Julian Baggini’s book The Duck That Won The Lottery was my 160 for the Dewey Reading Project. It wasn’t that tough of a selection. The other dusty books buried in the Reasoning and Thought and Thinking call numbers weren’t all that enticing.
Duck wasn’t dusty yet, because we had a brand new copy. But the fact that nobody was reading the other books about logic and thinking ties into what Baggini sees as a serious problem: if you aren’t used to thinking critically you can be persuaded by “bad” arguments.
The subtitle of the book is 100 New Experiments For The Armchair Philosopher. If you’re wondering what’s new about this, the previous installment was called The Pig That Wants to be Eaten.
You could also add the subtitle: protecting yourself from bad arguments.
How the experiments work
Baggini begins each of the chapters–they’re about the length of a long blog post–with a logical fallacy and a quote.
For example, opening the book at random:
40: Love George, Hate Terrorists
Every nation in every region now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.
Bush made this statement shortly after the 9/11 attacks. Baggini defines false dichotomies as “presenting two options as though these exhausted all the possibilities, when in fact there are other choices available.”
The author then discusses exactly how false dichotomies work, and why being able to recognize them is useful.
Unsurprisingly, politicians get a lot of attention in this book, but there are also musicians (Brian Eno), religious figures (Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’connor, in the Guilt by association chapter), anthropologists (David G. Anderson, Playing the rights card), and many more. Baggini presents a broad spectrum of people with bad arguments, whether they’re intentional or accidental.
The book is funny, it is useful, and I get the impression that Baggini would be a lot of fun to sit around and talk with.
If you have any interest in logic, fallacies, critical thinking, and/or being able to evaluate arguments and statements wherever you encounter them–and if you think other books on these subjects are boring as hell–I highly recommend Duck and Pig to you, fledgling rhetoricians.
If you liked this post, please subscribe to the RSS feed.