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NASTY, BRUTISH, AND SHORT by Scott  Hershovitz

NASTY, BRUTISH, AND SHORT

Adventures in Philosophy With Kids

by Scott Hershovitz

Pub Date: May 3rd, 2022
ISBN: 978-1-984881-81-6
Publisher: Penguin Press

A professor gets a philosophical assist from his young sons.

Most parents are easily impressed with the precociousness of their own children. To listen to them gush, each child is a wise philosopher. Hershovitz, director of the Law and Ethics Program at the University of Michigan, believes they’re right. “Every kid—every single one—is a philosopher,” he writes. “They stop when they grow up. Indeed, it may be that part of what it is to grow up is to stop doing philosophy and to start doing something more practical.” The author uses his kids, Rex and Hank, as evidence of children’s instinct for philosophy. The around-the-house scenes and conversations he presents are equal parts hilarious (for years, Hank kept up a facade of not knowing the alphabet to worry his dad) and profound (4-year-old Rex: “I think that, for real, God is pretend, and for pretend, God is real”). When the author is discussing Rex or Hank, good things happen, but Hershovitz’s real goal is to encourage adult readers to maintain their innate ability to philosophize. So, when one of his kids wonders, for example, if he’s dreaming, it leads to an exposition on epistemology. This is where the book falls a bit flat. There’s nothing wrong with the way Hershovitz presents philosophy; his exposition is clear and lively. But the material consists of the same vogue ideas found in most introductory works of philosophy or, these days, on any podcast with a philosophical bent. If you are already familiar with the trolley problem, philosophical zombies, and the simulation argument, you won’t find anything new in their treatment here. In reading about them, you’ll long for Rex and Hank to return. A philosophical conversation with a child is among life’s great pleasures. If you don’t already know this, Hershovitz’s book will be of assistance.

A playful yet serious introduction to philosophy.