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Seeing the world another way

‘No Holiday’ is my book that came nearest to being made into a film! At least, I had a very nice dinner (with my researcher, Paula C.) on the idea of it - and a small options deal. Alas, the film (it would have been for TV, a documentary) never happened. But I can still see this book as having all the ingredients of a great series. Why? Because, in the spirit of all travel writing, it is about strange places and extraodrianry sights.

As the publisher put it:

‘In this first Disinformation Travel Guide, Martin Cohen visits exotic locations (80 of them!) but with a different aim than the usual travel book: to seek out the suffering and injustices, not to skirt them. We will see the dark red waters of ‘Murdering Creek’ in Australia, silent testament to the ongoing genocide of the world’s oldest people... we will visit the olive groves of Palestine where the helicopter gunships of the Israeli Army patter by like so many gigantic marauding insects, and we will queue up to see not museums and…
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Chewing over FOOD!

Readers who know my strong slant towards FRUIT AND VEG in I Think Therefore I Eat, will maybe be puzzled to find me taking on the vegans recently. Nonetheless, that is where I felt the truth of the extraordinarily complex food arguments lies and philosophy takes us where the truth is whether we like it or not!
The Observer (London) even accused me of waging ‘culture wars’ and wondered: Is it possible that a combination of well-meaning philanthropists and large agricultural concerns have united to exploit health fears for financial gain, while neglecting the nutritional shortcomings in their recommendations? Anyway, in the event I was delighted to work with the brilliant Frédéric Leroy on this article, which basically follows up a request he received from the influential European Food Agency to raise public awareness about the complexity of food issues and the implicatons of simple ‘one size fits all’ solutions.

Our piece kicked off a public information campaign which included coverage…

Agonizing over Ethics

Mind you, calling ethics ‘agonizing’ maybe puts the thing on the wrong footing. Because this book, the follow-up to 101 Philosophy Problems, is great fun. It surprised my very shrewd Routledge editor, Tony, who hesitated over the idea saying that hardly any one read ethics and we didn’t want to tie 101 Philosophy Problems to a lead balloon.

But as anyone who has read both books will know, there’s plenty of overlap between a philosophy problem and an ethical dilemma. The thinking is the same and if presented as riddles, they can appeal to the same audience. Ethics is about choices which matter, and choices which matter are dilemmas. the Greek word means 'two horns'. ... But ethics is a deep well, and once you start to lower the bucket, there comes no obvious jolt to tell you that at last it has reached the bottom. Actually, despite Tony's initial doubts, 101 Ethical Dilemmas went on to be one of my most successful titles, selling I think about 150 000 copies and going agai…

Arguing about Nuclear Power

2012 was the year my book on nuclear power, or to be precise energy economics, came out. Put that way, it sounds technical, and quite different from philosophy ‘as it is normally known’ - but I think the book fits quite well within that broad sweep of social science which has philosophy at its heart.

Anyway, here is a book that looks a hot issues in energy politics, quite a lot at economics, a bit at climate science, and definitely includes plenty of bad arguments. Not mine! All those rotten arguments produced by the nuclear lobby, and their many supporters. We call them the seven nuclear myths.

The book followed the infamous Fukushima disaster, coming out just one year later, and naive readers might imagine I was 'inspired' (if that's the right word) to write it by the events in Japan. But not at all, books like this take years of research and I had started working on the project long before. In addition, I worked closely with my co-author, the brilliant but enigmatic An…

Playing Mind Games

This is also one of my favorite books, with another wonderful cover by Zolumio (also artist for 101 Philosophy Problems edition 3 and 101 Ethical Dilemmas Edition 2) , and although it didn't have quite the impact of the 101s, it does nonetheless have a very enthusiastic and dare I say, select following across numerous international editions. Indeed, it was translated into French (the French are very picky about ‘their’ philosophy books) and featured on their much-admired station, France Culture. (French speakers can enjoy the show here. )

The point about Mind Games, and hey, does the title give a clue or does it just sound like the Joh Lennon song? is that it is about how the mind works, and this is a very interesting area and particularly so when approached non-technically and with a philosophical spirit of openness to ‘possibilities’.

This is thus, philosophy but with a very different set of experts along with some of the usual philosophical names. There's Freud and Jean P…

Telling Tales

Philosophical Tales has always been one of my favorite books. As the strapline says, it is an ‘alternative history’ of philosophy, and philosophy so much needs some of its conventions challenging. Not least that the subject is somehow a kind of crude effort to put arguments in logical form, or dissect words via linguistic analysis. No, philosophy is a very odd creature, peopled by some very colorful characters. Take Socrates, for example, the star of the most influential philosophy book of them all, Plato's Republic. My chapter on him, called ‘Socrates the Sorcerer’ reveals a very different kind of fellow to the boring analytic philosopher of the colleges. Here is a kind of mystic, an enigmatic figure who probably travelled to Egypt to imbibe the wisdom of both Africa and the East, and significantly claims to have been inspired by one of philosophy’s hidden women – a priestess probably at the Oracle. Plato, the idealist, offers an idol, a master figure, for philosophy. A Saint, a …

Talking about THINKING

What are the 4 Principles of Critical Thinking? Critical thinking and Philosophy In November 2018 I had the pleasure of chatting with Michael Frank about the ‘ingredients of the critical thinker’. (I’m not saying I have them all, mind!) Here's a bit of what we said:

Michael: If you were to build the perfect critical thinker in a lab, what habits or what qualities would they have?

Martin: Well, I recommend four principles. The first one is surely the most important!
Critical Thinkers are people who are tolerant and open-minded to new ideas. There are many people who describe themselves as critical thinkers who dogmatic and intolerant and quick to jump on anyone for the slightest fallacy. But that to me is not a true critical thinker. A critical thinker wants to give people the space and freedom to let them develop their ideas, and to allow them to express more information which can then be evaluatedThey don’t waste time trying to win arguments. They don’t want to win the argument. The…

Puzzling over Philosophy Problems

When it first came out way back in the last century (sighs) 101 Philosophy Problems was quite an iconoclast. Up to then, the most radical book of philosophy was Bertrand’s Problems of Philosophy, and that book splits the problems into boring categories like logic and epistemology...

So I knew, as a young(ish) philosophy teacher, there was room for a new look at the subject, and 101 PP was it. In time it went on to  sell (I think) about 250 000 copies in about 20 languages. I don’t know for sure as the publisher, Routledge, seemed to think it was a bit vulgar to keep track of things such as sales figures, although they gave me a nice lunch in London!

Here's a taste of the book, a problem that up to then had been summed up as a  landmark philosophical problem concerning our understanding of descriptive knowledge situated somewhere the field of epistemology... but I reinvented as simply the Problem of the Cow in the Field:

Farmer Field is concerned about his prize cow, Daisy. In fact…

Cracking philosophy

If you've got a coffee table, then this book needs to be on it. Honestly, it is the ideal ‘dip in and dip out’ way to read about philosophy, and pass a few moments in peaceful contemplation.

Anyway, here I am back in my ‘comfort zone’ expounding on the history of philosophy. Naturally, as anyone who knows me, my take on the mother of sciences is not exactly the same as you will get in other guides, and all the better for that!

The thing that makes this book remarkable, though, even given my (ahem) remarkable views, is the glorious, full color illustrations. There's a fine renaissance image to give the flavour from the section on Saint Augustine which points out, characteristically, that he considered babies to be born... evil! - and numerous glimpses from the famous image by Raphael of ALL the philosophers (past and present but not alas future) called ‘The School of Athens’.

Anyway, as I say, if you want an introduction to philosophical ideas, this is a gentle way to do it.