If eavesdropping on the banalities of the cerebrally-challenged on Big Brother is as hard as you want to push your own thought, you can stop reading now, and give Julian Baggini's latest book a wide berth too. The Pig That Wants to be Eaten is designed for those who enjoy stretching their synapses to their limits, for whom hard thinking, paradox, and the revelation of the dire logical consequences of hasty opinion are pleasures in themselves. Not that this book is intellectually weighty. It is written in a breezy and accessible style, but the 'thought experiments' that are it's subject are there to make you think hard. The book seeks to achieve this by exploring the splendidly imaginative, entertaining and often downright silly examples philosophers have devised to help think through deep philosophical questions. Encountering these experiments forces you to think on the edge.

Philosophers, ever reluctant to dirty their hands with actual experiments, conjure up experiments in thought. Our laboratory is in our head ' though, of course, the actual location of thought is itself a continuing puzzle (see Baggini's 'Zombies' and 'Mad Pain'). In our experiments we philosophers conceive bizarre situations in the hope that they will enable us to focus on whether something really is a possibility (however remote), or quite what it is that we see wrong with a type of action. We experiment in an imagined world ' where, for example, pigs might speak, or angels dance on the head of a pin ' in order to define the limits and consequences of our analysis, of and behaviour in, this world.

In this way philosophy works over the same ground as literature and fable. In children's stories princes turn into frogs. Such a bizarre, apparently impossible, happenstance leads to the philosophical query about identity: Might I not still be me, even with a different body? Can something change utterly and yet stay, in essence, the same? Thus Baggini's book is as fabulous, and entertaining, as a fairy story or a horror film, populated as it is with poor Achilles forever trying, and failing, to catch the tortoise, a god who is an evil genius trying his best to fool his miserable subjects (Descartes's memorable puzzle), and bodiless brains swimming around in vats.

The Pig That Wants to be Eaten has a hundred of such thought experiments of about a page each, followed by a page or two of comment. In the main, they are from the standard philosophical literature, but Baggini also provides his own, attuned to some of the core philosophical dilemmas of the day: when should life-support machines be unplugged? Can assassination ever be right? Is satisfying our desires all that matters? The aim is to let your mind flip through the consequences of the position you are tempted to adopt on the puzzles, to challenge the hastily conceived and knee-jerk by revealing the unwitting logical consequence of such a position. It can be unnerving stuff, and all the better for that.

The pig of the title, through genetic modification, talks and really does want to be eaten. This puzzle poses the following dilemmas: Should we eat animals? If so should we manipulate genes so they want to be eaten? Why not do the same with babies? Humanists can be assured that in discussions of the 'ought' there is no reaching for a divine guiding intelligence to resolve these issues on our behalf. If there were such a God, asks Baggini, what if he told you your duty was to rid the world of schoolgirls believed to be witches? With this pithy example he shows that moral responsibility rests firmly with us, and we have to make the best of it. Baggini gives similarly short shrift to the musings of new agers, postmodernists and management gurus.

These thought experiments are designed to encourage people to reason clearly about important matters, a kind of reasoning often lacking from today's public discussions.

Within the philosophical community thought experiments have some critics. Perhaps they accidentally strip away what is important or intrude irrelevant sillinesses. Why think our concepts should have application to bizarre possibilities never to be encountered? While this book will not resolve that particular debate, it provides sound evidence for the defence: these thought experiments are excellent for getting us thinking, which is, after all, one of the primary goals of philosophy, or ought to be.

Philosophy is growing in popularity; increasing numbers of pupils are taking philosophy 'A' level. Prominent media figures such as Melvyn Bragg and newspapers columnists such as Baggini himself are giving increased space to philosophical questions. There is even a trend for philosophical cafes and 'pub philosophising' (such as the 'Kant's Cave' meetings at the Sols Arms in Hampstead). Philosophy attracts because it encourages reflection and rigorous thought. It also, in a confusing superficial world, offers at least the possibility of depth and of meaning.

Mind you, serious thinking is hard work; it can be painful. One puzzle, indeed, is why we prefer the life of striving and curiosity; if we could turn ourselves into contented potatoes, would we? Should we? To my mind that would be no life at all; thinking on the edge, though not easy, is both necessary and, for this reader at least, fun.