Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar

Being a Philosophy major in college, I never thought there was anything funny about the subject of philosophy. Metaphysics, logic, rationalism and existentialism etc. analyzed and interpreted by the super thinkers in history like Aristotle, Plato, Marx, Sartre, and Kierkegaard seemed anything but humorous. Trying to grasp the perplexing questions of life like, “Why are we here?” and “What’s it all about?” hardly seemed a subject for humor. But, alas; decades later, I hold in my hand, Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar, by Thomas Cathcart & Daniel Klein, a New York Times bestseller about understanding philosophy through stories and jokes. And for the second time in my life, I am enjoying philosophy, with humor to boot.

If you never cared to read a philosophy book, but wondered about the BIG QUESTIONS; this is the book for you. Actually, this non-fiction best seller is really a thought provoking, sophisticated jester of a book with a byproduct: understanding the great thinkers of the world as never before. In here too are some of life’s greatest lessons made comprehensible and laughable by two very clever authors. The pages are simply a hoot, laugh-out-loud entertainment while also being a crash course in a subject you probably thought your could never fathom. Plato and Platypus explores serious human questions in a way that one not only understands them, but also embraces them with humor and intelligibility. Think you can’t comprehend metaphysics, logic, existentialism, rationalism; think again.

To illustrate the Law of Noncontradiction, which says nothing can both be so and not be so at the same time, the authors tell this story….

An Irishman orders three pints of Guinnes, takes just one sip from each, and then repeats. The bartender asks why he’s taking one sip from each. “Oh,” says the Irishman, “these two are for my brothers; we promised we’d drink together when we were alone.”

Several months later, the Irishman returns to the bar and asks for only two pints. The bartender thinks one of the brothers must have died.

“No,” says the Irishman, “I joined the church and I can’t drink anymore.”

The joke pokes fun at how we are contradictory in life; the Irishman is both a drinker and a non-drinker, alone and together.

Here’s another example of the book’s side-splitting, philosophical humor. The German philosopher Immanual Kant thought that knowledge of the external world could only come through the senses and that we could know nothing about things as they are in themselves (their essence). So, here’s the joke:

Secretary: “Doctor, there’s an invisible man in the waiting room.”
Doctor: “Tell him I can’t see him.”

Plato and the Platypus is pure pleasure; the type of book you can discuss with friends late into the night over a good bottle of wine. I plan to put it into several Christmas stockings this season.

Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar: Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes

Gretta-BarclayWriter of poetry, novels and short stories. Teacher of writing at Heartland Community College. Private tutor: ESL. Married; two daughters. Live in Normal, Illinois. Love art in all its forms.

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