101 Philosophy Problems / Edition 3

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In this second edition of his best-selling introduction to philosophy, Martin Cohen combines new and topical problems with witty and engaging discussion. With an updated glossary of helpful terms and possible new solutions to the problems at the back of the book, this is essential reading for anyone interested in coming to philosophy for the first time.
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Editorial Reviews

Are all moral claims synthetic? Or analytic? Or a priori? Or a posteriori? Or both? Or neither? What about tables? Can you see one? Ask yourself: does it exist? Too easy? Go out of the room and ask yourself again. The next sentence is true. The previous sentence is false. Obey the brain warning at the beginning and don't read all 101 problems at once. On free will: You don't always act yourself if you're suffering from a paranoid personality disorder.
Harry Gensler
Martin Cohen's 101 Philosophy Problems introduces philosophy in a novel way. The book has 101 humorous little stories, each with a philosophical problem. For example, problem 54 is about Mr Megasoft, who dies leaving his fortune to his favourite computer. Megasoft's children take the matter to court, contending that the computer cannot think and so cannot inherit money. Mr Megasoft's lawyers claim that the computer can think. But on what grounds can we say that computers can or cannot think?

Other stories deal with paradoxes, ethics, aesthetics, perception, time, God, physics, and knowledge and include problems from Zeno, Descartes, Russell, Nelson Goodman, Edmund Gettier and others. The 101 problems are followed by a discussion section (which tries to clarify matters) and a glossary (about key concepts and historical philosophers).

Cohen continually delights or infuriates us with his irreverent opinions. He tells us, for example, that Kant reduced philosophy "to esoteric monologues of professionals" and that Aristotle "suffered from a particularly severe taxonomical disorder". Logic is irrelevant, a point he reinforces by not using it to clarify philosophical problems. Some teachers may be pleased to have so much with which to disagree.

Many teachers will be confused about how to use this unusual book. Cohen suggests that we read the book "as a philosophical journey" and not from cover to cover. It would help more to have a short teacher's manual (perhaps on-line) where Cohen tells us how he uses the problems in his own courses, what seems to work and what does not. My impression is that his problems could be a useful "change of pace" supplement for introductory courses. The problems would have to be selected and presented carefully, however, since some are too difficult or presume additional background knowledge.

Gives helpful tools for leading students into the world of philosophy.

Harry Gensler, professor of philosophy, John Carroll University, Cleveland, United States.
Times Higher Education Supplement, Online version

Are all moral claims synthetic? Or analytic? Or a priori? Or a posteriori? Or both? Or neither? What about tables? Can you see one? Ask yourself: does it exist? Too easy? Go out of the room and ask yourself again. The next sentence is true. The previous sentence is false. Obey the brain warning at the beginning and don't read all 101 problems at once. On free will: You don't always act yourself if you're suffering from a paranoid personality disorder.
Zenon Stavrinides
Tired of yet more introductions, anthologies and text books, publishers are beginning to wake up to the fact that, especially for the non-academic reader, what is needed in philosophy are different kinds of books that can engage the interest of the enthusiast. . . .

It has long been recognised that philosophy is among other things, something that needs to be engaged in. You can't just read philosophy, you've got to actually do it. Given that, it's surprising how few introductions actually try and get their readers to join in. 101 Philosophy Problems is an all too rare example of a book that does just hat, and I wouldn't be surprised if it is soon joined by many others. Cohen takes as his starting point, not the history of philosophy, nor the various sub-disciplines of it, nor its great and good. Rather he gets the reader stuck straight into some philosophical puzzles.

He does this with some wit and style. Each problem is narrated in the form of a short (rarely more than one page) narrative. There are paradoxes, moral dilemmas, scientific and religious problems, among others.
Philosophers Magazine

IIlkley Gazette
101 Philosophy Problems combines scholarship with fun as Mr Cohen examines the main currents of classical thought as well as outlining the dilemmas which tax the brains of contemporary philosophers.

Using a fascinating array of examples, he draws the aspiring philosopher into increasingly complex problems and points the readers in the direction reason will eventually lead them.

Those familiar with philosophical thought will recognise and applaud Mr Cohen's ability to reduce complex arguments to simple examples, although some of this sweeping judgements are difficult to swallow.

... But as an introduction to the subject of philosophy for readers who have been put off previously by seemingly incomprehensible tomes, the book is hard to fault.

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.

Jackie Connor
'What is the universe in?' 'How big is infinite?' 'How fast can light travel?' 'Can something be true and not true at the same time?' 'How can you talk a crocodile out of eating you?'

For the answers to these questions and more read this book, but take it slowly. 101 Philosophical Problems is Martin Cohen's attempt to simplify the world of philosophy. He does this by using simple stories to illustrate the main basic ideas of the subject. There are, you will not be surprised to know, 101 of these, luckily for us the answers are in the back. Here he can show us what he thinks the answers might be. Although he has some very definite opinions of other philosophers' work, he tries to provide both sides to each argument. Then at the back of the book is a glossary, which is more like a condensed history of the great minds of philosophy.

I found the stories to be of varying degrees of interest and difficulty. Having read a few, I tried them out on friends and family only to realise that a story that seems quite simple on paper is actually quite complex when you try to explain it. Therefore, I think when reading this book it is a good idea to talk it through with someone afterward. It is also important to read it a bit at a time, or your head may explode. I found it all too easy when reading alone to draw my own conclusions without looking more deeply into the problem. I was also surprised to find just how much philosophy pokes it's nose into all aspects of our lives, nothing is sacred...

As a complete beginner in the world of philosophy I have enjoyed this book on many levels. Although I feel that there is still a few thousand layers of the onion skin to peel off, I have enjoyed the few the book has enlightened me about. It has opened a whole new world where nothing is sacred and everything must be questioned. I shall read it again and again, and am confident that each time I will understand a little more. Although I gather that in this subject no-one ever knows 'it all'.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780415404020
  • Publisher: Taylor & Francis
  • Publication date: 4/28/2007
  • Edition description: REV
  • Edition number: 3
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 7.70 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Martin Cohen has established a worldwide reputation as a radical philosopher and unconventional thinker. He has published many books, which have been translated into around twenty different languages.

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Table of Contents

How to use this book
Ten Logical Loops and Paradoxical Problems to Get Started With
Six Ethical Stories
Half a Half Dozen of Your Numbers Problems
Zeno's Paradoxes
Some Value Judgements
Paradoxical Picture Puzzles
Problems with Time
Personal Problems
Paradoxical Pictures
Twelve Traditional Philosophy Problems No One Really Cares About Anyway
Some Nasty Medical Problems
Two Chinese Problems
Ten Religious Problems
Elementary Problems of Natural Philosophy
Pretty Final Problems
Reading guide
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