What’s the Philosophically Correct Thing for A Philosopher to Say About Jesus On His Birthday?


byzantine jesus It’s Christmas Eve and approximately 2.1 billion of the inhabitants of the planet earth will be celebrating the birth of their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

I am not one of them.

Still, I think I should probably say something about philosophy and Christmas.

A few years ago, President George W. Bush said that his favorite philosopher is Jesus. Some reporter asked who his favorite philosopher is and he answered the question. I’m not a fan of the former president but I appreciated that he answered the question honestly.

I remember there was some to-do about what the president said.

Stuff like he shouldn’t have named a religious figure

And that Jesus wasn’t a philosopher.

Sure Jesus was.

How is “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” not philosophical?

You see, even though I’m an atheist (actually I’m an apatheist, but who’s being technical?) I’m not one of those atheist types who gets all furious-faced and bent out of shape any time someone mentions Jesus Christ, Christianity, or Christmas. I’m not offended when someone tells me “Merry Christmas”. I’m not all that bothered by Nativity displays in public places. And I think it’s entirely appropriate to mention that Jesus is the “reason for the season”.

That’s because he is, you know.

Despite my beliefs this is not how I spend Christmas

Despite my beliefs this is not how I spend Christmas

It’s no secret that philosophers are notoriously atheistic. There are plenty of non-believing-in-the-existence-of-an-all-powerful-creator philosophers to choose from. A.J. Ayer, Colin McGinn, Julian Baginni, Rudolf Carnap, Jean-Paul Sartre, Michel Foucault, Michael Martin, John Searle, Simone de Beauvoir, Friedrich Nietzsche, Arthur Schopenhauer, Albert Camus, J.L. Mackie, Bernard Williams, David Chalmers, Noam Chomsky, Daniel Dennett, Baron d’Holbach, Bertrand Russell, Ayn Rand, Kai Nielsen, James Rachels, George Santayana – Just to name a few.

All philosophers. All atheists.

The belief about philosophers and God goes that philosophers are all about reason and logical arguments, and that most philosophers believe that believing in a great, big God up in the sky that no one actually sees or hears isn’t exactly reasonable or logical.

Even when we name philosophers who do believe in God no one really ever mentions

All Descartes wanted to do is prove that God exists. I don’t recall him saying anything about Jesus – at least not anything about his philosophy.

I actually think Jesus is a philosopher. And a pretty good one at that.

Need I remind you, I don’t believe in God and I’m willing to admit this.

I think this is actually a picture of Barry Gibb. Maybe Harrison Ford with a beard.

I think this is actually a picture of Barry Gibb. Maybe Harrison Ford with a beard.

I know that some believers out there might take the fact that I’ve considered Jesus a philosopher at all as a sign that my sensus divinitatis is working, which, of course, means that Plantinga is right.

That is exactly what I don’t want to admit during the holidays.

But I really do think that Jesus is a pretty good philosopher.

Now wait, my atheist friends – I’m not talking about Christianity. I’m not advocating following the word of Jesus as a religion or even that anyone should praise, worship, or follow the words of Jesus at all (although if you want to, the Bible makes it pretty easy to do, since everything he said is written in red).

So what makes Jesus a philosopher, you ask?

I know this may be weird for all of you atheist philosophers out there, but if we think of what philosophers do; that philosophers think, write, and, well, philosophize about matters concerning ethics, metaphysics, and epistemology, there’s no reason (other than personal bias) to exclude Jesus from the ranks of philosophers.

And don’t say Jesus isn’t a philosopher because he didn’t write anything down.

Neither did Socrates.

If you’re still not convinced, let me give you a sample of what I’m talking about:

Jesus the ethicist:

A good person produces good deeds from a good heart, and an evil person produces evil deeds from an evil heart. Whatever is in your heart determines what you say (Luke 6:45)

Love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:31)

Love your enemies. Do good to those who hurt you. Pray for happiness of those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. (Luke 6:27-28)

Jesus the metaphysician:

With God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26)

God is a spirit… (John 4:24)

I am the way and the truth and the life. (John 16:6)

Jesus the epistemologist:

Your father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him. (Matthew 6:8)

It’s fairly obvious that Jesus was (or is it is?) a philosopher. But here’s the cool thing: if you follow Jesus, you will be rewarded with an eternity in Heaven.

