Picks and Pans Review: Spotlight On...pop Philosophy

updated 04/07/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/07/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

>You might remember Socrates from such books as Plato's Dialogues. Or you could just catch up with his concepts on The Simpsons. "Lisa is like Socrates because she is always criticizing everyone's ideas," says Eric Branson, a professor at New York City's Berkeley College and a contributor to The Simpsons and Philosophy (Open Court, $17.95), a collection of essays that uses the show to explain classic philosophy. Branson adds that baby Maggie reminds him of Heidegger (who argued in favor of silence) and Bart must be a fan of Schopenhauer: "He has this line, 'This is the worst of all possible worlds.' "

The book, which its publisher says has sold 170,000 copies, is one in a series of surprisingly popular volumes that plumb the unexplored metaphysical depths of assorted pop cultural works. Books on Seinfeld and The Matrix are already out, a Buffy the Vampire Slayer edition is due this month, and a Woody Allen text is in the works. "Rather than ask students for examples from Macbeth, we found Seinfeld to be better for illustration," says King's College (Pa.) philosophy professor William Irwin, 32, an editor of the series. Socrates, adds Branson, used to pal around with actors: "If he were alive today, he would take a trip to Hollywood to speak to comedians and TV executives."

All of which is worth a giggle to The Simpsons'head writer, Al Jean: "What's ironic is that it's a college-level discussion of issues on a show written by people who spent their college days not going to class." Noah Isackson

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