Alice in Wonderland and Philosophy : curiouser and curiouser

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  • B L A C K W E L L P H I L O S O P H Y A N D P O P C U L T U R E S E R I E SThis book has not been approved, licensed, or sponsored by any entity or person

    involved in creating or producing Alice in Wonderland, the novels or films.

    S E R I E S E D I T O R : W I L L I A M I R W I N E D I T E D B Y R I C H A R D B R I A N DAV I S




    ISBN: 978-0-470-55836-2 EAN: 9780470558362

    Should the Cheshire Cats grin make us reconsider the nature of reality?


    Can Humpty Dumpty make words mean whatever he says they mean?


    Can drugs take us down the rabbit-hole?R

    Is Alice a feminist icon?

    $17.95 USA/$21.95 CAN

    Cover Design: Paul M cCar thyCover Image: Get t y Images


    RICHARD BRIAN DAVIS is an associate professor of philosophy at Tyndale University College and the coeditor of 24 and Philosophy.

    WILLIAM IRWIN is a professor of philosophy at Kings College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. He originated the philosophy and popular culture genre of books as coeditor of the bestselling The Simpsons and Philosophy and has overseen recent titles, including Batman and Philosophy, House and Philosophy, and Watchmen and Philosophy.

    To learn more about the Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture series,visit

    Alices Adventures in Wonderland has fascinated children and adults alike for generations. Why does Lewis Carroll introduce us to such oddities as a blue caterpillar who smokes a hookah, a cat whose grin remains after its head has faded away, and a White Queen who lives backward and remembers forward? Is it all just nonsense? Was Carroll under the infl uence? This book probes the deeper underlying meaning in the Alice books and reveals a world rich with philosophical life lessons. Tapping into some of the greatest philosophical minds that ever livedAristotle, Hume, Hobbes, and NietzscheAlice in Wonderland and Philosophy explores lifes ultimate questions through the eyes of perhaps the most endearing heroine in all of literature.

    Alice IN






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    curiouser and curiouser

  • A L I C E I N W O N D E R L A N D

    A N D

    P H I L O S O P H Y

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  • The Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture SeriesSeries Editor: William Irwin

    South Park and PhilosophyEdited by Robert Arp

    Metallica and PhilosophyEdited by William Irwin

    Family Guy and PhilosophyEdited by J. Jeremy Wisnewski

    The Daily Show and PhilosophyEdited by Jason Holt

    Lost and PhilosophyEdited by Sharon Kaye

    24 and PhilosophyEdited by Richard Davis, Jennifer Hart Weed, and Ronald Weed

    Battlestar Galactica and Philosophy

    Edited by Jason T. Eberl

    The Offi ce and PhilosophyEdited by J. Jeremy Wisnewski

    Batman and PhilosophyEdited by Mark D. White and Robert Arp

    House and PhilosophyEdited by Henry Jacoby

    Watchmen and PhilosophyEdited by Mark D. White

    X-Men and PhilosophyEdited by Rebecca Housel and J. Jeremy Wisnewski

    Terminator and PhilosophyEdited by Richard Brown and Kevin Decker

    Heroes and PhilosophyEdited by David Kyle Johnson

    Twilight and PhilosophyEdited by Rebecca Housel and J. Jeremy Wisnewski

    Final Fantasy and PhilosophyEdited by Jason P. Blahuta and Michel S. Beaulieu

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  • A L I C E I N W O N D E R L A N D

    A N D

    P H I L O S O P H YC U R I O U S E R A N D C U R I O U S E R

    Edited by Richard Brian Davis

    John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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  • Copyright 2010 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved

    Published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, New JerseyPublished simultaneously in Canada

    Chapter opener design by Forty-Five Degree Design LLC

    No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or trans-mitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, scanning, or otherwise, except as permitted under Section 107 or 108 of the 1976 United States Copyright Act, without either the prior written permission of the Publisher, or authorization through payment of the appropriate per-copy fee to the Copyright Clearance Center, 222 Rosewood Drive, Danvers, MA 01923, (978) 750-8400, fax (978) 646-8600, or on the web at Requests to the Publisher for permission should be addressed to the Permissions Department, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 111 River Street, Hoboken, NJ 07030, (201) 748-6011, fax (201) 748-6008, or online at

    Limit of Liability/Disclaimer of Warranty: While the publisher and the author have used their best efforts in preparing this book, they make no representations or warranties with respect to the accuracy or completeness of the contents of this book and specifi cally disclaim any implied warranties of merchantability or fi tness for a particular purpose. No warranty may be created or extended by sales representatives or written sales materials. The advice and strategies contained herein may not be suitable for your situation. You should consult with a professional where appropriate. Neither the publisher nor the author shall be liable for any loss of profi t or any other commercial damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential, or other damages.