Can Saul Kripke promise you that?

Jesus looks a little like Kris Kristopherson in this picture, don’t you think?

Jesus looks a little like Kris Kristopherson in this picture, don’t you think? …Or Alan Rickman…

Getting into Heaven is awesome enough to persuade anyone (unless you’re Richard Dawkins or Daniel Dennett) to give a philosophical read of Jesus a try. But when you read the philosophy of Jesus it’s really no wonder that Jesus’ philosophy, even 2500 years after his birth, is more popular than any other philosopher.

That’s probably because unlike most professional philosophers, when you read Jesus’ philosophy you can actually understand it. And it’s a cinch to follow.

That’s two things no one will never say about Immanuel Kant.

It’s no surprise that this philosopher…
sunday school jesus

is more popular than this philosopher

and this philosopher writes about Jesus.

and this philosopher writes about Jesus.

And that’s the way it should be, isn’t it?


I think only me and President Bush would agree to that.

So, from this hell-bound atheist to my fellow philosophers and citizens of planet earth, I wish you a MERRY CHRISTMAS!



My list of atheist philosophers may include an agnostic or two. As I recall Sir Bertrand Russell was an agnostic, not an atheist.

Contemplation, Philosopher Style

Aristotle wrote that the contemplative life is the best life so I thought I would do a little philosophy today.

That means I have to think. About something.

The problem is I think I’ve run out of things to think about. I needed some help/ so I asked a couple of people what philosophers think about. I didn’t ask too many people. I got discouraged.

They told me that philosophers think about nothing important. I was told that philosophers think about this:

belly button without the cat

And this:


big toe


Well…. I guess I’ll start there. With the navel gazing and the big toe. I guess once I get started some things to think about will pop up. Besides, I haven’t seriously contemplated my big toe in awhile.

Now that I’ve started thinking about my body parts, I wonder what deep, philosophical thing John Lennon was trying to think of when he made a nine minute film contemplating his own penis?

Must have been something really deep.

Perhaps it was Sartre’s bad faith? Or Gödel’s Incompleteness? Or even Marx’s materialist dialectic?

I guess we’ll never know.

No, I’m not posting that film.

But I will post this:



On The Philosophy of Catfishing


I’ve been watching this reality TV show on MTV called Catfish: the TV Show. I haven’t watched anything on MTV in years. I’m hooked on watching this show. And I’m surprised that I’m watching MTV and not complaining that they’re not showing music videos.

The TV show is inspired by the 2010 documentary Catfish. The movie is about the real-life story of filmmaker Nev Schulman and his online relationship with a woman who turned out to be a 40 year-old woman.

She was a catfish.

A few years ago, the important internet question was “Have you been one cupped?” now it’s “have you been catfished?”

I’ve been one cupped. I will never be the same again.

According to Wikipedia a catfish “is a person who creates fake profiles online and pretends to be someone they are not by using someone else’s pictures and information. These “catfish” use social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, usually with the intention of getting other people or a person to fall in love with them.”

In short, a catfish is liar.

They lie sometimes about everything

Dr. Phil even had a show about Catfish. He told his viewers how to spot an internet “catfish”.

He says there are five signs you may be dealing with a catfish.

I’ve met three of Dr. Phil’s five signs.

But I’m not a catfish. I don’t lie online.

I just prefer not to tell anyone anything about me.

It’s obvious that the problem with catfish is misrepresentation. If someone misrepresents who they are we have no idea who we are really talking to. This problem is only amplified on the internet.

The internet (especially social networking sites like Facebook) is supposed to make communication easier and to bring people with like interests together. This is what makes the internet not only useful but fun: the ability to find a potential soul mate or (at least) a friend. I may not know anyone in the town where I live who likes Jean Claude Van Damme movies and blueberry pancakes, but I most assuredly will find someone on the internet that does.

But the convenience of fiber optic communication also makes it easy to be deceitful. The absence of physical contact between individuals communicating via computer means anyone can say anything about themselves or their lives leaving us only to assume what people post on the internet is true. A catfish relies on the fact that whomever they are misrepresenting themselves to is either trusting or hasn’t the time or the know-how to investigate every social network follower and/or friend to verify that they are who they claim they are.

