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A Cabinet of Philosophical Curiosities: A collection of puzzles, oddities, riddles and dilemmas

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A Cabinet of Philosophical Curiosities: A Collection of Puzzles, Oddities, Riddles and Dilemmas

by Roy Sorensen
Published: 2016
ISBN No: 9781781257593
Pages: 289
Price: 599
Publisher: Profile Books

 A Cabinet of Philosophical Curiosities: A Collection of Puzzles, Oddities, Riddles and Dilemmas is a collection of riddles relating to philosophical ideas and concepts. It is a jumbled assortment of linguistic, mathematical, geometric and verbal puzzles, anecdotes, anomalies and philosophical ambiguities. The book challenges the reader to engage with philosophical problems addressed by almost all known philosophers, writers and thinkers. From Plato to Immanuel Kant, Wittgenstein, Bertrand Russell, Voltaire, Schopenhauer, Lewis Carroll, Jonathan Swift, David Hume,Theodore Roosevelt and Freud (to name a few),the book aims to provide an intellectual challenge to discover the anomalies, distortions, logical conclusions, contrapositive thinking and fallacies.


The book is a playful collection of curiosities that claims to investigate into the mysteries, reason, falsehood, delusion through fun facts and games that makes perineal issues of theory and philosophy easy to relate to. The solutions are presented at the end of the book and it promises to be an educative as well as an entertaining read.

The curiosities are not presented in any particular order and one could read and solve each curiosity challenge individually, thus complex ideas are simplified and reduced to problems of logical understanding, linguistic errors, paradoxesand missed meanings.It well illustrates the exercise of philosophical contemplation as that of raising questions about things and principles that are assumed.

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It satisfactorily explains the endeavor of human thought in its way of progress does not explain things in a neat complete fashion, but rather as ambiguous and apparently contradictory. The book addresses diverse areas of interest in form of riddles; some of the themes are- uncovering hidden messages, intelligence tests, psychological investigations into telepathy and dreams, results of philosophical skepticism, notions of fairness, law of numbers, analysis of linguistic concepts, understanding words and its functions, paradoxes of notions of freedom, predicting random actions and anomalies of thought and action.

The title “…philosophical curiosities…” seems to be used in a broad sense to mean the perineal questions and issues of intellectual speculation. Our thoughts and beliefs about the world (as it appears to us) may seem natural but they constitute a subtle and complex deception, woven together from stories, desires, passions and beliefs that take effect on our actions in the world. Thus, according to this philosophical argument, it takes extraordinary discipline and a rigorous application of the rational faculties of thought to break through the deceptive web and grasp the way things are in reality. The ancient Greek thinkers understood philosophy as the desire for wisdom (philo, love or friendship, and sophia, wisdom).

So philosophy in a general sense seems to be the aim of being able to distinguish between reality and illusion.This often follows the methodology of abstract metaphysical speculation or training oneself to grapple with sophisticated logical and linguistic skills.The book aims to achieve this by constructing and inventing interesting riddles and puzzles and thus making the discipline less abstract and more fun.

Yet, studying philosophy through riddles and paradoxes is only an innovative method, the book does not engage engaging seriously with the paradoxical nature of philosophical quests itself. A more meaningful engagement with philosophy through riddles and puzzles should open up the possibility of understanding truth and reality of human existence as always gesturing towards something other than what we experience and think. In that sense, truth is not something that we find if we searched enough, rather the truth would be the impossibility of arriving at any such absolute notions. To say this would be to say that the only true account of human existence is one that avoids arriving at the abstract truth.

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Though philosophy need not distance itself or guard itself from popular culture, the book also falls short of the expectation of fulfilling the primary role of philosophy, that is, of conceptual clarity. Philosophical categories are reduced to mere curiosities and exercises of mental problems. On the contrary, philosophers engage with concepts in a rigorous way. Conceptual categories describe those aspects of thought that enables us to relate and make sense of the world around us.

As described by Aristotle, it’s the capacity for conceptual thought that allows us to reason and act on its basis, thus human beings are more than instinctive reactions to environmental stimuli). Our capacity of conceptualize helps us comprehend the world, exercise reason and act freely (as we are not instinctive beings or mere bundles of conditioned responses).

Concepts are not merely thought-bubbles or speech balloons; following Immanuel Kant, they are means by whichunder­standingand knowledge is made possible in the first place. They are fundamental conditions that serve as ‘rules’ allowing us to perceive general relations between our perceptions of objects of the empirical world.

Thus, they are the possibility of knowledge andthought. They determine our beliefs, actions and imagination. Thus, concepts work as links as well as foundations of the reasoning process.

A study of philosophical concepts is thus to discover the rules, uncover the assumptions and probe into the scope as well as misconceptions of our thought and action; thereby exposing the limitations of each systems of thought. Such an exercise is most relevant as it ensures revision and progress of knowledge. Though a good and entertaining exercise in simplifying and demystifying philosophy, the book falls short of bringing about any clarity in thought (or action) or explaining the constructive role that philosophical concepts actively play in organizing and in making meaning of the world around us.