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The Philosophy Gym:
Stephen Law's new book The Philosophy Gym: 25 Exercises in Philosophical Thinking contains 25 short, free-standing chapters each dealing with a different philosophical question and explaining key positions and arguments along the way. Law is editor of the philosophy journal Think and author of the popular children/adult introduction to philosophy The Philosophy Files.
What makes this set of philosophical exercises different from, and better than, other books of its kind is Law's inspired decision to adopt a variety of different styles. There are philosophical stories, thought experiments, illustrations, "thinking tools" designed to explain key ideas and, most interesting of all, is Law's use of dialogues. For instance in his chapter "Can a Machine Think" he relates an imaginary conversation between Kimberly Courahan and her state-of-the-art robot (Emit) in the year 2100.
Designed to replicate the outward behaviour of a human being down to the last detail (except for being more obedient and compliant) Emit responds to questions in much the same way as humans do. Ask him how he feels and he will say he has had a tough day, has a slight headache, is sorry that he broke that vase and so on. Is he thinking and feeling? Could a machine think? Where, if anywhere, can we locate the human/machine barrier? These questions are fully explored during the course of a deeply engaging, and very funny conversation between mistress Kimberley and her robot servant.
It's the dialogues supplemented by the philosophical stories, thought experiments and other diverting and educative strategies that make the book stand head and shoulders above others in the same genre. The topics range from designer babies, time-travel, consciousness, morality, relativism, the supernatural, the existence of God, the origins of the universe, paradoxes and many more. The chapters, ranging in difficulty from fairly easy to the more challenging, can be dipped into at random. Law himself describes the book as "a course in thinking philosophically". It is certainly that but it is Law's overall approach that makes it highly informative, constantly stimulating and, above all, great fun. --Larry Brown [via]