Alice in Wonderland and Philosophy: Curiouser and Curiouser – Philosophy – Richard Brian Davis and William Irwin (Editors)

(Reviewed by JD Jung)

Is Alice in Wonderland simply a fantastic children’s tale? Is it a result of author Lewis Carroll’s madness or opium addiction? No, according to some academics, there’s a lot more. In fact, philosophy professors Richard Brian Davis and William Irwin claim that this story carries the codes to unlock one’s personal identity. In order to convince readers, they’ve compiled fourteen essays from philosophy instructors to English professors in  the 2010 book, Alice in Wonderland and Philosophy: Curiouser and Curiouser.

Each of the fourteen writers presents a philosophical topic or question, illustrating it through the Alice in Wonderland story. Why do we procrastinate? Why do tedious daily activities add up to a satisfying day? How is Alice a prime example of good inductive reasoning? What is the role of language and memory? What is time, and how can we measure the past and the future? Each writer also ties in the ideas of philosophers like Socrates, Plato, St. Augustine, Immanuel Kant, David Hume, Friedrich Nietzsche, and 20th century philosophers such as Donald Davidson.

Lewis Carroll was a mathematician and logician, and, in the essay “Serious Nonsense,” his work is looked at as a series of philosophical puzzles. The essay “Unruly Alice” demonstrates how Carroll was challenging the role of women in Victorian England. “How Deep Does the Rabbit-Hole Go?” questions what makes up a person’s reality and the role of drugs in seeking the true meaning of life. “Nuclear Strategists in Wonderland” discusses the nuclear paradox and the power of propaganda, as when the Queen of Hearts exaggerates the power of the enemy.

The essays in Alice in Wonderland and Philosophy were written for an educated audience, but there were no assumptions that the reader had ever studied philosophy. In fact, the authors have written their essays in such an entertaining and relatable manner that it’s difficult not to at least consider their points of view.

Now, I’m not a big Alice in Wonderland fan and won’t even be checking out the recently released  film, “Alice Through the Looking Glass”.  Also I tend to take things at face value, as opposed to looking for a deeper meaning.  If you’re like me, this book may persuade you to change that inclination though. I can’t even begin to pick a favorite essay; there are quite a few. Let’s just say that I enjoyed reflecting on each writer’s interpretations, and each piece forced me to mull over these seemingly simple questions of life. Since reading this book in 2010, I found myself looking beyond the obvious–which can be good (and not-so-good).

Alice in Wonderland and Philosophy is a part of the Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture Series. Its goal is to take philosophy out of the “ivory tower” of academia and show that it’s relevant to our lives. The writers have succeeded in accomplishing this—at least in this book.

The series began with South Park and Philosophy and continues to include more movie and television titles (check out for a complete listing). There’s even a Lego and Philosophy and Metallica and Philosophy . This series could definitely become an addictive trend for many readers.

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