A Theory of Jerks and Other Philosophical Misadventures

A Theory of Jerks and Other Philosophical Misadventures

By Eric Schwitzgebel

A collection of quirky, entertaining, and reader-friendly short pieces on philosophical topics that range from a theory of jerks to the ethics of ethicists.





A collection of quirky, entertaining, and reader-friendly short pieces on philosophical topics that range from a theory of jerks to the ethics of ethicists.

Have you ever wondered about why some people are jerks? Asked whether your driverless car should kill you so that others may live? Found a robot adorable? Considered the ethics of professional ethicists? Reflected on the philosophy of hair? In this engaging, entertaining, and enlightening book, Eric Schwitzgebel turns a philosopher's eye on these and other burning questions. In a series of quirky and accessible short pieces that cover a mind-boggling variety of philosophical topics, Schwitzgebel offers incisive takes on matters both small (the consciousness of garden snails) and large (time, space, and causation).

A common theme might be the ragged edge of the human intellect, where moral or philosophical reflection begins to turn against itself, lost among doubts and improbable conclusions. The history of philosophy is humbling when we see how badly wrong previous thinkers have been, despite their intellectual skills and confidence. (See, for example, “Kant on Killing Bastards, Masturbation, Organ Donation, Homosexuality, Tyrants, Wives, and Servants.”) Some of the texts resist thematic categorization—thoughts on the philosophical implications of dreidels, the diminishing offensiveness of the most profane profanity, and fatherly optimism—but are no less interesting.

Schwitzgebel has selected these pieces from the more than one thousand that have appeared since 2006 in various publications and on his popular blog, The Splintered Mind, revising and updating them for this book. Philosophy has never been this much fun.


$27.95 T ISBN: 9780262043090 384 pp. | 5.375 in x 8 in 14 b&w illus.


$19.95 T ISBN: 9780262539593 384 pp. | 5.375 in x 8 in 14 b&w illus.


  • "Schwitzgebel's excellent and accessible philosophy in A Theory of Jerks and Other Philosophical Misadventures would be great at parties -- just open up to any random three-page essay, read it aloud, and let the conversation flow."


  • In a sense this book is just the tip of the iceberg of this philosopher's public working through of ideas that really matter or really interest him. What you get, cumulatively, is a glimpse of an incredibly fertile mind.



  • “A lively, wide-ranging, and original collection of short essays from Eric Schwitzgebel, whose mind seems to fizz with ideas. Highly recommended.”

    Nigel Warburton

    author of A Little History of Philosophy

  • “This book isn't really about jerks; it's about minds in all their quirky glory. Schwitzgebel thinks hard about what it is for flawed creatures such as ourselves to live a good life, about how philosophers may or may not live up to their ideals, and about ways in which consciousness might be stretched to its limits in humans and machines. The book is full of provocative thought experiments and insightful arguments that will make you think about yourself in ways you haven't thought before.”

    David Chalmers

    University Professor of Philosophy and Codirector of the Center for Mind, Brain, and Consciousness, NYU

  • “Consciousness, the multiverse, what it all means … This book features fifty-eight bite-sized gems from a leading philosopher. Simply put: a joy to read.”

    Susan Schneider

    NASA Chair, Library of Congress, and author of Artificial You: AI and the Future of Your Mind

  • “Eric Schwitzgebel represents an almost extinct philosophical type: a humble, humane, down-to-earth soul, with a knack for thinking out loud and clearly about pretty much anything. Curiosity abounds, as does good humor, and a measured dose of existential anxiety as Schwitzgebel wonders about everything from the nature of space, time, and consciousness, to the possibility that we are not very good at detecting our moral blind spots and our excellences at being jerks.  A collection to keep nearby and savor for anyone who likes to think along with a really smart philosopher.”

    Owen Flanagan

    author of Consciousness Reconsidered and The Bodhisattva's Brain

  • “Schwitzgebel's short pieces are clever and entertaining, and they fill perfectly the need for a little insight in a chaotic world. These essays should occupy any coffee table for readers wanting bursts of insights wrapped in humor and cleverness. Infuriatingly clever and joyfully observational, these writings mix a comedian's charm with a philosopher's wit and depth.”

    Barry Lam

    Associate Professor of Philosophy, Vassar College, and host, Hi-Phi Nation podcast on Slate