30-Second Philosophies.

Title: 30-Second Philosophies.
Author/s: Law, Stephen.
Material type: Book.
Publisher/date: Blake, John Publishing, Limited (2009).
Format: Hardcover (160 pages).
ISBN: 13: 9781435109575, ISBN: 1435109570
Area and topic: History of philosophy and ideas. Key/important philosophical issues/topcis/problems.
Intended audience/ reading level: General/accessible.
Purchasing and information: 1) amazon.com 2) fishpond.co.nz
Unique and/or salient feature/s: ‘30 Second Philosophies’ is comprised of 50 entries. Each entry introduces an important philosophical idea which is linked to a specific philosopher. The challenge set by the author is to introduce only the most salient and defining features of each idea in no more than 30 seconds of reading time i.e. roughly 300 hundred words per entry. The ideas discussed are wide in variety and relate to all areas of philosophy.
Synopsis and/or additional information: The following information is sourced from the above links (see ‘Purchasing and information’) and the text.

  • Each idea is explored over a two page spread with each entry using the same format: On the left side, the idea is presented in one brief passage. Surrounding the passage (in various boxes and/or sidebars) is the following: a ‘three second thrash’ which aims to present the main point in one sentence; a ‘three minute thought’ i.e. a possible response, implication, puzzle or debate, which follows on from and expands the idea being discussed; a couple of important primary sources directly related to the idea; finally, cross references to 2 or 3 other ideas of a similar or related nature that are also discussed in the book. On the right side of each spread is an illustration presented as a mock 1950’s style semi-collage which playfully represents the idea being discussed. Every 5 pages or so, a two page spread is dedicated to a brief discussion and illustration of one significant philosopher and their work.
  • The ideas are grouped in 7 sections: 1) Language and logic; 2) science and epistemology; 3) mind and metaphysics; 4) ethics and political philosophy; 5) religion; 6) grand moments; 7) Continental philosophy.
  • Examples from each section respectively: Part 1) ‘Aristotle’s syllogisms’ and Epimenides’ liar paradox; 2) ‘Descartes’ I think therefore I am’ and ‘Kuhn’s scientific revolutions’; 3) ‘Theseus’ ship’ and ‘Zeno’s Paradoxes’; 4) ‘Kant’s categorical imperative’ and ‘Marx’s historical materialism’ 5) ‘Pascal’s wager’ and ‘Hume against miracles’; 6) ‘Plato’s cave’ and ‘Wittgenstein’s picture theory of language’; 7) Nietzsche’s ‘Superman’ and Sartre’s ‘Bad faith’.
Strengths: ‘30-Second Philosophies’ is a nicely presented, easy to read (by most accounts) ‘coffee table’ styled book. Because of the set limitation i.e. to explain each idea in 30 seconds, only the most important and fundamental points are given – enough to grasp the essential features of the idea and its relevance. There are a number of ways in which the text may be helpful for teaching philosophy e.g. one idea could be introduced and explored at the beginning or end of each session.
Limitations: There is a sense in which the book is (arguably) little more than 30 nicely packaged brief dictionary entries with various ‘funky bells and whistles’ to fill it out.

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