Thus proving what they say about what happens when we assume.

When you assume things you end up making yourself one of these.

When you assume things you end up making yourself look like one of these.

We know what Immanuel Kant would say about a catfish. According to the Kantian view, the real harm of a catfish is that a catfish’s lies are damaging to individuals and society. In Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals (1785) Kant tells us

Act as though the maxim of your action were by your will to become a universal law of nature

Kant’s ethics forbid all lying in all circumstances. He argues that our actions are morally correct only if we can universalize the act. Honesty (at least a certain amount) and trust are necessary not only for the world to function but for relationships as well. Kant argues that one of our duties to others is an obligation to be honest. If people make a universal habit of being deceitful to others, Kant says we have no reason to trust what anyone says (especially people we meet online). Kant states:

He immediately sees that it could never hold as a universal law and be consistent with itself; rather it must necessarily contradict itself. For the universality of a law which says that anyone who believes himself to be in need could promise what he pleased with the intention of not fulfilling it would make the promise itself and the end to be accomplished by it impossible; no one would believe what was promised to him but would only laugh at any such assertion as vain pretense.*

Kant also states:

…it is nevertheless impossible to will that such a principle should hold everywhere as a law of nature. For a will which resolved this would conflict with itself…

If Kant is correct, the act of lying undermines the purpose of social networking.


The problem with a catfish may not be the lying in itself. Everybody lies to some degree (if you claim that you don’t, congratulations you’re a liar). I think it’s safe to say that the real problem with lying is that when we do not tell the truth to others we are involved with our relationships are inauthentic.

The catfish specializes in inauthentic relationships.

Authenticity is necessary to develop healthy, long-lasting relationships with others. Aristotle tells us that the only way to develop true (authentic) relationships with others is to engage in frequent social intercourse with others. In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle states that close physical proximity is a necessary component for real relationships (Aristotle calls physical interaction a “characteristic of friendship”). Aristotle writes:

Such friendship, moreover, requires long and familiar intercourse. For, as the proverb says, it is impossible for people to know one another till they have consumed the requisite quantity of salt together.

A Kantian may argue that a person is damaged by a catfish’s online deception, but Aristotle may tell us we never had a true relationship (at least in the philosophical sense) to begin with.

This, of course, raises and interesting philosophical question.

Is the anonymity of the internet actually better for relationships?

Namely, given the fact that we do not physically interact with people we “talk” to online, some may argue that since we don’t have physical contact with people over the internet, we are forced to deal (supposedly) with people as is, with who they really are.

Let’s say the only thing that a person is deceitful about (in an internet relationship) is their appearance. An individual uses a photo of someone else (presumably more attractive) when communicating with others on the internet. This individual reasons that s/he uses a fake photo because s/he feels that they must hide their physical appearance in order to successfully communicate with others and that using a fake photo on the internet allows them to avoid the (negative) aesthetic judgments of others.

Some might consider this person a catfish especially if they enter into a “relationship” with another person while representing themselves as the person in the photo.

But is that always a bad thing?

Now, some people create fake profiles out of maliciousness. Some people do it because they are mentally disturbed or narcissistic. But if everything else, sans appearance thoughts, feelings, opinions, even a person’s voice (if they speak to others on the phone) are the real deal?  Philosophers often emphasize character over perceived material worth (that is, unless you’re a materialist). Socrates and Aristotle sought virtuous people; Kant wanted people who possessed good will. And John Stuart Mill argued people should rather be a dissatisfied Socrates than a satisfied pig. Would a philosopher appreciate internet relationships with good, virtuous, or philosophically oriented people even if a person lied about what they look like (assuming the intention wasn’t malevolent-intended)? Perhaps a utilitarian (and certainly an ethical egoist) would say that a little white lie may be necessary if one’s intention is to develop a relationship that would be beneficial to both parties.

Perhaps for some catfish the lie enables them to get to the truth. The lie makes them honest.

Then is it possible that catfishing be a philosophically good thing?

Watch this clip and decide for yourself.


In the documentary Catfish, the term “catfish” as a reference to people who misrepresent themselves on the internet is explained  as follows: fishermen, exporting cod from the U.S. to markets in Asia noticed that the cod were soggy when they arrived at their destination. When catfish were shipped along with the cod, the cod retained their firmness and vigor. Catfish, the film explains, are people who keep other people from losing their firmness and vitality.

