Book review of Nasty, Brutish, and Short - Adventures in philosophy with my kids by Scott Hershovitz
When wisdom and parenting advice intersect in such a delightful philosophical and practical manner in Nasty, Brutish, and Short - Adventures in philosophy with my kids, readers will be rewarded with playful, fun, and meaningful conversations between the author and his two sons Rex and Hank that they can also practice with their children.
With a funny title originating from Thomas Hobbes, a contemporary of Locke, the book is a perfect example of why life would be: "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short" if it weren't for the engaging conversations between the author and his "nasty, brutish, and short" kids, who are also cute, funny, kind, and clever.
And although the book is a fun lesson in philosophy with wise reflections on morality, knowledge, truth, and God, to mention a few, made by Socrates, Pascal, Descartes, and Bertrand Russell, as well as modern-day thinkers, such as Thomas Nagel and David Chalmers, the parenting lessons that Scott Hershovitz sprinkles all throughout the book really stood out to me. Besides, the premise of the book is centered upon the idea that kids are good philosophers.
"Every kid - every single one - is a philosopher. ...They stop when they grow up. Indeed, it may be that part of what it is to grow up is to stop doing philosophy and to start doing something more practical. If that's true, then I'm not fully grown up, which will come as a surprise to exactly no one who knows me." - Scott Hershovitz
However, talking and listening to our children is practical and will help us all become better, more attentive, and more inspiring parents. For instance, in one of the many curious and clever conversations between the father/author and his sons, Hershovitz wrote:
"Do you think we matter?" I asked Rex one day as we were talking about the scale of the universe. He was ten.
"No, I don't think so," he said.
"There is just so much out there," Rex said. "I don't see why we'd matter.
...After a while, I asked: "Can I punch you in the face?"
"No," he said, surprised.
"Why not?" I asked. "It doesn't matter."
"It matters to me," he said with a smile.
..."From the outside, everything we do looks futile. Even if we succeed, it just gets washed away. But from the inside, even the smallest things can seem significant. We don't matter. But things matter to us."
From this dialogue, Hershovitz connects his philosophical and quizzical discussion with his son to Thomas Nagel, the American philosopher, who taught philosophy at New York University. Nagel said that worrying about our looks, clothes, and careers won't matter in the end, for we are insignificant, which we all know. Yet, we carry on as if it matters, which can easily lead us to life's absurdity. However, Hershovitz illustrates through stories, parables, and examples that having inquisitive conversations with our kids makes life matter.
We matter. Words and questions matter.
With conversations that cover issues of morality, God, and relativism, the parenting advice in this book is simple and quite powerful: encourage your children to be curious thinkers, for they can do philosophy with or without parents.
Ways for parents to raise philosopher kids
As Hershovitz points out, parents raise and support philosopher children when they do the following:
1. Talk to your children.
2. Ask them questions and question their answers.
3. Reason with their children and resist telling them what to think.
4. Raise a person who thinks.
5. Do not attempt to extinguish a child's inquisitive nature.
6. Ask children questions, such as "what do you think?", "why do you think so?", "what do you mean by...?", "can you think of reasons you might be wrong?", and so on.
With a book that aims but cannot answer so many questions, Hershovitz encourages the readers to take advantage of their power of asking questions and "show the strangeness and wonder lying just below the surface even in the commonest things of daily life."
To connect with Scott Hershovitz, please follow him: Scott Hershovitz (@shershovitz) / Twitter Scott Hershovitz (@shershovitz) • Instagram photos and videos
Also to find out more about having fun with philosophy as parents and how to raise a philosopher child, listen to a recent interview on Seeds of Sunshine, released on July 20, 2022.
Disclaimer: Seeds of Sunshine is Carmen Micsa's multigenerational podcast that she started together with her daughter.