Advance Review: The Cartoon Introduction to Philosophy

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The Cartoon Introduction to Philosophy gives the curious a chance to learn something about the basic concepts of philosophy. The concepts, as presented by a cheerful and chatty Heraclitus, are clearly and concisely explained. It is a book I wish I had had available before diving straight into Descartes, Hume, and company. back in my student days.

Michael F. Patton and Kevin Cannon have organized the book by concept rather than in a strictly linear fashion. After the introductory explanation of what philosophy is and why, the book is divided into chapters each dealing with a different subject: Logic, Perception, Minds, Free Will, God, and Ethics. In each category, a representative philosopher presents his views before Heraclitus moves on to a philosopher who either expands on them or presents a counter-argument. This proves an effective means of providing an overview for each complex topic. Terms are clearly defined and often repeated at least once in context to give the reader a chance to see both what they mean and how they are used.

Kevin Cannon’s black and white literally illustrates many of the subjects as the philosophers enact parts of their philosophies. There are also sight gags and other memory aids to help the reader understand. The caricature images of the different philosophers and their audiences together with bizarre backgrounds help with comprehension.

The problem the book runs into is a problem common to all basic explanations: It makes things seem a bit too simple. The final entry in any given section, largely by virtue of being the final entry, gives the impression that the preceding questions have finally and definitively been answered. The question of whether or not we have free will, for example, seems to have been firmly answered in the negative rather than being a subject of ongoing discussion. Other topics are similarly presented. Patton and Cannon add a coda that philosophy is extremely complicated and always branching out, which is good, but this is only mentioned a couple of times. A list of philosophers still involved in the various discussions might help give perspective on the issue as well as providing ideas for further reading.

The Cartoon Introduction to Philosophy is recommended as a starting point for anyone who is curious about philosophy and asking questions about life. It comes out on April 21, 2015.

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