Some reviews of 101 Philosophy Problems 
and 101 Ethical Dilemmas 
by Martin Cohen


101 Philosophy Problems

The Philosopher's verdict: timely
Publisher: Routledge, an imprint of Taylor & Francis Books Ltd; ISBN: 0415261295, 248 pages (First published 1999, Second edition, November, 2001, Third edition 2007) 

Tired of yet more introductions, anthologies and text books, publishers are beginning to wake up to the fact that, especially for the non-academic reader, what is needed in philosophy are different kinds of books that can engage the interest of the enthusiast. 

. . .It has long been recognised that philosophy is among other things, something that needs to be engaged in. You can't just read philosophy, you've got to actually do it. Given that, it's surprising how few introductions actuallytry and get their readers to join in. 101 Philosophy Problems is an all too rare example of a book that does just that, and I wouldn't be surprised if it is soon joined by many others. Cohen takes as his starting point, not the history of philosophy, nor the various sub-disciplines of it, nor its great and good. Rather he gets the reader stuck  straight into some philosophical puzzles.

He does this with some wit and style. Each problem is narrated in the form of a short (rarely more than one page)  narrative. There are paradoxes, moral dilemmas, scientific and religious problems, among others.

The Philosophers Magazine, Summer 1999

101 Philosophy Problems combines scholarship with fun as Mr Cohen examines the main currents of classical thought as well as outlining the dilemmas which tax the brains of contemporary philosophers.  Using a fascinating array of examples, he draws the aspiring philosopher into increasingly complex problems and points the readers in the direction reason will eventually lead them. Those familiar with philosophical thought will recognise and applaud Mr Cohen's ability to reduce complex arguments to simple examples, although some of this sweeping judgements are difficult to swallow.  ... But as an introduction to the subject of philosophy for readers who have been put off previously by seemingly incomprehensible tomes, the book is hard to fault. 

IIlkley Gazette, May 29 1999

'What is the universe in?' 'How big is infinite?' 'How fast can light travel?' 'Can something be true and not true at the same time?' 'How can you talk a crocodile out of eating you?'  For the answers to these questions and more read this book, but take it slowly. 101 Philosophical Problems is  Martin Cohen's attempt to simplify the world of philosophy. 

He does this by using simple stories to illustrate the main basic ideas of the subject. There are, you will not be surprised to know, 101 of these, luckily for us the  answers are in the back. Here he can show us what he thinks the answers might be. Although he has some very definite opinions of other philosophers' work, he tries to provide both sides to each argument. Then at the back of the book is a glossary, which is more like a condensed history of the great minds of philosophy. 

I found the stories to be of varying degrees of interest and difficulty. Having read a few, I tried them out on  friends and family only to realise that a story that seems quite simple on paper is actually quite complex when you try to explain it. Therefore, I think when reading this book it is a good idea to talk it through with someone
afterward. It is also important to read it a bit at a time, or your head may explode. I found it all too easy when reading alone to draw my own conclusions without looking more deeply into the problem. I was also surprised to  find just how much philosophy pokes it's nose into all aspects of our lives, nothing is sacred... 

As a complete beginner in the world of philosophy I have enjoyed this book on many levels. Although I feel that there is still a few thousand layers of the onion skin to peel off, I have enjoyed the few the book has enlightened me about. It has opened a whole new world where nothing is sacred and everything must be questioned. I shall read it again and again, and am confident that each time I will understand a little more. Although I gather that in this subject no-one ever knows 'it all'. 

Jackie Connor, Pathways to Philosophy, October 1999

Martin Cohen's 101 Philosophy Problems introduces philosophy in a novel way. The book has 101 humorous little stories, each with a philosophical problem. For example, problem 54 is about Mr Megasoft, who dies leaving  his fortune to his favourite computer. Megasoft's children take the matter to court, contending that the computer cannot think and so cannot inherit money. Mr Megasoft's lawyers claim that the computer can think. But on what grounds can we say that computers can or cannot think? 

Other stories deal with paradoxes, ethics, aesthetics, perception, time, God, physics, and knowledge and include  problems from Zeno, Descartes, Russell, Nelson Goodman, Edmund Gettier and others. The 101 problems are  followed by a discussion section (which tries to clarify matters) and a glossary (about key concepts and historical  philosophers). 

Cohen continually delights or infuriates us with his irreverent opinions. He tells us, for example, that Kant  reduced philosophy "to esoteric monologues of professionals" and that Aristotle "suffered from a particularly severe taxonomical disorder". Logic is irrelevant, a point he reinforces by not using it to clarify philosophical  problems. 

