Tuesday, March 1, 2011

My review of Cave's Do Llamas Fall in Love?

My review of Peter Cave's Do Llamas Fall In Love? 33 Perplexing Philosophy Puzzles is out now in the latest Times Higher Education [link to electronic version].

Do Llamas Fall in Love? has almost nothing to do with llamas, but plenty to do with love, especially that love of wisdom that is philosophy. This smart and funny jaunt through philosophy's core issues serves as a fine introduction for the phi-curious and the wonderers about wisdom who may have had no prior exposure to philosophy. It is also a delightful read for those who may already have a bunch of philosophy under their belts.

The highly abstract nature of philosophy often leads to dry and inaccessible expositions. Attempts to overcome this problem often result in dumbing-downs that are effectively useless in accurately conveying what's really going on in the field. Peter Cave masterfully balances the need to inform and the need to entertain.

The 33 "perplexing puzzles" that he discusses in 33 short chapters manage to cover many, if not most, of philosophy's key topics: ethics, rights, knowledge, mind, rationality, aesthetics, logic, law, politics, metaphysics, language and religion. The chapter titles are quirky and intriguing, enticing one to keep on reading to find out what could possibly be intended. Here are a few: "A goat with gaps"; "Time for zoological investigations - from the bedroom"; "Creamy philosophers: who knows who knows..."; and "Preferences: avoiding the money pump".
So, what's the deal with the llamas? As explained in the chapter "Addicted to love", many non-human animals form monogamous pair bonds. In their outward behaviour at least, they resemble people who are deeply in love. And there are certain biochemical similarities between the nervous systems of humans in love and these animals. But are such similarities sufficient to ascribe similar mental states to humans and non-humans? And if such similarities don't suffice to justify treating animals as psychologically similar to humans, what similarities would suffice?