    For general information about our other products and services, please contact our Customer Care Department within the United States at (800) 762-2974, outside the United States at (317) 572-3993 or fax (317) 572-4002.

    Wiley also publishes its books in a variety of electronic formats. Some content that appears in print may not be available in electronic books. For more information about Wiley products, visit our web site at

    Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data:

    Alice in Wonderland and Philosophy : curiouser and curiouser / edited by Richard Brian Davis. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 978-0-470-55836-2 (pbk.) 1. Carroll, Lewis, 1832-1898. Alices adventures in Wonderland. 2. Philosophy in literature. 3. LiteraturePhilosophy. I. Davis, Richard Brian, 1963 PR4611.A73A54 2010 823' .8dc22 2009037590Printed in the United States of America

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  • v


    AC K N OW LE D G M E N T S : Its My Own InventionYeah, Right! ix

    Introduction: Youre Late for a Very Important Date 1



    1 Unruly Alice: A Feminist View of Some Adventures in Wonderland 7

    Megan S. Lloyd

    2 Jam Yesterday, Jam Tomorrow, but Never Jam Today: On Procrastination, Hiking, and . . . the Spice Girls? 19

    Mark D. White

    3 Nuclear Strategists in Wonderland 33 Ron Hirschbein

    4 Youre Nothing but a Pack of Cards!: Alice Doesnt Have a Social Contract 47

    Dennis Knepp

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  • vi



    5 Six Impossible Things before Breakfast 61 George A. Dunn and Brian McDonald

    6 Reasoning Down the Rabbit-Hole: Logical Lessons in Wonderland 79

    David S. Brown

    7 Three Ways of Getting It Wrong: Induction in Wonderland 93

    Brendan Shea

    8 Is There Such a Thing as a Language? 107 Daniel Whiting



    9 Alice, Perception, and Reality: Jell-O Mistaken for Stones 125

    Robert Arp

    10 How Deep Does the Rabbit-Hole Go?: Drugs and Dreams, Perception and Reality 137

    Scott F. Parker

    11 Perspectivism and Tragedy: A Nietzschean Interpretation of Alices Adventure 153

    Rick Mayock

    12 Wishing It Were Some Other Time: The Temporal Passage of Alice 167

    Mark W. Westmoreland

    C O N T E N T S

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  • C O N T E N T S vii



    13 Serious Nonsense 183 Charles Taliaferro and Elizabeth Olson

    14 Memory and Muchness: Alice and the Philosophy of Memory 197

    Tyler Shores

    C O N T R I B U TO R S : Pawns and Pieces: As Arranged before Commencement of Game 213

    I N D E X : Down, Down, Down: What You Will Find at the Bottom 219

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  • ix

    ACKNOWLE DG M E NTS It s My Own Invention Yeah, Right!

    Oh, I ve had such a curious dream. Since it seems as though I ve just edited a book, I d better single out a few individu-als for special praise. Thanks are due to Connie Santisteban at Wiley, who was no doubt tempted (at points) to speak the dreaded words of the White Rabbit: Oh my ears and whis-kers, how late it s getting! She didn t. And to Bill Irwin, who pushed me or rather let me jump into the rabbit hole. Working with Bill is sweet: a sort of mixed fl avour of cherry - tart, custard, pineapple, roast turkey, toffee, and hot buttered toast. And fi nally, to my daughters, Madelyn and Emma, who urged me on at every turn. My wish for you is that you would grow up to be (in Megan Lloyd s words) as unfl appable, confi -dent, assertive as Alice herself. To Madelyn and Emma Davis, I dedicate this book.

