Looking for a Book of Philosophical Puzzles

I have this book. It’s a collection of philosophical thought experiments, puzzles, paradoxes and so on, taken from the literature, indexed by topic and by the name of the person originating the thought. It’s a pretty nice book–not perfect, but pretty nice.

I am looking for a book like this to use in an Intro to Philosophy course I’ll be teaching this Summer. I thought I’d be using the book I just described, until I looked it up on Amazon and noticed it costs over $30. Not much for a textbook in general, to be sure, but considering all the other texts I’m assigning are less than $10, and considering I’ll only be using ten to twelve examples out of this book, only for “icebreaking” discussions at the beginning of classes, and don’t plan on making the students actually responsible for any material in it, it seems like too much to ask them to pay.

I found this other book which is constructed around a similar idea, and is only half the cost. From looking around online, I got a positive feeling about it. But I just checked out a copy from my library and… the book sucks. The author tries to be very cute and entertaining throughout, and IMO ends up just getting in the way of comprehension by doing so. Furthermore, he needlessly (intentionally of course) jumbles up names and ideas in an a-historical way which to my mind does a disservice to intro students. It’s not that having a grasp of names and historical connections is necessary to doing Philosophy (IMO certainly not) but you’re not doing someone any good by getting them mixed up about names and history and so on. Furthermore, he basically has an “answers in the back of the book” type section which is not only somewhat inane in places, but also will make it harder to get students to think about the puzzles “on their own” as they say.

So I’m looking for books like this that are cheap and that do a good job of explaining philosophical puzzles in a page or so, and that, if it doesn’t help, at least doesn’t hinder people from subsequently being able to go look up more about an idea or people who have written about it.

Any suggestions?

You may be wondering why I don’t just ask colleagues of mine about this. Its because most of my colleagues would hate a book like this, esp. as a text in intro to Philosophy. In my dept., we’re all about the classics. We read books, not snippets and puzzles. Hrmph. And that’s what we teach our students. Double hrmph.


(If you’re curious, my other texts, right now I think, are going to be:

Minds, Brains and Science (by Searle) Chapters 1, 2, and 6
Parts of Turing’s “Computing Machinery and Human Thought”
Other (as yet undetermined) short works on thinking machines, free will, and the problem of evil.)
I’m thinking about throwing in a Borges story or two, though I’m not sure this will work with the general pedagogical tenor of the class.)

I don’t think I would have any suggestions, but can you give an example of a type of puzzle that you like? Is it of the “Can God make a burrito so big that he couldn’t eat it” variety?

Good question, I should have said something about that in the OP.

I mean things like the following. To be clear I don’t expect these to be in some way deeply unresolvable or paradoxical. They’re just succinct examples of kinds of puzzles (paradoxical or not) that have been put forth in philosophical works.

Zeno’s Paradox – The old canard about how you can never get from A to B because first you have to go halfway, and to do that you have to go a quarter way first, and so on and so on.

Berry’s Paradox – Is there a first number requring at least eighteen syllables to describe? If so, then it can be described in seventeen syllables (as “the first number requiring at least eighteen syllables to describe”… haha? get it?). But if not, then there must be some first such number–since there are only a finite number of syllables available to combine.

The Voluntary Prisoner – if the only door to the room is locked, but the person in the room is perfectly happy to stay inside the room, and doesn’t even know the door is locked, then is the prisoner freely choosing to stay in the room? (If we think freedom requires the ability to do otherwise, we might think he’s not freely staying in the room.)

The Book of Life – The book contains a record of everything you have ever done and will ever do. You read ahead, finding out what it says you will do ten minutes from now. Can you avoid doing what it says you will do?

Philosophical Zombies – Philosophical Zombies are physically identical to human beings, but have no consciousness. Is this concievable? If so, does this warrant some kind of dualism or something?

Getting the idea?

Those were all from the book I linked to first in my OP. The more I look at the book, the more I really want to use it. It’s just so expensive given what I want to do with it! :frowning:

On the other hand, even if I use this book, the total cost of books for the course will probably be around $50, which is way cheaper than average for books for a course (right?). So maybe it’s okay.

To be honest, I’m afraid of losing enrollment, because if it goes too low, my class gets dropped. And I’m out $3400.



Why don’t I just write them myself?


Maybe that would be best. (Though the book is neat-o and I bet a lot of people would find it fun to just have around. Maybe that’s optimistic!)


It’s not a book of puzzles, but I’ve found Martin Gardner’s The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener a very interesting and entertaining read. Gardner tells why he accepts or rejects various philosophies, with much commentary.


It’s probably not exactly what you’re looking for, but Raymond Smullyan’s books are little exercises in logic, and might be worthwhile. What is the Name of This Book? and others


See, that was my first thought too, but I’m not so sure that the logic puzzle books by Smullyan will fit. I have his chess retrograde puzzle books and his Scheherazade logic puzzles. But maybe some of his other books would be less mathematical and more philosophical. This one seems promising:
Lady or the Tiger? And Other Logic Puzzles Including a Mathematical Novel That Features Godel’s Great Discovery

Spice up your puzzles a bit.