Some teachers may be pleased to have so much with which to disagree. Many teachers will be confused about how to use this unusual book. Cohen suggests that we read the book "as a  philosophical journey" and not from cover to cover. It would help more to have a short teacher's manual (perhaps  on-line) where Cohen tells us how he uses the problems in his own courses, what seems to work and what does not. My impression is that his problems could be a useful "change of pace" supplement for introductory courses. The problems would have to be selected and presented carefully, however, since some are too difficult or presume additional background knowledge. 

Harry Gensler, professor of philosophy, John Carroll University, Cleveland, United States in the Times Higher Education Supplement (London)

In this exploration of philosophy, Cohen challenges the reader to think philosophically about everyday dilemmas. Each problem is presented with a separate discussion designed to stimulate hours of lively philosophical debate.


Are all moral claims synthetic? Or analytic? Or a priori? Or a posteriori? Or both? Or neither? What about tables? Can you see one?Ask yourself: does it exist? Too easy? Go out of the room and ask yourself again. The next sentence is true. The previous sentence is false. Obey the brain warning at the beginning and don't read all 101problems at once. On free will: You don't always act yourself if you're suffering from a paranoid personality disorder.

The Guardian, 5.11.1999

For the ancient Greeks it was a kind of sport: to pose at first sight astonishingly simple questions, and then break them down for weeks. Martin Cohen, editor of the magazine "The Philosopher", presents such philosophical mysteries, from antiquity to today. Without technical terms or incomprehensible jargon, but with joke and irony, he explains the fundamental ideas of philosophy 


Dr Martin Cohen's sense of humour is internationally acknowledged. Now translated into many other languages, 101 Philosophy Problems is sought after by people of many countries. Through the fascinating problems and stories you will discover that the seemingly "high-up there" philosophy is actually to be found  around every corner of everyday life.

Athena Publishers, Tai Bei

Without technical terms and incomprehensible superstructure, but with wit and irony, Cohen explains the basic concepts of philosophy and, in passing, the most famous thinkers of history. "Maybe you know even less afterwards," said Cohen to his readers, "but I am sure that you have learned something."* 

Der Spiegel (2001)

[* Actually he doesn't say that. But this is true to the translation of the text. Cohen actually says in the foreword to English 101 Philosophy Problems, that if after reading the book, the reader may feel they know less than they did before they started, at least they will "know some new things that they don't know". That's the trouble with translations!]


101 Ethical Dilemmas
Publisher: Routledge, an imprint of Taylor & Francis Books Ltd; ISBN: 0415261279, 330 pages (First published 1 May, 2003, second edition 2007) 

a chatty, jokey journey through philosophical dilemmas, ancient and modern... but the philosophy is the 
real thing

New Scientist, July 12 2003

  There are a lot of DIY philosophy texts around - not so much takin' it to the streets as takin' it to the  dinner parties. This one isn't all that inspired but it is fun enough and if it actually gets people thinking about the issues, then it has done its job. These dilemmas (from the Greek meaning "two horns") cover a wide range of topics, and in addition there are 101 ethical discussions. 

The introduction looks at the United States's decision to drop atomic bombs on Japan in 1945, while the rest of the book examines terror, environmentalism, war, business and medicine, as well as more ancient moral posers such as the "woeful tale" of St Augustine and the forbidden fruit. Martin Cohen's discussion on asylum seekers and the power of carefully chosen language (refugees becoming "illegals") is well worth a look. The logical positivists might have called ethics gobbledegook, but it is well and truly on the menu here in 101 courses.

The Age (Melbourne), June 16th 2003

[A] hugely entertaining gallop through philosophy's thorniest questions. Saving philosophy from dry abstractions Cohen's enlightening, irreverent style dismisses any set rules. Instead he balances the arguments and highlights the flaws of ancient and modern philosophers... The debates are real enough to create passion and provoke thought... great brain workout !

All these problems and more- 101 to be exact- are tackled in Martin Cohen's hugely entertaining gallop through philosophy's thorniest questions. Naturally, Getethical readers have a head start- but to make it easier for everyone else Cohen takes humorous scenarios gleaned from the bible, philosophy, fairy tales and news stories as testing grounds for ethic's big questions. 

Saving philosophy from dry abstractions Cohen's enlightening, irreverent style dismisses any set rules. Instead he balances the arguments and highlights  the flaws of ancient and modern philosophers including Plato, Socrates and  Hobbes. The problems are not solved - it is up to the reader to make up their own mind what is the right answer - or even if there is one. Cohen offers up his own reasoning, which you may or may not agree with, which helps to demystify the intimidating field of ethical philosophy. 