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  • 1

    INTRODUCTIONYou re Late for a Very Important Date

    You take the blue pill, Morpheus says to Neo in The Matrix , and the story ends . . . . You take the red pill and you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit - hole goes. It s a tempting offer, isn t it? For at one time or another in our lives, we ve all wanted to escape from a dull and tedious job, an impossible relationship, from a world in which we often have so little control over what happens to us. Perhaps it s for reasons such as these that our culture has become posi-tively obsessed with the idea of transcending the confi nes of this world for the cool fresh air of another. Whether it s by a red pill, a secret wardrobe, a looking glass, or a rabbit - hole, it doesn t really matter. We ll take it.

    Of course, we don t just want to know how deep the rabbit-hole goes. That s a given; after all, it s a portal to another world four thousand miles down, I think. We also want to know how to make sense of what we discover when we sud-denly land thump! thump! in Wonderland and pass through the looking glass. And Alice s Wonderland is an oh! so curious place fi lled with both dangers and delights. Here we encounter blue caterpillars who smoke hookahs, babies who turn into

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  • 2 I N T R O D U CT I O N

    pigs, cats whose grins remain after their heads have faded away, and a Mad Hatter who speaks to Time. There is a White Queen who lives backward and remembers forward, and there are trials in which the sentence is handed down fi rst with the evidence and verdict given out only afterward. And you d better be on your best behavior while there. As the Red Queen sees it, beheading is a punishment that fi ts every crime!

    We ve spoken of Wonderland s dangers, but what of its delights? Why should anyone want to travel to such a world? As Cheshire Puss tells Alice, you must be mad or you wouldn t have come here. Is Wonderland simply a land of sheer non-sense, or is there a method to Lewis Carroll s madness? Well, as the Duchess wisely observes, Everything s got a moral, if only you can fi nd it. And the moral of the book you now hold in your hands is that there are deep philosophical riches to be had in Alice s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking - Glass, answers to life s ultimate questions, if only you have the proper guide.

    You don t have to be blue, a caterpillar, or under the effects of the hookah to ask a deep question like Who in the world am I? As Alice says, That s the great puzzle! Indeed it is. How can I know whether this or that job is right for me , if I don t know who me is ? Indeed, how can I know what I can become in the future? (Hardly any of us, I dare say, is satisfi ed with who we are at present.) And to know the answers to these questions, I must know who I have been . I must remember. But that s often my problem: I forget. What to do? What to do? The Alice - addicted philosophers in this book will clear the air of the hookah smoke and forward you the decryption codes for unlocking your personal identity. And you ll be glad they did.

    As you read on, you ll be amazed to discover why nice girls don t make history (and Alice is better than any Disney princess); what the Red Queen can teach us about nuclear strategy; whether we should do more with mushrooms than

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  • just eat them (and what sort of trip to expect if we do); and how Alice, procrastination, and the Spice Girls are all mysteri-ously connected. What a curious feeling! You can put it all together for the fi rst time. So Read Me . Venture to taste this book, and if fi nding it very nice, we recommend that you very soon fi nish it off.

    YO U ' R E L AT E F O R A V E RY I M P O R TA N T DAT E 3

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  • P A R T O N E


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  • 7



    M egan S. L loyd

    Come to class ready to discuss and defend your favorite fairy - tale heroine, I told my students in Unruly Women through the Ages. The course began as a survey of feminist arche-types and issues, but it quickly became a forum for a group of rather unruly female students aged eighteen to twenty - two to discuss candidly topics such as date rape, abortion, sexual harassment, battered women, male and female relationships, anorexia and bulimia, and what it means to be a woman today. For one class period, we turned to the realm of fairy tales. To my initial question, I expected students to write about Little Red Riding Hood or Goldilocks, but most students chose a Disney princess Cinderella, Ariel, Belle, Mulan, mostly unruly females going against the fl ow of male rules imposed upon them. Two students, however, chose Alice as their favorite unruly fairy tale character. They argued that

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  • 8 M E G A N S . L LOY D

    Alice, unlike other fairy - tale heroines, requires no fairy god-mother, huntsman, or good fairy just her own wits and ingenuity to navigate through Wonderland successfully, keeping her head intact. My students know Alice not through Carroll but through Disne...


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