Monday, July 31, 2006

The book that wants to be read

The other day I took the opportunity to read a bit of Butterflies and Wheels contributor Julian Baggini's The Pig That Wants to Be Eaten: 100 Experiments for the Armchair Philosopher while in Barnes & Noble.

The book is comprised of 100 brief yet stimulating thought experiments that introduce various aspects of philosophy to the reader. Baggini bases the experiments on famous philosophical ideas from popular culture and philosophy (the title of the book is an allusion to a meal in Douglass Adams' Hitchhiker series that could talk and requested to be eaten), and poses the questions to engender thinking about the topic rather than to tell anyone what the proper answer might be (although Baggini suggests ways to approach the problem in the comment section that follows each experiment.)

This book would make an excellent introduction to philosophical thought. If interested, here is a review from the Guardian.Their description:

Some of the most famous arguments and problems in philosophy are based around thought experiments. Bizarre stories about brain-transplants, runaway trams, concrete sheep and invisible gardeners abound. In The Pig That Wants to Be Eaten, Julian Baggini has collected together 100 entertaining examples. The format is essentially the same as that first successfully introduced by Martin Cohen's 101 Philosophy Problems. Each thought experiment is set up in one or two paragraphs, followed by a few hundred words of thought-provoking discussion. Baggini offers us a tempting smorgasbord of some of the most baffling, weird and occasionally downright creepy scenarios ever envisaged.


Alan said...

Here is a similar philosophical question (to that of the title of the book) that has real world meaning when it comes to the vegetarian/carnivore debate (from an animal ethics, not land usage viewpoint):

Would a cow rather live a few years and then be killed (assume relatively painlessly) or never have lived at all?

I honestly don't know the answer to this one. I suppose only a cow does.

But it is a real question. For if, as a society, we became fully vegetarian, then millions of cows that are now bred for food will never be born.

In the universal scheme of things, is it better to have existed if ever so fleetingly (then again what are our lifetimes compared to the immensity of time) or to have never existed at all???

If cows could answer and opted for life, however short, then being a vegetarian would be anti-ethical.

Hume's Ghost said...

I'd oppose that argument for the same reason I oppose the President's opposition to stem cell research.

It presupposes the existence of a being that wishes to live. Of course I believe that wish should be respected. But if the being doesn't exist, then it can't wish to exist.

Imagine it this way:

Developed nations have lower birth rates than developing nations.If we asked the children in developing nations would they rather have not been born, and were a majority of them to answer no, would that entail that it is immoral of us to have chosen to use contraception and such?