Saturday, June 11, 2005

Philosophical Humour

I have to admit a (now not-so) secret fondness for philosophy jokes. Many good links can be found here (David Chalmers offers many of the same, but several of his links appear to be broken). Here are some of my favourites...

Cause of death for philosophers:
Wittgenstein: Became the late Wittgenstein
Plato: Caved in
Peirce: Abducted
Moore: By his own hand, obviously
Marx: Capital punishment
Kripke: Went rigid
Jackson: Saw red
Heraclitus: Fell in the same river twice
Hare: Wrong prescription
Goodman: Gruesome bleen inflection
Freud: Slipped
Bentham: Fell off his stilts 

Why did the chicken cross the road?
Epicurus: For fun.
Einstein: Whether the chicken crossed the road or the road crossed the chicken depends upon your frame of reference.
Zeno: To prove it could never reach the other side. 

And, the Non-philosopher's Guide to Philosophical Terms:  

Layman - "somewhere between "crystal healing" and "tree hugging" in the Dewey decimal system"
Philosopher - "No! How many times do I have to tell you? Nothing whatever to do with this New Age stuff! Now move my book away from the stand containing Shirley MacLaine, or I shall be very upset."  

Existential quantifier:
Layman - "an angst-ridden statistician"
Philosopher - "a reversed E"

And, a few more definitions that I've thought up myself...  

Layman - "losing control over one's bladder"
Philosopher - "losing control over one's passions (a.k.a. 'akrasia' or 'weakness of will')"

Second-order desire:
Layman - "a craving for more food"
Philosopher - "the preferences one has about one's other desires; commonly found in Frankfurt"  

Layman - "A German city. Almost a sausage."
Philosopher - "A contemporary philosopher with little patience for Bullshit."  

Layman - "One that is unrestrained, and always gives in to their second-order desires"
Philosopher - "A creature that lacks second-order desires. Not a person." And, for a more serious one...

Begging the question:
Layman - "raising the question; leading on to the new problem"
Philosopher - "assuming what needs to be proved; leading back to the prior problem" 

Any other suggestions?


  1. Mary:

    Layman: Virgin, mother of Jesus.

    Philosopher: Scientist who knows everything physical about human colour perception, without ever having seen red.

    I'm not sure which Mary is more believable...

  2. I loved this one from about the length

    A man does a good deed and as a reward his guardian angel appears and offers him the answer to any question he wishes to ask. But she says to take his time and she will return in two days. Well the man immediately realized he could become very rich: Which stock will go up the most over the next five years? Which horse will win the Kentucky Derby? Who will win the next Superbowl? etc. But then he thought, why waste this chance of a lifetime on money? After all, money is only a means to happiness. With the right question he can determine the secret of happiness itself! But the more he
    thought about it, the more he worried about tricks the angel might play: for example, suppose he asked, "What will make me the happiest man in the universe?" And she answered, "Go live on planet Rigel III" - perhaps true, but perfectly useless.

    So our careful questioner decided to take this problem to the nearest philosophy department for assistance. He put the problem to the chair. The chair loved the challenge and as it happens, they were having a departmental meeting that evening anyway, so he told the man to return the next day. When the man returned, the chair beamed and informed him that the department put its best minds together and came up with the best possible question to ask the angel - and naturally he told the man the question to ask.

    The next day the angel appeared and asked, "Well, do you have a question for me?" "Yes," the man replied with a great deal of confidence in his voice. "What are the members of the following ordered pair: the first member of the pair is the best possible question I could ask you, and the second member of the pair is the answer to that question?" The angel smiled and said, "You know, you couldn't have asked me a better question. In fact the first member of the pair IS the question you just asked. But that means the second member is the answer I'm giving you now."

  3. Haha, nice :)

    (Just to ruin the joke: That one's also somewhat paradoxical, since the uselessness of the answer surely shows that it is not the best question to ask after all. But if he had gotten a more substantial answer, then perhaps it would have been the best (equal) question to ask. Thus the angel explodes in a puff of logic.)

  4. There is an article on this joke/paradox:

    and a logical analysis of it by Ted Sider:

    Glad you liked the Mary joke, Richard. I had no time to think of more these days.

  5. The key problem is that "what is the best question to ask" may either be a nonsense question (from a strictly athiestic point of view) or the answer might be "the bible is true" from a christian one.

    And furthermore in any case other than the strictly athiestic one (I knwo this term is not exact but it will do for the moment) the answer is likely to be VERY long and convoluted which raises the question of if it is the best question to ask in theory or in your specific case if it is jsut in theory then it may be of no worth in this specific case to you personally.

    In the first case basically everything is tied because everything is equal because you cant define "better" or "worse" particularly since you haven't even defined a perspective.

    In the second case one answer dwarfs the others in importance that it doesnt matter even if you have heard it before.

    Anyway maybe the angel is not a fake - maybe you will at a later stage be asked a similar question again but at a more important time.

  6. The angel joke was a goodie.

    Shamefully however, I have nothing to add. Ugh - I feel dumb.

    Some sleep is in order, methinks.

  7. Should the word 'should' be abolished, and is an affirmative position on the above by nature invalid?

  8. sometimes the best possible question does not yield the answer you desire to be the best, thus the best possible answer for that question was the answer given

  9. What about - "What is the best answer?"


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