The Book That Wants to Be Read

So I picked up a book at an airport more than a year ago and picked it up off my shelf today. I remembered how cool it was and wanted to share it with you guys today. The Pig That Wants to Be Eaten by Julian Baggini allows anyone to become an armchair philosopher. Here is the way it work: inside the cover lie 100 ‘thought experiments’ that you can do at home. These experiments challenge conventional thinking in regards to ethics, morality, freedom, religion, and almost any juicy topic you can think of. Each experiment is explained via a short, one page, situational story. The author then goes on to explain the reasoning behind the story. Here is one of my favourite examples from the book:

Mette looked into the eyes of her estranged husband, but could find no flicker of remorse.

‘You tell me you want us back,’ she said to him. ‘But how can we do that when you won’t even admit that you did the wrong thing when you left me and the children?’

‘Because in my heart I don’t think I did wrong, and I don’t want to lie to you,’ explained Paul. ‘I left because I needed to get away to follow my muse. I went in the name of art. Don’t you remember when we used to talk about Gauguin and how he had to do the same? You always said that he had done a hard thing, but not a wrong one.’

‘But you are no Gauguin,’ sighed Mette. ‘That’s why your back. You admit you failed.’

‘Did Gauguin know he would succeed when he left his wife? No one can know such a thing. If he was in the right then so was I.’

‘No,’ said Mette. ‘His gamble paid off, and so he turned out to be right. Yours didn’t, and so you turned out to be wrong.’

‘His gamble?’ replied Paul. ‘Are you saying luck can make the difference between right and wrong?’

Mette thought for a few moments. ‘Yes. I suppose I am.’

How crazy is that?

I would highly recommend picking this book up. Reading one of the experiments in the morning will have you thinking about it all day. It would no doubt also be a an excellent bathroom reader as well (is there a better spot to contemplate philosophy?).  And for just $10 on Amazon its a steal.

Have fun pondering life’s great mysteries!

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Geoff is a 5th year student who studying a double major in Integrated Science (Evolutionary ecology, virology) and Political Science. He was the 'Wish' speaker at the 2008 Terry Talks and is passionate about university education, especially when it comes to interdisciplinary experiences. After graduation Geoff wants to find a job that allows him to meet people from all sorts of backgrounds and share stories. If your savvy enough you can follow Geoff on Twitter - user: gcosteloe.

7 Responses to “The Book That Wants to Be Read”

  1. Blake Frederick

    This is great. Of all people, I certainly did not expect you, Mr. Costeloe, to be introducing philosophy to the masses. I have not read this book, but it is fantastic that you are promoting philosophy as an accessible discipline.

    I strongly feel that a content specific ethics course should be a necessary element of any degree at UBC. It’s alarming that we graduate students of marketing, for example, without requiring them to formally think about and examine the ethical considerations and social implications of advertising.

  2. Lois

    Hey Geoff, could I borrow that some time?

  3. Lois

    Blake, I disagree. Such a course needs to be extremely well designed with an extremely thorough instructor for it to be effective. Neither of those can be guaranteed at any one time. In the most likely scenario, it becomes a well-intentioned “easy credit,” which then claims that its students are engaged in ethics, when really they’re in it for the requirement… I think we need more of these material which are interesting to read/see/listen to, and more people willing to chat/argue heatedly about them in casual settings.

  4. Geoff Costeloe

    I hate to keep talking about it but this is exactly what the Terry ‘Wish’, UBC MIX, is trying to accomplish. Trying to encourage these discussions to happen without forcing another course requirement on students. It will also help to create a sense of relevancy within students from both disciplines. Many philosophers are great at pondering moralities and deep questions but struggle to actually put their beliefs into practice. Sometimes what may be philosophically correct is not tangible (eg. the works of Marx, Babeuf, Rousseau, Engels, and any other communist I forgot to mention). Relevancy would also increase for the marketing students who would learn about the consequences of their actions. All students benefit and it comes from a less structured, more conversational approach. Check out for more info!

  5. Nick Zarzycki

    The trade-off that we face in trying to encourage a ‘less structured, more conversational approach’ to philosophy is that in some ways we end up encouraging a fractured, un-rigorous and anecdotal approach to material that would otherwise require rigorous and holistic reading/discussion in order to be fully appreciated (this is something that, I’m afraid to say, features prominently in books like ‘The Pig That Wants to Be Eaten’.)

    The reason why many people see philosophy as something inaccessible or opaque is simply that it demands hard work, and though the odd philosophizing session might titivate and evoke the odd ‘whoa’, it won’t foster a deeper appreciation for rigorous thought. Though I have nothing against ‘casual settings’, simply waving material that is “interesting to read/see/listen to” in front of students faces will bring in few curricularly-focused students, and the discussions that will result will likely be shallow, unfounded and uninteresting.

    Instituting a mandatory ethics course sounds like an interesting way to approach this problem. Though many students will indeed approach the course as an ‘easy credit’ (which, by the way, makes the unfair assumption that such a course would be ‘easy’), students will be acquainted with content that a) they might never have considered approaching in the first place, and b) constitutes an essential prerequisite to the kind of free-flowing and informal discussion Geoff is talking about.

    This issues flows, I think, into the larger picture of the humanities’ declining role in higher learning. More and more undergraduates in North America (especially at large research-intensive institutions like UBC) are graduating without ever gaining even an elementary understanding of ethics and social/political philosophy, which is unacceptable. Introducing students to humanities courses should be a priority, especially when we’re looking for improving understanding and cooperation between the disciplines.

    In the end, encouraging ‘philosophical literacy’ at UBC will boil down to a weighing of incentives. Personally, I think that a (mandatory) course-based environment might provide more incentives to lay down the intellectual framework needed for meaningful discussion in the humanities than one in which students will be free to continue being as disciplinarily myopic as they are now. Once we get some ‘required reading’ in, then the real discussion can begin.

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