I bet Jagger’s never read Swinburne

Have you ever seen the Rolling Stones movie Cocksucker Blues? No? Don’t worry, no one has. The story on the movie goes that the Rolling Stones wanted to make a movie about life on the road, so they hired up a film crew to document (ON FILM) what they saw. Apparently what was filmed was so heinously debaucherous that the Rolling Stones actually went to court to legally prohibit anyone from ever seeing the movie. In a world where many films are marketed as “the movie THEY don’t want you to see” (See: Faces of Death, The Wicker Man (1973), Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom), The Rolling Stones’ Cocksucker Blues is truly that movie.

* for more info on Cocksucker Blues see:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cocksucker_Blues

You see, the reason why I bothered to bring up the Rolling Stones movie (don’t worry, I’m not going to repeat the title again) is because there are two kinds of unseen things in the world: the things people don’t want you to see, and the things that people (themselves) don’t see.

What am I getting at, right?

Hold on a minute, I’ll make a point soon enough.

I think that every young philosopher starts off with a mission. The mission is always this: I am going to make philosophy popular.

It’s a pretty noble goal, really. But it’s also a terribly lofty one.

I think we’d all agree (most of us, anyway)  that learning to think critically is important and that people should think about and question everything (I conclude this only because I hear at least once a day someone say that there are too many “stupid” people on the planet), but there’s one big problem with wanting to make philosophy popular and actually making philosophy popular. Namely, is anyone out there actually interested in philosophy — you know the kind with a capital P?

I’m not talking about that small “p” philosophy. You know, the stuff that Oprah talks about or some soul-rattling enlightenment you’d find thumbing through a copy of Eckhart Tolle’s The New Earth. I ain’t talking about that. I’m not talking about anything of the “philosophy” you’ll find in the religion/philosophy section at Walden Books (wait, is that even a chain of bookstores anymore?) or on the New York Times best seller list. I’m talking about Russellian definite descriptions, Hegelian alienation, Sartre’s existentialism, Nietzsche’s master and slave morality, Marx’s class struggle, and  Kierkegaard’s leap of faith. I’m talking about Derrida, Foucault, Kant, Hume, Bacon, Rawls, Plato, Descartes, Chomsky, Carnap, Heidegger, Lao-zi, Pascal, Nozick, Rousseau, Ryle, Turing, and Strawson.

THAT kind of philosophy.

And here’s where philosophy hits the brick wall. Here it goes:

Although philosophers won’t admit this, the reason why philosophy isn’t and ain’t gonna be as popular as Oprah or Snooki from Jersey Shore; the reason why you won’t hear a song about philosophy ever be as popular as that “Call Me, Maybe” song is this: philosophy is not entertaining.

Here’s a short quiz. Which would you rather watch? This:

or this:

I think I’m a fairly entertaining person (I better be or I’ve got serious trouble). I’ve been told by at least a few people who I know that I have a sense of humor. And being funny and entertaining,  I thought that my dynamic sense to entertain, coupled with my sense of well-timed snark could (perhaps) at last bring philosophy to the masses. I envisioned myself the Oprah Winfrey of the Bertrand Russell-reading set. I wanted to make philosophy popular — and I used to think that I could.  The thing I realize now is that there is no way on God’s green earth to make philosophy funny, snarky or entertaining (I would emphasize my point by throwing in an “at all” but that would be too definite).

Wait, before you argue my point, allow me to share a philosophy joke.

You might want to grab a bag… just in case.

Question: How many Kantians does it take to change a light bulb?  Answer: Two to change the phenomenal bulb; and one to explain that we might not have actually changed the bulb-an-sich at all.

Did you laugh at all at that? Or are you feeling right about now that you just wasted 48 seconds of your life that you know you’re never getting back? The thing is, philosophers find that joke funny. Now, I know you’re asking, how could someone who laughs at that joke possibly manage to make philosophy entertaining to anyone outside of a lecture hall?

By the way, if you did laugh at that joke, 1) God help you, and 2) you can find more knee-slappers just like that one at: http://consc.net/phil-humor.html.