* Kant’s example refers to someone who repeatedly makes promises to others and subsequently breaks them, which is a form of lying. It’s easy to see how lying about one’s life and/or appearance is similar to breaking a promise as lying  and promise breaking are grounded in misrepresentation of one’s intention and requires trust on the part of the other party.

You can find Dr. Phil’s signs you’re possibly dealing with an online catfish at: http://drphil.com/articles/article/720


1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catfish_(film)

2) Immanuel Kant. 1997 [1785]. Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals. Trans. Lewis White Beck. 2nd Edition, Revised. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc. 38-40.

3) Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. 1893. 2004. Trans. F.H. Peters, M.A. NY: Barnes & Noble Books. 177.

The Philosophical Merits of Blaxploitation

I have a thing for bad movies.

I’m not just talking about marginally bad movies. Like odd numbered Star Trek movies bad. Or even movies that are so bad that they’re good.

I’m talking really bad movies.

Nicolas Cage bad.

This bad.



Sorry about that.

Everybody’s got their favorite worst genre or era of film. Personally, I have a thing for mid to late seventies schlock horror films. But if you ask a few true cinematic crapophiles, some of them may tell you that the 1970s was the lowest point in American cinematic culture. After all, the seventies was the decade that forced American theatergoers to endure Roller Boogie, Grizzly, Sssssss!, The Satanic Rites of Dracula, The Incredible Melting Man, The Exorcist II: The  Heretic, Big Bad Mama, Zaat, Myra Breckenridge, The Thing With Two Heads, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, It’s Alive!, Moment By Moment, Zardoz, Hercules In New York, and the Robert Stigwood-produced film adaptation of The Beatles’ 1967 concept album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (??????)

…. Starring the Bee Gees.

Really. It starred the Bee Gees.

(Warning: watching the following clip may produce a feeling of pity that John Lennon had to witness this cinematic monstrosity before he died and an extreme hatred towards Peter Frampton)


I’ll wait while you take a moment to recover.

Although most bad movies will certainly leave you with the feeling of a loss of faith in the human race, even the worst movie sometimes has a hidden lesson to be learned. The method to appreciating bad seventies cinema is mastering how to hold a barf bag while taking note of a film’s hidden philosophical subtext. Now, some people will tell you that a particular subgenre of bad film is where one is guaranteed to find lots of philosophical subtext.And there are certainly quite a few craptastic genres of 1970s cinema to choose from: slasher flicks, hard-core pornography, disaster movies (to name a few). Second to my love for schlock horror, my favorite philosophically instructive genre of seventies cinema is blaxploitation.

For those of you who don’t know, the word blaxploitation is a portmanteau of the words black and exploitation.

Black + exploitation = blaxploitation

Blaxploitation films are known for Bad Ass (i.e. excessively violent) characters, chic 1970s attire, hip soundtracks, not-so-good acting, loose and frequent use of the N-word, and white people (aka THE MAN) getting the hell beaten out of them. Better (and better known) examples of the genre are Shaft, Superfly, Sweet Sweetback’s Baad-Asssss Song, Cooley High, Three the Hard Way, Hammer, Foxy Brown.

That Shaft is a bad mutha --- SHUT YO MOUTH!

That Shaft is a bad mutha — SHUT YO MOUTH!

Just as physics teaches us that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, unfortunately for any good film there is also often an equally (very) bad movie. Blaxploitation also birthed some of the worst films in history: Brotherhood of Death, TNT Jackson, Mandingo, Blacula (and its sequel Scream, Blacula, Scream), Blackenstein, Abby (a nausea-inducing, all-black, knock-off of The Exorcist), Dolemite, Petey Wheatstraw, Disco Godfather,  and The Human Tornado.

Basically any movie starring Rudy Ray Moore.

Rudy Ray Moore is the African-American Nicolas Cage.


See what I mean?