Cohen is especially good in dragging ancient dilemmas into a modern context. Is torture wrong  when interrogating terrorists? Should we bomb America for their terrorist training camps? Who  is to blame for serial killers - society, the parents, themselves? When is it OK to design babies? The debates are real enough to create passion and provoke thought, but benefit from the  gloss on previous philosophical debates. Perhaps the most intriguing are the "little dilemmas" of deceit. For example if an internet shopping site mistakenly thinks you have paid for a product when you haven't -do you keep quiet and accept or do you send the money anyway? I think you know what the writers of ethicalmatters.co.uk would say!

The book starts with the warning that it is not a guidebook for ethical living. What it does do is plant hundreds of more ethical questions in your mind, fulfilling its role as a light hearted, lively introduction to the subject of ethical philosophy. It may not make you a better person or resolve all your problems, but it's a great work out for your brain! 

The Big Issue/ Red Pepper at ethicalmatters.co.uk

helps demystify the intimidating field of ethical philosophy

The author of 101 Ethical Dilemmas, Martin Cohen, is the editor of The Philosopher and the author of the bestselling 101 Philosophy Problems. This, his latest offering, is a book of two halves. The first half is a mixture of real and imaginary stories working  as provocative thought experiments (or dilemmas) dealing with business, medical, legal, war, environmental and personal ethics and aimed  at improving our skills of ethical navigation. The second half of the book is a detailed discussion section revealing the relationship of the  dilemmas to philosophical and religious traditions and generally giving the dilemmas a more thorough going over. 

 This book is great fun. Many of the dilemmas are obviously profound, others appear to be entertaining, trivial diversions, but because they are all short and easily digestible the temptation is to read the whole of the first part quickly and without regard for the fact that each one captures a real and difficult ethical dilemma worth mulling over. The best way to use the book is to take the dilemmas slowly, one by one (or at most, group by group) and to try to resolve them for yourself. Cohen tells us that the discussion section can be read or left alone  according to our discretion but reading it should reveal why the seemingly trivial "little things" are, in Sherlock Holmes words, "infinitely  the most important". 

Larry Brown of Amazon.co.uk

The only time I ever decided to write a piece of fan mail it was to the author of a philosophy book. There. Now you know the full depth of my sadness, but I know you will accept me as I am.The book was 101 Philosophy Problems by Martin Cohen. It was full of such puzzles as if an object can only ever be in one place at one time, how anything can be moving? Or if you replace every component of a ship piece by piece, at what point does it become a different ship?At the end you got all Cohen's own thoughts on the questions, always thought-provoking, funny and iconoclastic about the whole business of philosophy.. Apart from anything, it's the most perfect toilet-reading I know.

The brilliant thing about it was that, while so many other philosophy books make your brian shut down after 3 pages , leaving you feeling baffled and stupid Cohen simply got you thinking for yourself. He made it all so lucid, comprehensible and fun, you felt all the other philosophy writers must be charlatans, blinding yo with gobbledegook to make themselves feel clever.

Another great value of the book is that Cohen is committed to the ancient but now somewhat eccentric idea that philosophy should not just be abstract conundrums but should equip us to live better lives.101 Ethical Dilemmas is the natural sequel to that wonderful book, and as the title suggests it focuses more specifically on ... well, work ti tout for yourself.

Many of the issues Cohen invites us to grapple with here are pressing concerns in modern life. He deals with civil disorder against evil corporations, internet shopping, designer babies, job applications, 'collateral' damage', war against tyrants, cinematic sex, CCTV surveillance, US state terrorism, the abolition of poverty and the wisdom of George W. Bush.

In amid this are al the nuts-and-bolts issues. Can the end justify the means? Is it right to lie when the truth will hurt? Do we only behave decently because of social restraints? Do we judge right and wrong with our feelings or reason? Why, if at all, should humans be treated from other animals? Are good intentions more important than good results?Cohen also casts an ethically critical eye over the parables of Jesus, as well as the teachings of Buddha and various Church fathers.

This book is rather harder work than its beloved predecessor. As if making a concerted effort to educate as well as inspire us, Cohen includes many passages from the great philosophers. Consequently, this second 101 is twice as long as the first.

Sometimes he weaves the quotations into dialogue, or, for example turns a long extract from Descartes into a lecture given while he dissects a live chimpanzee. Creative, certainly, but it can actually make the philosophy all the harder to follow.Likewise the playfulness of Cohen's questions can sometimes leave you wondering what he's actually getting at.Above all though, its great to have some of this stuff. It's entertainment that trains you to think more intelligently about discerning right and wrong and about how you choose to act. God knows, in 2003 we need that.

If you're interested, get the first book first (unless you have a particular reason to prefer 'ethics' to 'philosophy') There'll be plenty of time to graduate to the other one when you're smitten, and write fan mail.I never did write that letter, in the end. But then neither has the book ever left my toilet side.


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