literary ambitions.
And then there is Rousseau who celebrated the innocent and noble savage while kowtowing to the rich and stationed so that he might become an aristocrat himself. But at least Rousseau in his Confessions admitted what a scoundrel he was, having once stolen a silver medallion, and when caught blamed the theft on a servant girl.
And then there is Karl Marx who somehow allowed four of his children to die of starvation, who continually begged money from Engels, who managed to inherit sums of money which he also managed to somehow squander away. In Cohen's rather sharp depiction, Marx comes off as a kind of parasite on society, much like that which he despised.
Joining wholeheartedly in "the theatrical performance that is Philosophy" (p. 172), Cohen saves his most snide satire for Sartre whom he sees as being an intellectual caddy for his better half, Simone de Beauvoir, and his most dismissive satire for Jacques Derrida who wrote mostly gobbledygook.
The "Philosophical Tales" then are mini-biographies of the great philosophers set forth in 30 sprightly chapters under eight headings from "The Ancients" through "Modern Philosophy," "The Idealists," and so on, ending with "Recent Philosophy." Cohen does like to focus on the personal shortcomings of the philosophers while outlining their (mostly) literary careers. It is interesting to note that Hume, for example, gained his fame and fortune primarily from his popular multi-volume History of England while the roguish Rousseau made a bit of a living by pleasing rich aristocratic women, and of course Russell won his Nobel Prize not in philosophy or even in mathematics but in Literature.
Cohen does have a kind of diabolically satirical way of dealing with these redoubtable dispensers of wisdom. For example he notes slyly that Russell (along with Whitehead) demonstrated in the "magisterial Principia Mathematica" that logic is superior to maths and that numbers are merely adjectives, giving the example of the class of "twoness" thusly: ears, hands, "Russell's two wives...." One thing that Cohen has clearly noted: philosophers have sexual desires like everyone else, in case there was any doubt on that subject.
Speaking of Russell, and Cohen does mention him a number of times in this book, it should be observed that Russell is getting his comeuppance in a sense because in his famous A History of Western Philosophy, he had a grand time refuting and dismissing much of what the philosophers thought and wrote; by the same token Cohen has here a great time dismissing Russell while imitating him in a literary manner. While dismissing Russell as a philosopher Cohen allows that "Russell did other things." I think that Cohen in this book is attempting to do "other things." Whether he will be as successful as Russell remains to be seen.
As is my wont I was looking for favoritism and bias, but Cohen more or less skewers them all.
I should also mention that there is some nice black and white art work by Raul Gonzalez III augmenting the text.
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