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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
Was Socrates really the saintly figure he became for later philosophy? Why is it doubtful that Descartes ever really uttered, "I think, therefore I am"? And what did Sartre ever have against waiters, anyway? The history of philosophy is filled with great tales - many of them fictions, misrepresentations, falsehoods, lies and fibs. Or are they just misstatements, prevarications, and narratives not entirely based on fact? In the true spirit of a broad philosophical debate, Philosophical Tales dips a toe into the great sea of philosophy to collect, deconstruct, and relate many of history's great - and not so great - philosophical tales.

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.

But why should someone want to know that Kant rolled himself three times in his sheets each night before sleeping, that Schopenhauer pushed a poor old lady down the stairs, or Marx spent as much time on beer and women as he did in the British Library? By examining the seeming trivialities of philosophers' lives - and skewering a few cherished myths along the way - Philosophical Tales provides us with illuminating insights that will encourage a more active, critical way of thinking. Blaise Pascal may have put it best when he said, "To make light of philosophy is to be a true philosopher."
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Forward!.

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.

Acknowledgments.

Index

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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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  • 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
See More
“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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