Although it’s easy (and encouraged) to toss away bad Blaxploitation films to the dung heap of cinematic history, the fact that a movie is a Blaxploitation film (or any exploitation film for that matter) does not necessarily infer that a movie has no philosophical lessons to teach. A handful of Blaxploitation films are actually philosophically useful. One such example of a philosophically valuable bad movie is the 1974 Blaxploitation film Jive Turkey (Aka Baby Needs A New Pair of Shoes).

Ok, let’s ignore the obvious. This movie is terrible. It’s set in the 1950s but it’s filled with more anachronisms than one can count. The acting quality is at best shitty  questionable. And the actor playing “Serene” the cross-dressing hitman is fooling no one.

See for yourself.


If you couldn't make it through the clip, this is Serene.

If you couldn’t make it through the clip, this is Serene.


Shangela Laquifa Wadley he is not.

This is Shangela.

This is Shangela.

See what I mean?

If you’ve never seen Jive Turkey (Chances are you haven’t) here’s a brief synopsis:

Pasha (Phil Harris) runs the numbers game. Pasha’s former childhood friend and current rival, Italian gangster Big Tony (Frank de Kova) wants in on Pasha’s territory. Not only does Pasha have to deal with a bounty placed on his head by the big guys in Chicago, but internal dissention within Pasha’s ranks threatens to destroy his numbers empire.

If that synopsis hasn’t piqued your philosophical interest, here’s a short list of the philosophical questions and topics in Jive Turkey:

* Gender (In particular, Serene, Pasha’s cross-dressing hitman. Is she a transgendered woman who disguises herself as a man to evade her enemies or is she a man who cross-dresses to do his job? Serene is referred to as “she” but is that because she is accepted as a woman or because most people do not know Serene is a man? Is the notion of a female hitman so unacceptable/unusual that the part had to be played by a man in drag?)

* Aristotle’s idea of the magnanimous man (Is Pasha magnanimous?)

* Act vs. Rule Utilitarianism

* Race (inter and intra-race relations)

* Crime and virtue (Can good people do bad things, or does doing bad things necessarily make a person bad?)

* Is revenge morally justified? (If so, when and under what circumstances?)

* What are victimless crimes? Is there such a thing as a victimless crime (e.g. gambling)?

* Good vs. evil (Are Pasha and his gang good guys and the police bad guys or vice versa?)

* Is there such a thing as a “necessary evil”?

* Was Sweetman a jive turkey? What should be the price of disloyalty?

If you want to check out Jive Turkey for yourself, here is is.




For further reading on Blaxploitation films see Wikipedia article on Blaxploitation at:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blaxploitation

Daily Philosophical Musings

I read somewhere that, when Abraham Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth, was finally hunted down and shot by federal troops, his last words was, “meaningless, meaningless.”

I’m not really sure what Booth meant by what he said, but I suspect that in his last moments he realized that that whole assassinate the president thing hadn’t turned out quite like he planned.

He defeats the tyrant just to die in a barn.

That might have been the “meaningless” John Wilkes Booth was talking about.

I’m thinking that Booth realized his bad decision right about now.

I’m thinking that Booth realized his bad decision right about now.

You know, philosophy is supposed to be meaningful. At the very least it’s supposed to serve a good purpose.

But sometimes it’s kind of hard to see the meaningfulness or purpose for philosophical thinking.

After all, philosophy doesn’t seem to be as useful as listening to the newest Kei$ha single, owning an iPod, having a Facebook account, Skypeing with potential internet hook-ups before meeting them in person, or knowing how to say “I think I killed your cat” in Spanish.

In a world where renowned physicists Stephen Hawking and Laurence Krauss declare philosophy dead, it’s pretty difficult to argue that contemplating the number of angels on the head of a pin has anything to do with anything going on in the real world.

That is, of course, unless you’re explaining to your neighbor how his cat is one of those angels.

Practical Philosophy

I was recently corrected on a philosophical term.

It’s no big deal or anything. It actually happens quite often.

I wrote that I am a soft determinist or “even a compatibilist”.

Someone told me the two terms mean the same thing.

I know that.

Some people don’t. Some people don’t know what a soft determinist or a compatibilst is much less care that they mean the same thing. Some people don’t know they are the same thing.

That is to say, some people don’t know that a person who is a soft determinist is also a compatibilist. Believe it or not, there are people out there who are unfamiliar with one (or even gasp both) terms.

That’s why I wrote it that way.

