Is It Murder?

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Philosophy professors are getting bumped off.

Humble grad student Jeff Harrison sets out to apprehend the killer while unravelling a few of the mysteries of Western philosophy in the process.

It’s not all blood and guts and dead professors. You’ll meet:

• Johann the paralogical custodian

• Watson the behaviorist cat

• Minerva’s opinionated owl

• Facticus Maximus, an Ancient Roman who sets out to know everything that could be known (and dies a miserable, tormented soul).

Converse with cantankerous philosopher-spirits from Plato and Descartes to Beauvoir and Wittgenstein, who seem to think they know more than our narrator about how to solve a murder mystery.

Visit the Temple of Logic, Paradox Cafe (where all the waiters are liars), Logico’s Diner (Home of the Hot & Hunky Humeburger), and Club Pascal – the hottest philosophical nightspot in the tri-county area.

Play a round of Hermeneutical Jeopardy and watch an episode of Philosophy Court, the top-rated shows on the Metaphysical Channel.

You’ll even learn some Western philosophy along the way. But take note – there will be a pop quiz in each chapter!

Warning! Contents Under Pressure!

Not to be taken internally except on the advice of your metaphysician!


“The funniest philosophy book since Spinoza!” – P. Bayle, Paris

“Laughter is just a conditioned response.” – B. Skinner, Cambridge

“Affirms the value of logic in solving murder mysteries.” – S. Holmes, London

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Chapter Five & Epilog

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Back in my garret, I splashed cold water on my face. If I didn’t get some studying done, I was going to fall hopelessly behind.

But as I stared at my books – especially the annotated version of Mr. Levinas’ Totality and Infinity, which was assigned for the next day’s Hermeneutics class – my eyes blurred. With a title like that, you had to wonder how you’d ever reach the end.

I splashed more water across my face to no avail. The futon called to me like a lumpy lullabye.

As I pulled off my shoes and shorts, I formulated a plan. Go to bed now and sleep for a while, then get up around midnight and do some serious studying.

No sooner had I hit the pillow than I was wide awake. I reached up and pushed the window Continue reading “Chapter Five & Epilog”

Chapter Four

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Mr. Zeitenschreiber’s untimely death occupied my troubled yet inquisitive mind as I stirred up a big glass of Ovaltine that evening.

The police were calling Mr. Zeitenschreiber’s death an accident, but I knew better. He died in precisely the same place as Mr. Testascrittore. Both victims were deeply concerned with questions of existence. And in each case, the skull had been crushed by a heavy, blunt object.

My first instinct was to suspect a serial murderer.

But on closer consideration I realized that the modus operandi were entirely different. Whereas Mr. Testascrittore had been killed by the Cambridge Compleat Dictionary of Philosophy (Unabridged), Mr. Zeitenschreiber met his fate at the hands of the Oxford One-Volume Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Continue reading “Chapter Four”

Chapter Three

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The harsh glare of the overhead bulb made the irregularities of my garret ceiling look like the surface of the moon. Yet despite the brightness overhead, the ends of my hallway abode were shrouded in shadows.

I sat on the edge of the futon and picked up my soiled socks from earlier in the day. Under the bare bulb, the mud from the villa looked more yellowish than in the sunlight. Was it the same as that on Mr. Zeitenschreiber’s shoe?

Closing my eyes, I tried to call back the image of his shoe. But the colors weren’t stable. Even when I did think the color matched my sock, I couldn’t tell if it was a memory or an overactive imagination.

I was back to the post-Lockean quandary: if perception and memory and imagination are Continue reading “Chapter Three”

Chapter Two

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Back in my garret I leafed through the manuscript of The Being of Nothingness and the Nothingness of Being (Part II), struggling to decipher the nearly-illegible scrawl.

That I was in possession of the treasured document was the result of a hasty and perhaps not entirely sagacious decision that the irreplaceable pages were better in my hands than lying prey to a would-be philosophy thief. Once I got my bearings and figured out whom I could trust, I would pass the manuscript on to more worthy hands.

Of course, if I got caught with the priceless handwritten manuscript my name would be mud in philosophy texts for the next millennium. Regardless of my later prodigious achievements in numerous and varied fields and the notable awards that might inevitably accrue to me, the opprobrium of attempting to steal Mr. Testascrittore’s proof would cling to my name.

Maybe I should quickly change my name. That way the mud would bespatter the new Continue reading “Chapter Two”

Chapter One

This in not the beginning of the book – read the short Prologue first!

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I shifted restlessly in my back-row seat. When was the orientation going to start?

According to the graduate assistant, Mr. Testascrittore would arrive momentarily. However many times he had delivered his annual orientation lecture, the distinguished professor was said to be as punctual as the celebrated Mr. Kant, by whose comings and goings neighbors set their watches.

Who set their watch by hand any longer? Still, the graduate assistant (one Perkins) assured us that it was a most extraordinary occasion that Mr. Testascrittore, whom all of us were on the edge of our chair-desks to meet, was running late for his first lecture of the year.

