Children’s philosophy book series cancelled
Jimmy Becker is a curious and determined eight-year-old. That determination, however, is getting him into trouble. “What’s the point of life if everything I do is already fixed by the laws of nature and prior conditions?” His mother lets out a sigh.
“He’s been talking like this ever since he read that book,” says Ms. Becker. “That book” is Billiards, Bugs and Brains, part of the Philosophy for Kids series from Random House. With brightly colored pictures and monosyllabic words, Billiards explores the deterministic behavior of the natural world, including the world of human thought and action.
“And it’s not just talk,” adds Jimmy’s father. “He’s acting out in class, fighting with his sister — even stealing money from my wallet.” Jimmy shakes his head. “My parents say I’m becoming irresponsible, but I think I’m just coming to understand that I was never really responsible to begin with.”
For her part, Claire Becker hasn’t been sleeping well since her brother brought home David Has a Problem from the school library. “I’m afraid zombies are metaphysically possible,” says Claire. Mr. Becker nods knowingly. “When I was a kid I was afraid of monsters, too.”
The problem at the Becker house isn’t an isolated incident. In fact, their neighbors across the street are dealing with a similar issue after purchasing Donald and the Swampman, another book from the series. “How can I believe that my thoughts are meaningful if I don’t have a plausible theory of mental content?” asks a distressed Jill Eisen, age twelve. “One day at dinner I asked her what she was thinking about, and she said ‘I don’t know!’ and burst into tears,” explains Jill’s mother. “I should have known not to buy her a book with such a scary-sounding title.”
Facing lagging sales and an increasing number of angry parents, Random House has announced that the series won’t be continued. While titles already published won’t be pulled from the shelves, there will be no additional printings and production will be halted on several books in progress.
The news comes as a shock to Rita Alvarez, one of the series’ main authors. “I was very careful not to include anything that might frighten children: no evil demons, no involuntary organ transplants, no Pascal’s Wager. We even decided not to go ahead with Schrödinger’s Cat in the Hat just to be safe,” explains Alvarez, referencing what would have been the latest in the Classic Remakes line of Philosophy for Kids. The remakes, which have been particularly controversial, include Goodnight Moon: Nuclear Winter and War in the 21st Century, Alice in Wonderland: Cognitive Liberty and Psychedelics, and The Very Hungry Caterpillar: Cannibalism and Disaster Ethics.