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Philosophical Tales: Being an Alternative History Revealing the Characters, the Plots, and the Hidden Scenes That Make Up the True Story of Philosophy

ISBN: 978-1-4443-0105-2
296 pages
January 2009, Wiley-Blackwell
Philosophical Tales: Being an Alternative History Revealing the Characters, the Plots, and the Hidden Scenes That Make Up the True Story of Philosophy (1444301055) cover image


Enlightening and entertaining, Philosophical Tales examines a few of the fascinating biographical details of history’s greatest philosophers (alas, mostly men) and highlights their contributions to the field. By applying the true philosophical approach to philosophy itself, the text provides us with a refreshing 'alternative history' of philosophy.

  • Opens up new philosophical debate by applying the true philosophical approach to philosophy itself

  • Provides summaries of the most celebrated and philosophically interesting tales, their backgrounds, and assessments of the leading players
  • Explores philosophers and schools of thought in one key philosophical text to supply a solid grounding in philosophical ideas and individuals
  • Shakes some of the foundations of philosophy with the aim of encouraging the reinvigoration of philosophy itself
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Table of Contents


How to Use this Book.

Philosophical Illustrations.

The Tales.

I The Ancients.

1 Socrates the Sorcerer (469–399 bce).

2 The Different Forms of Plato (ca. 427–347 bce).

3 Aristotle the Aristocrat (384–ca. 322 bce).

II More Ancients.

4 Lao Tzu Changes into Nothing (6th–5th c. bce).

5 Pythagoras Counts Up to Ten (ca. 570–495 bce).

6 Heraclitus Chooses the Dark Side of the River (ca. 5th c. bce).

7 Hypatia Holds Up Half of the Sky (ca. 370–415 ce).

III Medieval Philosophy.

8 Augustine the Hippocrite (354–430 ce).

9 St. Thomas Aquinas Disputes the Existence of God (1225–1274).

IV Modern Philosophy.

10 Descartes the Dilettante (1596–1650).

11 Hobbes Squares the Circle (1588–1679).

12 Spinoza Grinds Himself Away… (1632–1677).

V Enlightened Philosophy.

13 John Locke Invents the Slave Trade (1632–1704).

14 The Many Faces of David Hume (1711–1776).

15 Rousseau the Rogue (1712–1778).

16 Immanuel Kant, the Chinaman of Königsburg (1724–1804).

VI The Idealists.

17 Gottfried Leibniz, the Thinking Machine (1646–1716).

18 Bishop Berkeley’s Bermuda College (1685–1753).

19 Headmaster Hegel’s Dangerous History Lesson (1770–1831).

20 Arthur Schopenhauer and the Little Old Lady (1788–1860).

VII The Romantics.

21 The Seduction of Søren Kierkegaard (1813–1855).

22 Mill’s Poetical Turn (1806–1873).

23 Henry Thoreau and Life in the Shed (1817–1862).

24 Marx’s Revolutionary Materialism (1818–1883).

VIII Recent Philosophy.

25 Russell Denotes Something (1872–1970).

26 The Ripping Yarn of Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889–1951).

27 Heidegger’s Tale (and the Nazis) (1889–1976).

28 Benjamin Lee Whorf and the Color Pinker (ca. 1900–1950).

29 Being Sartre and Not Definitely Not Being Beauvoir (1905–1980 and not 1908–1986).

30 Deconstructing Derrida (1930–2004).

Scholarly Appendix: Women in Philosophy, and Why There Aren’t Many.

Key Sources and Further Reading.



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Author Information

Martin Cohen is a teacher and writer specializing in philosophy, ethics and education, with a special interest in computing. His books include 101 Philosophy Problems (2nd edn., 2001), Political Philosophy (2001), 101 Ethical Dilemmas (2003), and Wittgenstein's Beetle and Other Classic Thought Experiments (Blackwell, 2005). He has been editor of The Philosopher since 1995.
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The Wiley Advantage

  • Offers a refreshing ‘alternative history’ of philosophy

  • Questions whether the some of the great tales of philosophy may actually be fictions, falsehoods, lies and
    fibs: Did Plato really write the Socratic Dialogues? Did Descartes ever really utter the words, “I think,
    therefore I am”?

  • Examines a few of the fascinating biographical details of history’s greatest philosophers, such as Kant’s
    need to roll himself three times in his sheets each night before sleeping

  • Provides us with illuminating insights that will encourage a more active, critical way of thinking
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“We need more stories in philosophy, and Martin Cohen aims to fill this lacuna with Philosophical Tales. [This book] is intended for a general audience interested in a satirical introduction to overlooked aspects of Western philosophy and the lives of the great philosophers.  Philosophical Tales does tell a number of interesting stories, and any instructor of philosophy will find it handy to have these stories available to enliven a class.  Instructors will also find it valuable to use these philosophical tales to raise a compelling question: is a philosophy only as good as the philosopher who proposes it?” (Teaching Philosophy, December 2009) 

"Great philosophers only become well known after their deaths. Indeed, to speak of contemporary celebrity philosophers is oxymoronic. Still, one can't help wondering who amongst living philosophers will merit future Philosophical Tales. (The Philosopher, Autumn 2008)

“A lover of philosophical ideas and practiced debunker of intellectual sham, Martin Cohen knocks some thirty important philosophers from Socrates to Derrida off their pedestals, and presents in a series of philosophical tales various aspects of their thought, life and personality which few of us ever suspected.” – Zenon Stavrinides, University of Bradford

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