Not everyone is a philosopher.


Definitions aside, my current correction reminded me of the reason why, although I consider myself a philosopher, I hate philosophy.

Or rather, why I tend to avoid conversing with philosophers. Philosophers pay a lot of attention to the technical stuff.

This focusing on technicalities thing it’s annoying.

Yeah, I know. Proper philosophy requires a specific and precise lexicon to construct proper, logically-correct arguments. And all of that is great. It would be difficult to make a convincing argument for anything, much less a philosophical argument if we made a habit of playing fast and loose with language. But when you get hung up on whether someone is using the word “intuition” Kantianly correct rather than trying to listen to what the person is trying to tell you, that old Gloria Estefan song (or is it Miami Sound Machine?  No, wait I think it’s just Gloria Estefan)

Either way whether it was Gloria Estefan or Miami Sound Machine, it’s now classic adult contemporary. Can you believe that? Does that make anyone else feel old?

Just me?


Anyway, Gloria Estefan is right even in philosophy sometimes the words get in the way.

Sometimes we get so focused on words that we ignore what someone is actually saying.

I think Wittgenstein said something like this.

What Wittgenstein didn’t say, however, is that average folks should get into the business of doing philosophy. He didn’t think that philosophy should be made simple for the masses.

I should have a quote of Wittgenstein saying this but I don’t.

Apparently, that’s because I’m not only philosophically sloppy, but I’m philosophically lazy as well.

This is my favorite position for thinking philosophically. It makes it easier to take a nap... do deep philosophical contemplation

This is my favorite position for thinking philosophically. It makes it easier to take a nap… err… do deep philosophical contemplation

Sure, Wittgenstein’s sentiment sounds just fine to philosophical types who delight in their esoteric philosophical mumbo jumbo and fancy themselves the smartest guys in the room. But what Wittgenstein says about dumbing down philosophy is exactly what, I think the problem is. If you’re so busy not thinking of thinks simply, you end up with ideas that are so complex and a language obtuse and technically dense that no one, even other philosophers, have any clue what you’re talking about.

Listen: Ol’ Ludwig Wittgenstein might not have appreciated making philosophy easy to understand but there’s something to encouraging everyone, no matter how dumb or philosophically un-adept they may appear, to think philosophically.

Even if that means we occasionally muddy up the language.

This is Ludwig Wittgenstein. He looks like the kind of guy who takes his philosophy VERY (perhaps even too) seriously

This is Ludwig Wittgenstein. He looks like the kind of guy who takes his philosophy VERY (perhaps even too) seriously

The ancient Greek philosopher Antisthenes stated that philosophy shouldn’t be exclusive or overly academic or esoteric. Antisthenes argued that academic philosophy is useless and that the right kind of philosophy (dare we say the only legit philosophy) is philosophy that is taught and understood by every man.

That means all that deep philosophical technical talk, though aurally pleasant to the auditory nerves of most philosophers, often does get in the way of doing real, or at the very least useful philosophy.

Any one of these people may be a philosopher… so long as philosophers stop talking like no one else should understand them.

Any one of these people may be a philosopher… so long as philosophers stop talking like no one else should understand them.

Ok. I hear all you philosophers. You think I want to destroy everything that makes philosophy philosophy, right?

Actually I kind of do.

I assure you my point isn’t to destroy philosophy (I think Wittgenstein wanted to do that, though) or to say that anything goes and everybody should be ambiguous and vague with philosophical arguments I’m not encouraging messy argumentation.

I’m not saying that at all.

What I am saying is that if you know what someone is saying or trying to say, don’t be so quick to correct a guy if he flubs a word or two. And don’t get so hung up on terminology that you miss the point of what was said.

There is such a thing as missing the forest for the trees.

I assure you if you do nothing bad will happen. Philosophy won’t be destroyed. Philosophically bad and fallacious arguments won’t be the order of the day. All possible words won’t come to a sudden end. Immanuel Kant won’t haunt you for using the word “intuition” wrong. And Wittgenstein won’t call you out for bad metaphors.

If you know what a guy is getting at, give him a break. Let a word or two slide.

Chances are you’ll mess up a thing or two, too.

And really, it you make a habit out of doing it, makes you look like kind of a jerk.

