*One of the Christian Science Monitor's 10 best books of May*
From a University of Michigan professor of law and philosophy, a fresh, deep, and funny inquiry into life’s biggest questions with the help of first-rate philosophers—including his two young children
Some of the best philosophers in the world gather in surprising places—preschools and playgrounds. They debate questions about metaphysics and morality, even though they’ve never heard the words and perhaps can’t even tie their shoes. They’re kids. And as Scott Hershovitz shows in this delightful debut, they’re astoundingly good philosophers.
Hershovitz has two young sons, Rex and Hank. From the time they could talk, he noticed that they raised philosophical questions and were determined to answer them. They re-created ancient arguments. And they advanced entirely new ones. That’s not unusual, Hershovitz says. Every kid is a philosopher.
Following an agenda set by Rex and Hank, Hershovitz takes us on a fun romp through classic and contemporary philosophy, powered by questions like, Does Hank have the right to drink soda? When is it okay to swear? and, Does the number six exist? Hershovitz and his boys take on more weighty issues too. They explore punishment, authority, sex, gender, race, the nature of truth and knowledge, and the existence of God. Along the way, they get help from professional philosophers, famous and obscure. And they show that all of us have a lot to learn from listening to kids—and thinking with them.
Hershovitz calls on us to support kids in their philosophical adventures. But more than that, he challenges us to join them so that we can become better, more discerning thinkers and recapture some of the wonder kids have at the world.
About the Author
Scott Hershovitz is director of the Law and Ethics Program and professor of law and philosophy at the University of Michigan. He holds a BA in philosophy and politics from the University of Georgia, a JD from Yale Law School, and a D.Phil. from the University of Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. Professor Hershovitz served as a law clerk for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg of the U.S. Supreme Court. He is married to Julie Kaplan, a social worker, whom he met at summer camp. They live in Ann Arbor with their two children, Rex and Hank.
“By wryly recounting conversations he has with Rex and Hank during bath time, before bed, on the way to and home from school, Hershovitz sets out to prove that philosophy, like inquisitive, rowdy children, can offer illuminating insights . . . From his perspective, a mind that's most receptive to complexities and compassion would likely belong to a child, someone, I presume, a lot like the little prince in Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's unforgettable classic. Perhaps Hershovitz is like the fox figure who tells the little prince (and us) his ‘simple secret,’ that ‘it is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.’"—Thúy Đinh, NPR
“Delightful . . . Witty and self-deprecating, Nasty, Brutish, and Short explores the wonder that young kids bring to their efforts to make sense of the world—and what grown-ups can learn from it.” —Barbara Spindel, Christian Science Monitor
“Hershovitz . . . mixes wit and wisdom in this thoroughly enjoyable philosophical tour that uses conversations with the author’s two sons to demonstrate that 'anyone can do philosophy and every kid does’ . . . Fun anecdotes abound, and Hershovitz demonstrates how to engage children by taking them seriously, teaching them to ask questions, and encouraging them to explore the world—things adults can learn from, as well. This sincere and smart account puts to rest the idea that philosophy belongs in academia’s ivory tower.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Equal parts hilarious (for years, Hank kept up a facade of not knowing the alphabet to worry his dad) and profound (4-year-old Rex: ‘I think that, for real, God is pretend, and for pretend, God is real’) . . . clear and lively . . . A playful yet serious introduction to philosophy.” —Kirkus
“This book made me laugh and also think hard, sometimes on the same page. Highly recommended for anyone with kids, especially kids who wonder ‘Why?’” —Emily Oster, bestselling author of The Family Firm
“This is the only parenting book I would insist everyone read, whether they have kids or not. Hershovitz is a total delight—energetic, compassionate, patient, wise, and very, very funny, even when he is talking about weighty or difficult ideas. I'm grateful to have him as a model for how to talk to my children and how to think alongside them.” —Merve Emre, author of The Personality Brokers
“Funny and fascinating. Prompted by conversations with his two young sons, Scott Hershovitz walks us through some of philosophy’s stickiest questions: Does the universe go on forever? Can we really know anything? Is it ok to use swear words? Should you take revenge? Nasty, Brutish, and Short is an easy-to-read primer on how to discuss these profound topics with children, and how to think about them yourself.” —Pamela Druckerman, author of Bringing Up Bébé
“In his witty and learned book Nasty, Brutish, and Short, Hershovitz intertwines parenting and philosophy, recounting his spirited arguments with his kids about infinity, morality, and the existence of God, and teaching half a liberal arts curriculum along the way.” —Jordan Ellenberg, New York Times bestselling author of Shape
“This delightful book is about philosophy and, ultimately, how to better love your kids. Want to cherish them, respect them, help them learn? Then join them in their natural wonderment and enjoy the philosophical fun!” —Aaron James, bestselling author of Assholes: A Theory and Professor of Philosophy at UC Irvine
“This book will teach you how to transform the endless questions of childhood into the endless wonder of philosophy.” —Barry Lam, Host and Executive Producer, Hi-Phi Nation podcast, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Vassar College