I know that we really need to think critically, if not philosophically, at the world and our lives in (or is it on?) it. And I know that there is an audience of lovers of wisdom out there (Lord knows that there are countless numbers of Facebook pages dedicated to philosophy, including my own *shameless plug* the Mindless Philosopher), but is it possible to make that audience everybody? Is it possible to make philosophy — capital “P” philosophy — as popular as Oprah or reality shows on MTV?

If not, I’m gonna have to figure out a way to get Alvin Plantinga to snort coke off a groupie’s boobs.

Wait a minute, is there such a thing as a philosophy groupie?

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9 thoughts on “I bet Jagger’s never read Swinburne

  1. What is Philosophy? Small p? Capital P? I dunno know?

    Interesting that you should mention The Wicker Man, in 1988 I had this rather beautiful and slinky art student girlfriend Sonia, we would spend our weekends curled up in front of the TV in my somewhat sparse rooms at King’s College, Cambridge, between our sexual exploits we would watch the movies that made up a considerable proportion of the British weekend TV schedule. In May 1988, The Wicker Man had its UK television première, neither Sonia or I had ever heard of it before that night, we expected hopefully something sexy like the Hammer Films of the early 70’s, bare breasts and maybe a little erotica, to our joy we were confronted with a thriller, a musical, a comedy and lots of Britt Ekland nudity, no of which really did anything to prepare us for the shocking ending, and I won’t spoil it for anyone that hasn’t seen it. (If you haven’t seen, download it, get on Netflix, buy the DVD it is brilliant) Suffice to say we all have to keep our appointment with the Wicker Man.

    Around this time I bought Sonia a copy of Patrick Berger’s Ways of Seeing a series of essays, some written and some visual that draw upon the ideas in Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. I made a point of reading the book before I gave it to her, it’s only about 140 pages and shortly after I got a copy of the Benjamin from the university library, my interest had been piqued. It was around this time that I began to notice that virtually everything that was in anyway academic had its own inherent philosophy (small p). I had a grandmother that had trained in Philosophy in Vienna and at Cambridge, she’d known Russell, Wittgenstein , Maynard Keynes and many of the Logical Positivists, although she had moved away from straight Philosophy into the philosophy of side of Jurisprudence she had maintained a keen interest in Philosophy and gave me a very good grounding. This draws me towards my point, I really don’t know what Philosophy is? I know what Ontology is, I know what Epistemology, I know what Semiotics is, but Philosophy?

    No one really studies Philosophy actually we study the history and application of Philosophy, I read Social and Political Science, well I read the history thereof and its application. No university degree encourages its students to actually produce their own Philosophy, or History or Mathematically algorithm, just apply what is already well known. Even at Ph.D. or post-doc, it is more likely that an already well understood idea will be applied to an area where it has not been applied before, that is the academic process. I feel that our universities are very good at academic training, but not so good at encouraging intellectual development, we train people to competent in Philosophy, History, Mathematics, Physics, Economics etc. etc… But do we really encourage thinking or creativity?

    Perhaps we are all doomed to be historians? Foucault said “We must all be archaeologists of knowledge, digging down into the strata and discovering the underlying truth”, perhaps that too is the role of Philosophy too? Scientists like Richard Dawkins and Neil de Grasse Tyson seem to me to explain their subjects and make connections far better than those of us from social science and humanities disciplines, perhaps because they understand that they need to communicate their ideas. I think that we have failed, we academics and intellectuals to actually have anything relevant to say. This is how the ridiculous cod philosophies of Dr Phil and idiotic ramblings of Ayn Rand have come gain acceptance in the minds of the general public has Philosophy. I for one applaud you for trying to fight back.

    • you bring up a point, i think, that naggs every philosopher — namely, what is philosophy. as we both know, philosophy is the mother of the sciences — biology, medicine, astronomy, politics, sociology, psychology, etc. , but the development of philosophy into separate disciplines has made the philosopher less necessary. new age gurus and pop psychologists are the ones the media points us to when we have questions about life, our purpose, our own existence… and of course, what they fail to answer ministers, priests, and theologians pick up the rest.
      because of the popular view of the role of philosophers in society (or lack thereof), and our common perception of what “philosophy” is (equating philosophy with one’s opinions) when i write, i distinguish capital “P” philosophy as the formal discipline that is taught in university, lower case “p” philosophy as what deepak chopra, eckhart tolle, etc. do, and what everyone else does — a term i use for myself — thinkers.
      to me, thinking is more important than philosophy. academic Philosophy is sometimes too rigid to allow or accept change or new thoughts. when one thinks, we are not bound by formal rules. I’m not saying that rules are unnecessary, but we must be cautious when we are following rules or defending an indefensible or outdated dogma.

      by the way, the 1973 original version of “the wicker man” is one of my favorite movies. i write about it in my book (the section on the problem of ethical relativism).

