Pooh and the Philosophers - John Tyerman Williams
Having read The Tao of Pooh, I came across this book by accident in a bookshop and bought it on impulse. The premise of the book is that the stories of Winnie the Pooh and the House at Pooh Corner contain the whole of western philosophy. The book examines how key ideas from the thinking of Plato through to the existentialists is described through these two stories. Indeed given that these stories were published in 1926 and 1928 a number of more recent philosophers are shown to have provided either footnotes to the Pooh stories or have expounded them.
The first thing to say is that this is an enjoyable, fun and eminently readable book. I initially approached it with some scepticism and for the first part of the book harboured the fear that I may be the subject of a joke on the basis that given enough analysis the London tube timetable can probably be shown to have the key thoughts of Karl Marx or be shown to predict the date of the apocalypse. As I read through the book however I became more and more drawn into the underpinning ideas of what I had previously seen as children’s stories and to my surprise found that through them I was adding considerably to my understanding of the philosophers thinking.
As I began to accept the argument of a philosophical basis to the stories my intrigue switched to the nature of communicating ideas. A.A. Milne it appears had taken the extremely dry and largely inaccessible topic of philosophy and packaged it up in the most accessible of children’s stories. If this is what he has done, then maybe he was just too clever since most readers of Winnie the Pooh have no idea that they are reading about philosophy. Of course this is probably a virtue since many readers would run a mile if they thought they were invited to read a philosophy book. For other readers who want to have the philosophy pointed out to them perhaps Milne set out to sow a seed which has taken 75 years to germinate and now be revealed in this book.
The book establishes a convincing case that the thinking of western philosophy is contained in these apparently simple stories. Interesting though this is, more importantly it has revealed a great deal of insight about the nature of communicating ideas.
The ability to achieve improvement is in large part determined by the way in which we think. Understanding how to communicate ideas and change thinking is thus critically important. This book provides an insightful glimpse into the use of stories to communicate complex ideas. More importantly just as the Winnie the Pooh stories do, it does so in a way that you learn almost by accident without feeling you had to try.
If you want to learn about thinking without having to feel that you have to think, or would like to understand philosophy without the need to read a philosophy book then this is the book for you.
January 1 2004.