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Wittgenstein's Beetle and Other Classic Thought Experiments Hardcover – November 12, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Martin Cohen's book is a delight to the intellect. His discussion of historically important thought experiments displays considerable erudition, permeated by wit and occasionally farcical invention which embellish the philosophical value of his treatment."
Zenon Stavrinides, University of Bradford <!--end-->


"Cohen's book is packed with wit and scurrilous remarks about mainstream philosophers. His inimitable writing style, which entertains as it instructs, is directed towards making philosophical ideas immediately accessible to the general reader."
George MacDonald Ross, University of Leeds


"One of the fun things about philosophy is that you can sit back in your armchair, set up a laboratory in your own head and calmly observe the results of mixing x with y. This is the grand tradition of the "thought experiment", to which Cohen provides a zippy alphabetical guide. Cohen's explanations of the problems are lucid, and he defends the tradition against killjoys who argue that thought experiments cannot ever give reliable conclusions. At its best the thought experiment can be a highly compressed, conceptually fruitful marriage of science and literature."
Steven Poole on Wittgenstein's Beetle
Saturday November 20, 2004
The Guardian

"The value of this little book is that it collects a wide range of thought experiments and presents them in an accessible way. It is a good place to start, and it will be especially useful for those who teach courses on the topic and want to introduce it to a new generation of students."
James Robert Brown, University of Toronto

"There are several books of philosophical thought experiments currently in print... Cohen's A-Z are mostly of historic significance to science. They are wittily presented..."
Times Literary Supplement

Review

"Martin Cohen's book is a delight to the intellect. His discussion of historically important thought experiments displays considerable erudition, permeated by wit and occasionally farcical invention which embellish the philosophical value of his treatment."
Zenon Stavrinides, University of Bradford <!--end-->


"Cohen's book is packed with wit and scurrilous remarks about mainstream philosophers. His inimitable writing style, which entertains as it instructs, is directed towards making philosophical ideas immediately accessible to the general reader."
George MacDonald Ross, University of Leeds


"One of the fun things about philosophy is that you can sit back in your armchair, set up a laboratory in your own head and calmly observe the results of mixing x with y. This is the grand tradition of the "thought experiment", to which Cohen provides a zippy alphabetical guide. Cohen's explanations of the problems are lucid, and he defends the tradition against killjoys who argue that thought experiments cannot ever give reliable conclusions. At its best the thought experiment can be a highly compressed, conceptually fruitful marriage of science and literature."
Steven Poole on Wittgenstein's Beetle
Saturday November 20, 2004
The Guardian

"The value of this little book is that it collects a wide range of thought experiments and presents them in an accessible way. It is a good place to start, and it will be especially useful for those who teach courses on the topic and want to introduce it to a new generation of students."
James Robert Brown, University of Toronto

"Wittily presented."
Times Literary Supplement

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 152 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell; 1 edition (November 12, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1405121912
  • ISBN-13: 978-1405121910
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 0.6 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #7,559,545 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
If I may be allowed to coin a common noun `a cohen' to signify a type of philosophical work containing a series of short sections each dealing with a distinct topic that exemplifies or illustrates a broad area of philosophical interest, I could say confidently that with his latest book Wittgenstein's Beetle and Other Classic Thought Experiments Dr Martin Cohen has offered us yet another splendid cohen, following upon the successes of its precedents 101 Philosophy Problems and 101 Ethical Dilemmas.

The new book opens with a Foreword entitled `Forward!' in which our author characterizes thought experiments as `that special kind of theory that predicts particular consequences given certain initial starting points and conditions'. Cohen does not think that it is appropriate to draw a sharp distinction between empirical experiments and thought experiments. He suggests both `are tests devised either to explore intuitions about how the world works - or to destroy them...' adding: `The characteristic thing about both real and thought experiments is that you control and limit the circumstances and conditions for the test, so as to pick out just one variable or one unknown. The key difference is that in the latter, everything is set out not in reality but merely in the imagination. The circumstances are described, not created, and the action is imagined, not created.'

Cohen's broad conception of a thought experiment enables him to select a highly heterogeneous variety of examples of the genre.
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Format: Hardcover
I was looking forward to this book. However, in reading it I was a bit disappointed.

The descriptions of the 26 thought experiments are not very deep and are often not very clear. In particular, the entry on "Identity of Indiscernibles" consists of a few long block quotes from an important philosopher and a few pages of barely relevant remarks (a few of which betray the author's ignorance of Leibniz's philosophy). Other entries, like the one on "Maxwell's Demon," are clearer and more helpful.

There is a bit of additional material before and after the descriptions of the thought experiments, leaving only 85 pages for the discussion of 26 thought experiments. To make matters worse, many of the pages are half white space. This means that none of the thought experiments is covered in much detail. That is a problem since many famous thought experiments were devised to influence debates of complicated scientific or philosophical matters. Cohen doesn't spend much time on this background information; he doesn't take the time to lay out the precise context in which each thought experiment was invoked. Furthermore, the short descriptions he gives us are not always as careful or clear as they could be.

All that said, for a reader with a bit of knowledge on the history of science and history of philosophy, this book can serve as an entertaining refresher. On the other hand, I would not recommend it for someone who has little background in such material.

One final gripe: The author misspells the name of famous contemporary philosopher Judith Thomson (Cohen spells it "Thompson") in his "V" entry on Thomson's violinist thought experiment.
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Format: Paperback
I thought this book was fantastic. Martin Cohen's prose was clear and interesting, and I really enjoyed learning about the thought experiments. I highly recommend reading it!
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