The Philosophy Gym. 25 Short Adventures in Thinking.

Title: The Philosophy Gym. 25 Short Adventures in Thinking.
Author/s: Law, Stephen
Material type: Book.
Publisher/date: Thomas Dunne Books (2003).
Format: Paperback (290 pages)
ISBN: ISBN-10: 0312314523, ISBN-13: 978-0312314521
Area and topic: Core areas/sub-disciplines/branches of philosophy. Popular philosophy. Key/important philosophical issues/topics/problems.
Intended audience/ reading level: General/accessible
Purchasing and information:
  2. Barnes and Noble
Unique and/or salient feature/s: ‘The Philosophy Gym’ explores 25 issues from a philosophical perspective ranging from the relatively frivolous (e.g. whether a pickled sheep is really art) to more traditionally weighty questions such as ‘does God exist’. Each issue is explored through a variety of styles and approaches including dialogues, stories, thought experiments and illustrations.
Synopsis and/or additional information: The following information is sourced from the above links (see ‘Purchasing and information’) and the text.

  • Each entry/chapter is roughly ten to twelve pages long and includes the following: A key indicating the level of difficulty (i.e. warm-up, moderate or more challenging), suggestions for further reading, additional recommended resources (including various internet sites) and ‘thinking tools’ to explain key philosophical ideas.
  • Each entry is distinct from each other so one can ‘dip in and out in any order and at any time you like’. Having said this, it may be helpful to read the introduction (which includes sections ‘What is Philosophy’, ‘Applying Philosophy to Life’, and ‘Other Reasons to Think Philosophically’) before reading the various entries.
  • The book is arranged in seven chapters/sections. The seven Sections are; (1) Logic, (2) Morality, (3) God, (4) Consciousness, (5) Expectations, (6) Truth, (7) Puzzles. Each of these chapter/sections, have a number of entries that, in total, make up the 25 issues or (as indicated in the title) ‘short adventures’. For example, section 5) ‘Morality’ explores issues under the following subheadings: (i) Is homosexual sex morally permissible? (ii) Can we have morality without God and religion? (iii) Is it morally acceptable to design children genetically? (iv) Is it right to sacrifice the life of one conjoined twin to save the other? (v) Is it morally acceptable to eat meat? (vi) Is the rightness or wrongness of an act based on our emotional reactions to the act?


Strengths: The book is accessible, lively and fun, yet informative; for a relatively short book it also manages to cover a fair bit of ground. Unlike many other so called ‘popular philosophy’ authors, ‘Laws’ is very good at conveying fairly dense subject matter in a simple way but without misrepresenting or seriously diluting the issues under discussion in the process. The book is also a good ‘all rounder’ i.e. it covers many classic and contemporary philosophical problems while in the process introducing the main subjects in philosophy and bringing to light various philosophical methods, tools and other ‘tricks of the trade’. Although written primarily for the general reader, the book readily lends itself to class room work. For some, the lack of syllabus structure and content, and the self contained entries (which allows one to ‘dip and pick’) will be preferable to those books designed specifically for the classroom; i.e. books with set and centralised syllabus guidelines.


Limitations: There are no obvious or explicit guidelines, games, activity setups, open questions, exercises and so forth designed to engage the reader/student in a more practical or activity based sense. A notable common complaint from customer reviews (mostly from those with a more religious persuasion) is the supposed lack of even handedness that the author exercises. As one ‘Amazon’ reviewer writes ‘When Law unabashedly declares his final opinion -“In short, what creationists practice isn’t good science – its bunk” – it has the potential to offend. It detracts, too, from the book’s admirable aim to “provide the skills needed to think independently” and “help fortify your courage in making a moral stand”.

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