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Philosophy Lite

This month Truong at Bookworm looks at books and comic strips that have successfully brought philosophical ideas to their readers


A Boy and His Tiger — The Complete Set


If we accept that philosophy is the discussion of general problems concerning things such as existence, knowledge, truth, beauty, justice, validity, mind, and language then most of us would also agree that the comic strip characters Calvin and Hobbes are philosophers.


Although the two, boy and stuffed tiger, finished their 10-year life span in 1995, they are re-run in 50 countries.


Hobbes, the tiger, was named by his creator, Bill Watterson, after the 17th century political philosopher Thomas Hobbes who argued that the proletariat can never govern itself because the condition of man is a condition of war against everyone and that the only way for civil society to exist is to submit to a sovereign power.


Sounds a bit like the philosophy of a host of modern governments and it gained credence because the Federalists in the US used Hobbes’ views when they manufactured their constitution after Independence.


Calvin, the forever small boy, is named after the stern, 16th century religious reformer, John Calvin, who preached predestination and that only submission to the absolute sovereign could save mankind from damnation.


Both main characters are often in denial of their basic philosophical stance and a lot of us mere human fans see ourselves perfectly echoed in them.


Those with a philosophical bent love reading the series because of the conflicts that Hobbesian and Calvanistic mindsets have when they try to impose their pessimistic values on a post modern world that challenges them. Feminism successfully rears its head in opposition to Calvin’s patriarchal determination.


The series is set in Ohio, Middle America, and there are four books in the boxed set.


The Canine Condition


In a bar in present day Toronto, inebriated gods Hermes and Apollo argue about the relative worth of humanity.


“I wonder,” said optimistic Hermes, “what it would be like if animals had human intelligence.”


“I’ll wager a year’s servitude,” said pessimistic Apollo, ‘that animals — any animal you choose — would be even more unhappy than humans are, if they had human intelligence.”


If one of the animals dies happy, Hermes will triumph — which makes us all seem a bit pathetic if a one-in-15 chance for happiness is considered a fair bet.
They choose 15 dogs that are in a vet hospital and set them free, invested with human consciousness.


The dogs previously communicated in a manner that was essentially sparse and in which what mattered was social standing and physical need. But the ability to form abstract thoughts necessitated the creation of a new language. This became divisive.


Human awareness doesn’t lend well to dog pack mentality because it emphasizes independence and self-importance. A pack needs unity and all members have to understand the world and its rules in the same way and know their exact place in the hierarchy.


In the same way that intelligence is not spread equally among humans, each of the 15 dogs’ intellects were limited by breed and experience and, like humans, they had to face up to large questions such as what is happiness and what is a fulfilled life. Some wanted to formulate their own philosophies and others’ desired a hierarchical proclamation.


Overarching this thoughtful work is the author’s contemplation about the virtues of love. Is the core of a good life giving love and being loved in return?
To find out who wins the bet and also about the death of each dog necessitates reading the novella, Fifteen Dogs




Controversial ethicist and philosopher Peter Singer has long championed altruism and advocates living modestly and donating a large part of your income — often much more than the traditional tenth, or tithe — to the most effective charities; researching and discussing with others which charities are the most effective or drawing on research done by other independent evaluators; choosing the career in which you can earn most, not in order to be able to live affluently but so that they can do more good; giving part of your body — blood, bone marrow, or even a kidney — to a stranger.


The book, The Most Good You Can Do, describes effective altruists and how their altruism is spread. Although it may seem that Singer is advocating a radical lifestyle, he is really saying that we don’t need to get a guilt trip about doing the most good possible, but simply do the most good that you as an individual can do.


Effective altruism demands targeted, evidence-based giving that does the most good to alleviate poverty and reduce suffering and the chapter that gets up the noses of some charitable organizations is, Choosing the Best Organization, which means that you don’t donate to a charitable organization based on the percentage of funds used for administration and overheads, but rather by researching the impact of a programme on its beneficiaries.


It’s good read particularly at a time in history when many affluent countries are cutting back on overseas aid.


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