Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know” (pdf) by Rachael Briggs and Daniel Nolan is the most enjoyable philosophy paper I’ve ever read (which is not saying much, but on the other hand is not saying nothing, since I did take a philosophy class or two in college); it’s only two pages, and I can practically guarantee you won’t regret the time spent. (Only technical vocabulary needed: “iff” = “if and only if.”)
Briggs also writes poetry; here (pdf) is a sonnet cycle in which all the rhymes are identical, which comes off better than one would have thought. (Both pdf links via Anatoly.)


  1. This seems to be a constant in analytical philosophy: bone dry meets bat feces. Linguistics used to be that way too.

  2. But then we had Scholz & Pullum, sometimes known as Pullum & Scholz, who did both at once and made it funville. I mean, how can you dislike a paper entitled “Irrational nativist exuberance”? (The first two pages are just the title page of the book in which it was printed.) Many of Pullum’s papers are pretty durn funny too.
    I was once in St. Mark’s Books (hey, that’s what we call it here in the ‘hood), where I had bought the latest Dennett book as well as some science-fiction novels. The clerk made some remark, I forget what, and I said, “I don’t like to say this, because it makes me sound like a snob, but actually I buy Dennett’s books because he’s a fun read.” The clerk shook his head slowly several times, muttering “A fun read”. Dennett’s online papers.
    Raymond Smullyan is in a class by himself: his books speak for him. He once said that his favorite philosopher was Ferdinand the Bull, at which point a positivist tried to convince him that a philosopher is necessarily human.
    Lastly, for those who (unlike our Hat) have read too much analytic philosophy, there is this thing (although it inexplicably makes no mention of insane vampires).

  3. Thanks for the links to Dennett’s online papers. I just read “Sakes and Dints”, a nice piece by him in this week’s TLS.
    As to the insane vampires missing from “Tissues in the Profession: Can Bad Men Make Good Brains Do Bad Things?”: the title reminded me of something from Dennett’s TLS article:

    But as one of my heroes, Donald Hebb, once said, “If it isn’t worth doing, it isn’t worth doing well”. I think we have to admit that there are quite a few philosophers who do very well what they do, executing their self-assigned tasks with cleverness, technical proficiency and rigour, but are engaged in an enterprise that’s just not worth doing.

  4. After just now wading through the author’s publication with the title The Metaphysics of Chance, I have further evidence that Hebb is right – there are well-written papers on topics well worth writing about, yet those papers are not worth reading.

  5. Thanks for the mention, Language Hat!
    Here is a cool fact: The article has a coauthor, Daniel Nolan.
    Here is the embarrassing fact: I managed to upload the anonymous version of the paper to the website, thus making it much less obvious to the casual observer that Daniel deserves half the credit.
    Could you please fix the author credit for the article in the original post?

  6. *Here is an embarrassing fact, rather.
    Another embarrassing fact is the rate at which I manage to make silly typos.

  7. Could you please fix the author credit for the article in the original post?
    Nothing would give me greater pleasure, and I’m glad you dropped by.

  8. I will agree that not only is Dennett a truly fun read, but he’s so fun that sometimes my philosophical inferiority complex concludes that he can’t be a serioius philosopher because I always enjoy and am intellectually delighted by his works.

  9. Z.D.: That’s part of the general prejudice, which goes back to post-Aristotelian times, that there’s something inherently lacking in comedy, namely seriousness (that is, we conflate seriousness and solemnity). If only we actually had Aristotle on the subject, things would have been very different; see The Name of the Rose.

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