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If ever the saying 'do not trust a book by it's cover' was meaningless it is here. The title quite literally tells you what to expect, it contains one hundred and one philosophical problems. Very few of these are the historical quandaries which have lead to philosophical literature though, instead the majority of them are what philosophers would unnecessarily call 'thought experiments', but which everyone else would know as examples. This method to exploring themes within philosophy makes it an highly engaging book which offers what is possibly the simplest introduction to the topic, an endeavour well assisted by a clear and humorous author. The brief forward asks whether there are one hundred and one problems in philosophy, and in all honesty this book doesn't even contain that many as quite a few of the examples and split into several separate problems. Maybe you should not trust a book by its cover after all. Following the forward comes a guide to using the book, this is needed because the essence of it is that you should not just read through the book. Instead it should be seen more as an anthology of shorter pieces, each one inspiring you to think about the questions it raises. The book is easily laid out with the problems being grouped into different blocks. There is usually only one problem per page although in a few cases the problems within a block are short enough for them all to fit onto a double page. 'Answers', as much as they can be called that, are provided in the majority of cases in a discussions section where the historical context to the problem is given. There is also a glossary which contains both explanations of technical terminology and gives biographies of some philosophers although it is by no means exhaustive on either count. Finally there is an index which is worth pointing out simply because it is something sadly lacking in a number of philosophical texts. What is quite annoyi
ng is that the discussions section is not spaced out in the same way as the problems and, also unlike the main body of the book, it lacks a contents page so the only way to find the follow up to a particular problem, presuming that it has one, is to thumb through the section. All the usual areas of Anglo-American philosophy are featured including ethics, aesthetics, god, identity and science. Unlike other introductory books though the notoriously difficult and tedious subject of logic is also covered. Most of these are within a block entitled "Twelve traditional philosophy problems no one really cares about anyway", and any doubts about the author's attitude are made clear in his response to Kant's problems raised in that section: "So what of the questions? They are quite clearly meaningless and no one would ask them except, perhaps, if they were being paid to". Other issues rarely covered include questions of sensation, and more specifically visual perception, which is explored through pictures by the mathematical artist M. C. Escher as well as more traditional psychological figure/ground style illustrations. Missing though are problems from continental and non-western philosophies which may not lend themselves quite so well to the format being employed by the book. More surprisingly omitted are issues from politics, that is except where they are also ethical in nature, as it would be easy to employ the style being used to address the more practical considerations to which it gives rise. For example is a democracy an affective way of running a state as famously explored by Plato. This is a book that really is suitable for everyone, you do not need concern yourself with philosophers or their works but can instead understand what the activity of philosophy is about for yourself through ideas which anyone can relate to. For this reason it may seem too simplistic for some, although as something which affects thought
it could be said it is of more value than any dry philosophical history, and for a full introduction it ideally should be followed up by something that will cover the more traditional aspects of the discipline, whether that is though the philosophers or the issues they raised. Unlike other beginners philosophy books though this one should still be an interesting way for those who decide philosophy is not for them to discover that fact while at the same time being an entertaining diversion for those who already have an interest, whatever their level of experience. I would probably suggest that beginners who feel weary of launching straight into a classical text should read this before or alongside a more traditional introductory book rather than alone. "101 Philosophy Problems" does not introduce the artistic discipline but the activity, something equally important but often overlooked. One reason why this book is so highly readable is that the author Martin Cohen comes across as a real person who is unashamed to offer his own opinion. This does help in getting a feel for the problems, but also means his analyses should be read skeptically. As much as I agree with his attitude towards logic there are people who do care about the twelve questions previously mentioned. Should you meet such a person I dare you to suggest to them that the king of France wears a wig (this is an example used by Betrand Russell and explained as problem 61). This is an highly recommendable book and one worthy of keeping to hand to rediscover on raining days.
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.