But was it so unusual after all? The only evidence we had was Perkins’ word. On what basis was he asserting this state of affairs? His memory?

How could he assert that his memory was an adequate gauge of the entirety of reality?

In fact, on what grounds did this Perkins fellow even assert that Mr. Testascrittore Continue reading “Chapter One”

Dramatis Situationis

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Opening Date: Sunday September 15 – opening of Fall semester

Location: Terre Haute, Indiana – epicenter of Western philosophy

Narrator: Jeff Harrison, humble yet perspicacious grad student recently moved from Berkeley to Terre Haute to study epistemology

Epistemology: from Greek episteme = knowledge, from epistanai = to understand, know (epi- + histanai to cause to stand) – the study of the nature and grounds of knowledge, especially with reference to its limits and validity.

In colloquial terms: How can I be sure I really know what I think I know? Assuming I know something, how can I know what it is that I know? Even if I figure that out, how do I know that I have successfully communicated said knowledge to another person, and that the other person indeed knows the same knowledge that I know? And so on and so forth.

On to the Prologue


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Solve the mystery before Jeff! The Prologue contains the key clues.

We begin with a body.

A corpse, one might be tempted to say, given the ashen complexion and inanimate contortions of the limbs.

However, such an assertion would go beyond strictly empirical evidence into the realm of conjecture.

True, all signs pointed to the body being a corpse, and pragmatic semiotics might find such a reading inescapable.

But perhaps this interpretation is circular, with the conclusion implicit in the premises – a dilemma all too common in the Western tradition.

Such conundrums and problematics make up the subject matter of our tale, in which our intrepid detective undertakes not only to bring a desperate manuscript thief to justice, but along the way to unravel a few of the mysteries of Western philosophy.

* * *

To call the body a corpse carries more than a hint of murder. And murder implies a murderer, a logical inference the authorities were doing their best to deny.

Campus police declared the case a tragic accident: a matter of a large and poorly-shelved book succumbing to the iron law of gravitational attraction at a most inopportune moment.

The instrument of death?

The Cambridge Compleat Dictionary of Philosophy (Unabridged). The mighty compendium of knowledge had left its all-too-obvious imprint on the fallen professor’s skull.

The victim?

The leading light of Western philosophy – Phineas Q. Testascrittore, Regius Professor of Recombinative Sartrics, who was about to leave his office to deliver the orientation lecture at the West Central Indiana Institute for the Hermeneutical Phenomenology of Interdisciplinary Post-Relativism.

Only grudgingly did the august professor fulfill the onerous annual obligation. The necessity of interacting with students was a burden on his brilliant mind, a distraction from his true calling: to provide an airtight proof of his own existence.

* * *

The task of proving one’s existence stood as the Holy Grail of Western philosophy, an historically-inflected riposte to the debilitating nihilism of the Postmodern era.

Mr. Testascrittore was known to be on the verge of supplying the long-sought proof, which would crown his magnum opus: The Being of Nothingness and the Nothingness of Being (Part II).

He had been reviewing his most recent formulations, poring over a handwritten manuscript (Mr. Testascrittore being notorious for his refusal to use a typewriter, let alone a computer) in which he had sketched the latest draft of the proof of his own existence.

He had just tucked away the manuscript for safe-keeping when a familiar visitor entered the office.

Without a word the guest lifted the massive philosophical dictionary from the bookshelf and walked over behind Mr. Testascrittore.

* * *

How many times in history has a brilliant discovery, an epoch-making deduction, or an incredibly fortuitous hunch been snuffed by the cold hand of icy-fingered death?

Too late Mr. Testascrittore realized his visitor’s maleficent intent. As the full weight of Cambridgian scholarship slammed into his skull, the doyen of contemporary Sartrics was overwhelmed by the ultimate existential irony – that he had succeeded in proving his own existence at the very moment that he ceased to exist.

Darkness curling around his consciousness, he summoned his last reserve of strength. Dimly he recalled a popular novel read in some distant airport where the victim contorted his expiring body to leave a string of clues.

Professor Testascrittore staggered to his desk and grabbed a copy of Jean-Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness in his right hand. As blood dripped from his head onto the book, he flung out his left hand toward a classical marble bust.

Facing the largest bookcase, Mr. Testascrittore made a final heroic effort to tuck his right foot behind his left knee.

Then he leaned back and with a deep groan crashed lifeless to the floor.

And now – on with the novel!


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This glossary is not an expert commentary, but a guide to how these terms are used in this book.

Possibly this book will become the standard by which all of Western philosophy is assessed, in which case, this list will prove an invaluable cheat-sheet.

Analytic Philosophy (aka Logical Positivism): fact-based twentieth-century trend which grew out of nineteenth century Positivism. They share a concern with “just the facts” that typifies much science writing. Analytic philosophers tend to be concerned with logical Continue reading “Glossary”