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Recent Reading: The Duck That Won the Lottery: 100 New Experiments for the Armchair Philosopher - Mo's Journal
March 6th, 2014
10:14 am

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Recent Reading: The Duck That Won the Lottery: 100 New Experiments for the Armchair Philosopher
The Duck That Won the Lottery: 100 New Experiments for the Armchair Philosopher by Julian Baggini

This is a fun, useful, and quick-to-read book with a lousy title. The Duck part is fine because it's intriguing, but what are "experiments for the armchair philosopher" when they're at home? I had no idea what I was going to read when I picked this one up.

I see that there's another edition that is subtitled, instead, "and 99 Other Bad Arguments" and that's much more representative of the content. The author is indeed a professor of philosophy and the book is about rhetoric, with a very accessible and pop culture sort of treatment of the subject. He takes 100 different statements from the news that are badly argued in some way - either logically deficient or using rhetorical techniques meant to persuade by emotion, side stepping logic. He analyzes each one for its deficiencies and labels it with the kind of error being made or technique being used. Baggini encourages analytical thinking, both by example and by instruction.

Some of the examples don't require a philosopher to determine that they are poor arguments. In the title story, a lottery winner ascribes his luck to having followed a waiter's instruction in a Chinese restaurant to stroke a duck statue. Most of us would realize that didn't cause him to win the lottery, even if we might not know to label the error a post-hoc fallacy. Others are much more subtle and seem well argued at first.

Each quote is only a sentence or two and each analysis is a page or two, making this a quick read. An interesting extra feature is after each analysis he walks the condemnation of the kind of argument back a little, asking when it might be appropriate to defer to authority, or argue from uncertainty or whatever. These thought provoking final paragraphs underscore the idea that many of these questions do not have settled answers.

A good book for those who enjoyed Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time by Michael Shermer, Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science by Martin Gardner, and How to Lie With Statistics by Darrell Huff. And if you haven't read those, read them too.

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From:lunabee34
Date:March 6th, 2014 06:21 pm (UTC)
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I'm loving these book posts!
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From:mofic
Date:March 7th, 2014 01:08 am (UTC)
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Glad you're enjoying them. My sister
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Glad you're enjoying them. My sister <ljuser='stirsmn'> talked me into recording my reading on Goodreads. So I figure as long as I'm doing that I might as well copy them here.


Edited at 2014-03-24 02:49 pm (UTC)
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