PLATO AND PLATYPUS WALK IN TO A BAR: UNDERSTANDING PHILOSOPHY THROUGH THE USE OF JOKES. Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein, 208 pages, $4.98; hardcover
Groucho Marx, a philosophical grandfather, summed up a basic ideology, when he said, “These are my principles; if you don’t like them I have others.”
This book is philosophy 101 for everyone who does not take the heavy stuff too seriously. You get a lively, hilarious, no-so-reverent crash course through the great philosophical traditions, concepts, and thinkers. It has been in 20 countries and is a best seller in the United States.
It is rare to find a philosophical topic with such direct relevance to our daily lives, social interactions and nature as humans.
What is humor? A term used broadly to include ambiguity, logical impossibility, irrelevance and inappropriateness. “It comes from recognizing our supremacy over others, incongruity, or relief,” according to Google.
The success of a joke depends on the audience and the articulation of the teller. Some people can entertain others with joke after joke. Other cannot tell them, and both the presenter and listeners are uncomfortable.
Cathcart and Klein write:“I would tell my wife a joke that seemed humorous to me, and she would find nothing funny about the joke. Her brother, who she adored, would present a similar joke, and she would find it hilarious. She said the pun was the lowest form of humor.
The philosophy of ethics is sorting out the good from the bad. George Bernard Shaw rewrote the golden rule: “Do not do unto others as you have them do to you; they may have different tastes.” Sigmund Freud asserted, “It is really biological drives that determine human behavior.” Our unconscious is always breaking through in Freudian slips. A man told his friend he made a terrible slip. “I meant to ask my mother to pass the salt, but what I said was, ‘You (expletive)! You ruined my life.’
Regarding religion, the god of philosophers is not one many would recognize. They tend to be on the abstract side, like “the force” in Star Wars, and less like a Heavenly Father, who stays up at night worrying about you.
Philosophers agreed long ago that is fruitless for believes and agnostics to argue with each other because each see everything from its own point of view. They interpret everything differently. To argue, there must be some common ground.
Les Frazier is Professor Emeritus at Kansas State University.