Fight Club: If Tyler Durden is beating up another personality in the same body, is he infringing upon the rights of another person? What if the other person secretly wants to be beaten up?

24-7 slave: If a woman is the 24-7 slave of her husband, but has originally volunteered for it because she enjoys being degraded and humiliated, is she really a slave?

You get the picture. Sex and violence is what sells!

In the same vein, you might try Douglas Hofstadter’s “Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid.” It’s a wonderful book about infinite loops, but he does give you a few puzzles to think about while explaining the connections between the three title characters and their work.

Yeah, that’s one of the books that had a major role in turning me on to philosophy when I was a kid.

I actually briefly considered using it as the primary text. But I think it’s probably too hard and is, by now, probably out of date.

Maybe I’ll take a look at it to see if bits of it can be extracted for my purposes, though.


This book, The Pig That Wants to Be Eaten: 100 Experiments for the Armchair Philosopher is divided up into 100 “experiments”, each relating to some introductory philosophical idea. It provides a thought experiment, and then relates it to the relevant text (Plato, Decartes, etc).

It is simple enough to be accessible by 101 students, even though you may find it tedious, given that the examples are all somewhat obvious or cliche.

A slight hijack: I think that your inclusion of texts regarding Philosophy of Mind (Searle, Turing, et al) might be inappropriate for an intro to Philosophy class; I would expect that an intro class wouldn’t focus on too many contemporary philosophers, post-1900 or so, with the exception of maybe Plantinga in your discussion on free will and the problem of evil. Of course, you are teaching the class, and I am not; but, if you would like to further discuss your reading list or syllabus, I would be glad to help out.

If your concern is accessibility, Searle’s book is not at all difficult for intro students–it’s been used successfully in classes I’ve TAed for here. The Turing is more difficult, but as I said, I will just have them read “parts” of it. I haven’t reviewed that article closely yet and for all I know won’t end up using it after all.

Was that not what your concern was, though?


My concern was that contemporary work in Philosophy of Mind doesn’t really provide for a foundation in Philosophy. I could see you using these works as a means to get kids interested in philosophy via modern-day applications (artificial intelligence, virtual reality, etc…), but I think that is such a niche interest that you might be doing them a disservice by covering that in lieu of something more fundamental.

But it really depends on why your class is taking your class… to fulfill an educational requirement/survey (in which case discussing Searle would probably fit in, as the Chinese room would fit in with the aforementioned “experiments”) or as a genuine basis for further study in philosophy or law.

I see what you mean.

I do intend the course not to focus on any particular issue or subfield of philosophy. But I do think that an introduction to Philosophy can consist in part of discussion of issues in phil. of mind. (In a “survey” type course, which mine is not but which mine has some of the character of) it would be downright strange for there not to be some such discussion. I’ve got one and half meetings out of ten listed on my syllabus as dealing with phil. of mind stuff like consciousness, the mind body problem, and so on. (It will also come up during discussion of the Meditations, of course.) Does that seem like too great a proportion of the total time to you?

Also, to respond to one of your other comments: The course will be attended almost entirely (if not entirely) by people taking it to fulfill a requirement for some non-philosophical degree.


Maybe the following two books are what you want, or maybe not. Here are two books which are catalogs of paradoxes:

Paradoxes from A to Z by Michael Clark
Paradoxes: Their Roots, Range, and Resolution by Nicholas Rescher

It’s not really the kind of thing you’re looking for, but then, neither were CalMeacham’s recommendations, which are great anyway, so I’ll throw out I Think, Therefore I Laugh.

out of date???
What in that book could possibly go out of date? The philosophical issues are eternal, and the math is still relevant.
I don’t really regard that book as philosophical. It’s a discourse on self-referentual systems and math that builds up to an explanation of Godel’s theorem, although most people don’t seem to get that. If that were its only purpose, it would be worthwhile. But Hofstadter’s discourses on the works of Bach, Euler, Magritte, and Zeno make it much more than that.

Well, it’s been a while, but I feel like I remember the book making a lot of substantive factual claims and references that may have since been superceded and that I wouldn’t be qualified to address. But I may just be remembering wrong. Anyway, certainly much of the book is relatively timeless and that’s why I said I might think about going through and finding parts of it to use.

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what I had in mind when I wrote what you quoted.

There’s plenty of philosophy in it–logic, theory of mind, and theory of meaning to be specific.


Looks like an interesting book!


Just a note to say thanks - I just bought the book you link to in your OP and I Think, Therefore I Laugh. I find these types of books entertaining and useful from a work standpoint…

I can’t imagine anyone freaking out over having to spend $50 on textbooks for a class. Hell, most college students would love to go that low.