… Still, if you find yourself wanting to go all philosophy professor on someone you might want to silently hum this little ditty to yourself.


The philosopher Harry G. Frankfurt in his book On Bullshit recalls a story about Ludwig Wittgenstein as told by Fania Pascal. Apparently Wittgenstein was no fan of hyperbole. (SEE: pgs. 24-34)

On Justifying Anger as a Way of Life (Philosophically)

I think I watch too much cable network news.

It’s not just because I have a thing for Rachel Maddow.

I read somewhere that people who watch a lot of cable news tend to see the world as much more dangerous and threatening than it really is. I also read that regular cable news viewers tend to be fairly angry people.

I don’t know about everyone else, but I’ll confess I’m a fairly angry person.

That just might be a case of the chicken and the egg.

I mean, I might be an angry person without Fox News.

Most days I feel like this guy. Even when I‘m not watching TV.

Most days I feel like this guy. Even when I‘m not watching TV.

Aside from the hypertension and occasional tension headache, being an angry person isn’t as bad as some tell me that it should be. In fact, I’d say so far as being a philosopher goes, being an angry person is a positive boon.

Schopenhauer seems like a pretty angry person.

Hegel probably wasn’t a ball of glad tidings, either.

And Nietzsche if he wasn’t an angry guy did a pretty good job of writing like one.

Yeah. This definitely looks like a guy who suffers from a persistent choleric disposition.

Yeah. This definitely looks like a guy who suffers from a persistent choleric disposition.

Being angry often gets a bad rap. The Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca (3-65 CE) called anger “the most hideous and frenzied of all the emotions”. We’re often told that anger isn’t a good thing. Anger is unproductive, even dangerous. Anger is frequently associated with irrationality and an inability to maintain self-control (and if you’re an irate driver who throws some lady’s bichon frisee into oncoming traffic, anger is the cause of “road rage”). We’re told that to feel anger is irrational and leads to rash actions and bad behavior.

And if you ask Master Yoda, hate and suffering.

So much of philosophy favors the intellect over emotions. There’s a good reason why this is so. Namely, when we feel intense emotions like anger, we tend to suspend our logical decision making. It’s not that philosophers think emotions are wrong or that we shouldn’t feel them (even Master Yoda doesn’t say that), philosophers believe that we should trust our rational judgment. When we trust our rational decision-making processes, philosophers say, we are more likely to act in a way that is productive and beneficial to everybody.

I think everyone will agree that using logic and reason is a good thing. But, sometimes rational judgments fail to give us the oomph we need to get something done. We can lay out all the rational arguments in the world but logic often leaves us without motivation.

If history is any kind of teacher, we know that two emotions get people going: fear and anger. Fear often works out pretty swell, but sometimes fear has unintended consequences.

Fear can be paralyzing.

Fearful people retreat.

Fearful people sometimes pick flight instead of fight.

Sometimes being angry is a good thing.

The Scottish philosopher David Hume wrote anger is “inherent in our very frame and constitution.”

Being angry is just as natural as dandelions and Shetland ponies.

There’s plenty to get angry about: the media, politicians, TV political pundits, people who pollute the environment, corporate CEOs who give themselves pay raises while their companies go out of business (yes, Hostess, I‘m talking about you), conservatives, liberals, reality television., terrorists, broken shoe laces, anyone who drives a Toyota Prius, people who are famous because they’re famous…

So don’t feel bad for wanting to bludgeon that guy driving the silver Toyota Prius who cut you off on the freeway this morning. You were only fulfilling your inherent nature.

No, wait put down the baseball bat.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that everybody should be angry at everything, or that uncontrolled and indiscriminate anger is a good thing. I’m not advocating rage. Rage is destructive.

No one wants you to get so angry that you end up here.

No one wants you to get so angry that you end up here.

I am suggesting, however, that Seneca is incorrect. Anger is neither “hideous” nor “frenzied”, nor is angry people insane or consumed by a blinding emotion.

It’s possible to be reasonably angry.

Anger, if properly exercised, can be a constructive motivator to action.

Anger not only gets people riled up

anger motivates people to do things.

The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote that anger isn’t a bad thing. According to Aristotle, anger is the mean between two extremes.