      • It really doesn’t get much more “ethically relative” than burning Christians alive, does it? **Scratches chin** Pat Robinson time to keep your appointment with the keep the wicker man. 😀

  2. A question for you:

    Why do you suppose that Apologists like Alvin Plantinga and William Lane Craig continue to insist that they are analytical philosophers? Surely in order to consider oneself an analytical philsophers one must deal with a basis of knowns and then using logic work towards a hypothosis, it seems to me from watching the video that Plantinga doen’t have any real understanding of neurocience and is just engaging in sophistry in order to defend a supernatural belief. Even if you can get to some kind of Deist position from any of these arguments, it is a huge and illogical leap of faith to theism, and that is the only way it can be defined, faith.

    The one of these people I actually have any time for Douglas Wilson, at least he is honest about what is faith and belief, Wilson offers no pseudo-scientific or ‘philosophical’ bullshit, he argues from the point of view of a Christian and I admire him for his honesty, Wilson is also of liberal mind, he believes that it isn’t for Christians to sit in judgement on their fellow humans. He is a really decent man and an example of a truly good Christain.

    The problem with the ‘Free Will’ defense is that it is now proven to be incompatible with Quantum Mechanics, if there was a creator god then there must be a ‘pre-ordained’ universe where the location of every particle must be known for the entire history of the universe, by that creator, therefore human free will is just an illusion. When this argument is presented to Plantinga and Lane Craig they both reply “God can do what he likes”, again back to faith. They are not philosophers, they are theologians and sophists, why are we dignifying them by giving them a secular title and the inherent respectabilty?

    Philosophy and Philosophers don’t need to be either atheist or agnostic, but if you are going to leave reason and empiricism behind then must be honest about your position. I have no problem with someone having faith, that is their choice but please don’t try and convince others by calling it philosophy, it is a lie of the worst kind.

    • for starters, we are in complete agreement about plantinga. i had argued with a professor (who was a student of plantinga) that i would be more inclined to feel that plantinga was being philosophically honest if he dropped the notion that he was coming at his religious explanations philosophically and admitted that he maintains a belief in god, no matter what argument we say. i said that what plantinga was doing was more in the mode of a theologian or a minister, who says he believes in god because he feels that his belief is true.

      in fact, i questioned the entire enterprise of philosophy of religion. in my opinion, asking a philosopher to argue for the existence of god (or even prove that god exists) makes absolutely no sense to me. matters of philosophy deal in logical proofs and well-reasoned arguments. matters of god are based on faith, sometimes in the face of counter-evidence. i told my professor that philosophers were digging their noses in areas where they are not needed and would do better to drop it altogether. if i need to be convinced of the existence of god (especially a particular god; i.e. christianity, etc.) the last person i’m going to consult is a philosopher. a philosopher’s arguments may be well-reasoned, but logic gets me nowhere with a being (god) that defies any logical argument.

      my professor told me i was in no epistemic position to determine that philosophers of religion should leave religion to the church.

      • “my professor told me i was in no epistemic position to determine that philosophers of religion should leave religion to the church.”

        He may be right, however: Berlin, Popper, Russell, Mach, Schlick, Stawson, et al would have laughed him out of the room.

  3. frankly, i could care less what my epistemic position was or is — i was stating an opinion. my opinion wasn’t going to change a damn thing about philosophy or the practice thereof. what i suspect is that my statement rattled him and his response was a passive-aggressive way of telling me to shut the hell up. but then, i’m in no epistemic position to assess the intent behind his statement.

    … oh wait, i think i might write a blog post about this.

    • The singularly most depressing thing in all academia is when academics strike out against students that are making a valid point, yes, it is passive-aggressive but moreover it’s actually patronising, a good idea is a good idea whether it comes from someone on the bus or Noam Chomsky.

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