Does Santa Exist?: A Philosophical Investigation

By Eric Kaplan

(Dutton, $29, 288 pages)

Who is this author?

Eric Kaplan is a co-executive producer of (and writer for) the CBS sitcom The Big Bang Theory. Before that, he was a writer for The Late Show with David Letterman, Futurama, and Flight of the Concords, so he knows comedy. He has a degree from Harvard and is currently completing his dissertation in philosophy at UC Berkeley, so he is a scholar of philosophy. This book allows him to draw on both kinds of knowledge.

What is this book about?

If we all know Santa is not real – and we do – then how come so many of us believe in him anyway, or persuade our kids to? In this book, a writer and producer of the very popular Big Bang Theory sets out to explore the paradox of real vs. not real, and uses it as a clever jumping off point to explain some basic workings of philosophy. He explores how mysticism, Buddhism, Taoism, early Christianity, Theosophy and current philosophers have handled such confusing material, yet manages to keep the discussion merry and bright.

Why you’ll like it:

Is there anyone who has not pondering the Santa Claus paradox, or struggled with deciding when to admit to the kiddies that the Jolly Old Elf is actually Mom and Dad? Kaplan uses this familiar doorway to take readers deep into the thickets of philosophy, but he does it with humor and insight. Unwrap this one at your leisure and enjoy. Ho, Ho, Ho.

What others are saying:

From Barnes & Noble: “For most adults, ontological questions about Santa were solved long ago, but for philosopher Eric Kaplan, that childhood conundrum has more than lingering interest. Make no mistake: His inquiry is no sooty retake of a yuletide chimney slide; he regards “the Santa question” as a stimulating takeoff point for reopening age-long debates about the real and the unreal. For readers, his North Pole excursions are as entertaining as they are provocative and even Scrooge himself can enjoy the detours that bring Monty Python and The Big Bang Theory into the picture. One stocking stuffer that won’t be forgotten.”

The New York Times Book Review says: “an equally earnest and witty effort to explore the conflicts between reason and faith, logic and mysticism, science and religion—the usual strange bedfellows…[ Kaplan] has a rare gift for explicating jokes without leeching all the fun out of them.“

Publishers Weekly says: “Comedy writer, philosophy scholar, and co-executive producer of the hit show The Big Bang Theory, Kaplan begins his elliptical examination of the ontology of Santa Claus by introducing readers to a conundrum he faced when his son began kindergarten: how to deal with other parents who didn’t want Kaplan’s son telling their children that Santa didn’t exist. Does he let his son spoil the illusion and potentially sacrifice his school friendships, or should he encourage him to go along with the myth in an effort to fit in with most of his peers? This simple question quickly unfolds into a much larger examination of perspective, and Kaplan brings in myriad branches of philosophy and other tools to tackle the slippery subjects of existence, duality, and rationality. Socratic dialogues, fairy tales, and humor (not to mention a brief examination of humor itself) enliven the discussion and keep the reader engaged. Even fans of The Big Bang Theory brand of humor may be surprised by the density of the conversations here, but Kaplan’s deft examination of a simple contradiction manages to be both entertaining and enlightening—often simultaneously. Regardless of how readers will answer Kaplan’s titular question after emerging from this philosophical rabbit hole, they’ll likely end up appreciating the journey.”

Says Kirkus Reviews: “The acclaimed comedy writer and co-executive producer of The Big Bang Theory presents a unique and peculiar philosophical inquiry into the belief in Santa Claus. . . . Thus the problem of Santa becomes one of self-contradiction, and this type of paradox is a common plague to logicians. However, the attempts of other philosophers to escape this paradox are unsatisfactory to Kaplan, and he explores the mystic tradition as an alternative. In mysticism, paradox is a fundamental tool for understanding how we exist; therefore, it does not rely on practical rationality. Using Buddhism as his primary source, Kaplan explains how self-contradiction could be embraced to justify both the existence of Santa and his nonexistence. But the ever diligent author encounters a similar paradox in mysticism, seemingly justifying a dangerous relativism in which all that is correct is equally incorrect and vice versa. To bridge the paradoxes of logic and mysticism, Kaplan suggests comedy, at least “good” comedy, as a way to “approach the unavoidable contradictions in our life.” (After all, Santa is a jolly fellow.) As he teases out this synthesis, the author’s argument is both thought-provoking and, at times, less than convincing, but he proves to be an engaging thinker whose musings are always provocative. Kaplan’s investigation into the ontology of Santa Claus is erudite, readable and exceedingly funny.”

When is it available?

Santa has dropped off a copy at the Downtown Hartford Public Library.

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