(for info on Aristote’s Golden Mean: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_mean_(philosophy))

If one lacks anger, he is apathetic. If an individual is too angry, one is filled with rage. Not enough anger, you’re “The Dude”; too much you’re the Incredible Hulk. The key to being properly angry Aristotle says is knowing when and why to get angry. Aristotle writes:

He then who is angry on the right occasions and with the right persons, and also in the right manner, and at the right season, and for the right length of time…

Aristotle is no stoic. He doesn’t believe that angry people are crazy. Aristotle says, “Those who are not angered by what ought to anger them seem to be foolish.”

Well, then. If Aristotle is right, there are a lot of no-too-foolish people out there.

Our problem isn’t that we’re angry; it’s that we haven’t channeled our anger into the desire to change things for the better; to master anger getting angry at the things we should be angry about; to get angry at the right things for the right reason to master the art of Aristotelian anger.

If you’re wondering what Aristotelian anger looks like, here’s something to get you started:


But hey, if I’m wrong. Don’t get angry at me.



Seneca thought angry people are insane. As a stoic philosopher, Seneca believed that any worry, fear, or anger we feel over situations beyond our control (e.g. someone else’s driving) is ultimately unproductive and disruptive to our philosophical well being. Stoics believed that life’s troubles (in particular) should be met with calmed indifference. Given this point of view, anyone who is angered over a seemingly trivial matter would seem out of one’s mind.

At this time, I am developing a theory of Angryism. Angryism is a theory based on the belief not only that most people spend a significant amount of time being angry, but that anger can be a proper basis of behavior.


1. David Hume. A Treatise of Human Nature. 2000, 2005 [1739]. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Bk. 3. Pt. 3. Sec. 7

2. Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. 2004. Trans. F.H. Peters, MA. NY: Barnes and Noble Books. 86-7.


Don’t think too hard, you’ll miss the big reveal

Sometimes philosophers frustrate me. Especially when it comes to movies.

Philosophers are only supposed to watch philosophically approved movies made by philosophically approved filmmakers.

Go ahead. Ask a philosopher who his favorite film director is. No, wait. You don’t need to ask. I’ll tell you right now. It’s Woody Allen.

If you ask any philosopher, his favorite film director is Woody Allen. He’s required by law to tell you that Woody Allen is his favorite film director and his favorite movie is Crimes and Misdemeanors.

Swear on a stack of Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling this is true.

Even if the philosopher hates Woody Allen’s movies he has to tell you he’s a Woody Allen fan.

It’s either Woody Allen or they take away his philosophy degree and he‘ll be dismissed from the ranks of professionally certified thinkers.

And that’s worse than being a logical positivist.

You see, if you’re a philosopher, you’re preference in cinema is supposed to be all highbrow. A philosopher is allowed only to watch movies that make you think. I’d like to watch That’s My Boy or Step Up Revolution. But I can’t. I am a philosopher.

Only the highbrow stuff.

But I’m saying this right now:

I’m not a fan of Woody Allen.

And I didn’t like Bergman’s The Seventh Seal.


This is the game with Death I'm supposed to like

This is the game with Death I’m supposed to like



This is the game with Death I actually like

This is the game with Death I actually like

I’ll admit: I like silly movies. I like stupid movies. I like the kind of movies philosophers would walk right out of the movie theater and declare them positively un-philosophic.

I’m not going to call any of these philosophers foolish, but they’re really missing out.

The truth is every movie is philosophical. A movie doesn’t need to be written by Jim Jarmusch or directed by the Coen brothers to be about something. If a character tells another character what he believes, we can talk about that character’s epistemological point of view. If at least one character in a movie is or claims to be God, or the main character is a woman who abandons her stale job and husband to screw other men  find herself,  then the movie we’re watching deals in metaphysics. And if, in any movie, any character does anything, we’re likely to find some kind of ethical dilemma or two.

So, if your movie tastes don’t lean towards Truffaut or you can’t bear to sit through Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Lord knows I can’t), don’t feel bad. Anything you’re watching is philosophical enough to get your mind thinking about philosophy stuff.

Trust me; once you start looking for philosophy in movies you won’t be able to stop.

You’ll find it, I swear.

And you’ll like it.

Unless you’re watching The Matrix. Then you’ll wish some filmmakers had never opened a philosophy book.