I (don’t) spy with my little eye

I’M NOT ONE FOR taking long road trips, but I’ve been in a few cars and I know the kind of games people play when they’re on a long-distance trip.

Along with the classic (and often painful) driving game “slug bug”





back seat passengers and drivers also play the guessing game “I spy with my little eye”.

If you’ve never played the game before, “I spy with my little eye” goes like this:

The “spy” says “I spy with my little eye”, and the other passengers have to guess what the “spy” is looking at.

FOR EXAMPLE: I spy with my little eye, something that looks like… Logan?





I’m not in a car right now, but I’m still looking around, spying with my little eye.

And I can tell you what I’m not seeing a lot of around here: philosophers.

I don’t see them anywhere.



NOPE. NO PHILOSOPHERS HIDING UNDER THERE (mental note: philosophers are not monsters under my bed)


Now, before you tell me that Slavoj Žižek and Peter Singer are popular and are all over the inernet, or that Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett are two of the Four Horsemen of New Atheism, I’m gonna say this: can you name all the Kardashian/Jenner sisters?

Be honest, you can name all five of them, right?

Easy peasy, right?





Now, name five living popular philosophers.

Next to impossible, isn’t it?

Now ask someone who knows nothing about philosophy to name one living philosopher.

Now ask them to name the Kardashian/Jenner sisters.

Easy peasy, right?

Suddenly Žižek ain’t so popular, is he?

Seriously tho, where are the public intellectuals?

Why don’t I see them on t.v.?

And why aren’t philosophers leading the charge???

The question is rhetorical. I actually know why.

Listen: having gone through the trials and tribulations of getting a philosophy degree, I’ve come to understand a few things. To wit: American culture absolutely HATES intellectuals.


The reason why we hate intellectuals is because when we think of intellectuals, we envision a smarty pants; the know-it-all, talks a bunch but doesn’t actually do anything, who lords his university degree over his perceived intellectual inferiors like a better-than-you, my-knowledge-is-ordained-by-god (with a small “g” because god with the big “G” doesn’t exist) cudgel.

We’ve all met that guy. We can admit he’s awful.

*Alright, I noticed that I’ve been using the words “he”, and “him”, and “that guy” to describe arrogant intellectuals. I know I should be using gendered pronouns equally (or just removing gender altogether), but let’s be honest here, have you encountered an arrogant intellectual who wasn’t a him?

Here’s another thing: when we talk about philosophers in the public sphere, it’s important that we understand that there are (at least) two different definitions of what a philosopher is: the academic philosopher and the pop philosopher.

Academic philosophers and pop philosophers are not the same thing.

Academic philosophy, to its own peril, looks down of anything that stinks of popularity.


This is a problem for academia in general.

I recall a conversation I had years ago with a former professor after I wrote my book.

Did I mention that I wrote a book?

Anyway, during the conversation with my former professor, I learned the harsh truth of writing about philosophy. You see, philosophy is an a-c-a-d-e-m-i-c topic − and writing about academic topics requires an advanced degree. I ain’t got an advanced degree.
Therefore, my book isn’t legit philosophy.

That kinda sucks.

My book is well researched. I have citations. At least some of my thoughts are original.
But in the end, I wasted devoted a year and a half of my life researching and writing a book that I would have had more success at philosophy doing Friedrich Nietzsche cosplay.





Alas, without an advanced degree, I will never be a professional philosopher.

Professional (academic) philosophical writing is relegated to the realm of peer-reviewed journals, and the price of admission into that world is a PhD.

For a group of people who deal with how people think, this is a pretty stupid thing to do.

Shouldn’t the love of wisdom be for everybody?

In his essay Philosophy for Laymen, Bertrand Russell wrote:

even in the time that can easily be spared without injury to the learning of technical skills, philosophy can give certain things that will greatly increase the student’s value as a human being and as a citizen.

Russell believed that philosophy should be accessible, if only to help people to make their lives better.

Russell died in 1970.

In Russell’s absence, philosophy has taken a turn toward the (even more) technical, and unfortunately, the philosophical nomenclature isn’t easily understandable to those who aren’t academically trained.

That’s not by accident.

Some philosophers, like the late German-American political philosopher, Leo Strauss (1899-1973), intentionally wrote in obscure and difficult-to-understand language to make their philosophy indecipherable to the average reader. For some philosophers, doing philosophy is a member’s only enterprise.





In Strauss’ case, the members of his philosopher’s only club were his fellow University of Chicago-trained neo-conservatives.

In short, laymen philosophers need not apply.

The unfortunate, but intended result is, modern philosophers dwell nearly exclusively in the halls of academia. Academic philosophers don’t (or perhaps refuse to) engage with the public. Non-academic folks can’t understand academic philosophy (because they don’t have the technical training), so professional philosophers don’t bother teaching philosophy to people outside of the university.

The ancient Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle established the first professional philosopher-making factories, the Academy and the Lyceum (respectively), to produce academic philosophers and that’s exactly where modern-day philosophers intend to keep philosophers and philosophy!

Any philosophy written or discussed outside of the academy or by unsanctioned persons is “pop philosophy”.

Pop philosophy is trivial; pablum for philistines. pandering to the lowest common denominator.

You ever have a “philosophical” conversation about an episode of Star Trek?

Yep. Pop philosophy.


BTW: lowest common denominator = you and me.

Academia, on the other hand, is the REAL THING.

Spend any time with an academic philosopher and you’ll realize academia’s contempt for pop philosophy.

If you want to be a legit philosopher, you gotta get published in a peer-reviewed academic philosophy journal. Publishing is not just a goal, it’s the goal. One is a real philosopher if and only if a group of experts (aka, other academic philosophers) certify that you’re also an expert.


Philosophy has become the Cult of the Credential.

Unfortunately, with the absence of academic philosophers in the public discourse, we’ve seen the emergence of bro philosophers.

Bro philosophers, mind you. Not PhilosophyBro.

Public intellectual/philosophical conversation is dominated by so-called regular Joes who champion the intellect of the average man. Bro philosophy prides itself on its rejection of the advanced degrees and academic standards “required” for critical thought*. It rails against the arrogance and political correctness of academia.





I’m not saying this is a bad thing. In fact, I encourage regular Joes and Janes doing philosophy.

That’s what this blog and my book are all about.

Did I mention that I wrote a book?

But why aren’t philosophers doing this? Why are philosophers not jumping in and doing philosophy with the bros?

Why is it that there is not one academic philosopher as popular as Jordan Peterson or Sam Harris?

Perhaps money, a life goal in the non-academic world, isn’t an acceptable goal for the professional, academic philosopher?

Maybe it really is all about the wisdom?


The wise academic philosopher, Daniel Dennett, is estimated to be worth about 700,000 bucks.

The popular philosopher, Jordan Peterson is worth $16 million.

FUN FACT: If you’re curious, Peter Singer is worth an estimated $2 million.

A decent amount of dough for an academic philosopher, but still considerably less than Peterson.

Although I think it’s safe to assume that academic philosophers, like anyone else who enjoys having a roof over their head, food in the fridge, and electricity, appreciate a nice paycheck at the end of the week, I also suspect that the lack of academic philosophers in the public sphere is really rooted in the academic philosopher’s avoidance of the perception as pop philosophers, not a rejection of fortune.

Unfortunately, because academic philosophers reject the currency of pop philosophy (namely pop culture), philosophers don’t keep track of pop trends. That makes it difficult to drop justified true belief bombs on the Dr. Phil show — especially when you have no idea who Dr. Phil is.


I remember when I was a student. I did not have the most culturally astute philosophy professors.

Of course, I’m not saying that every philosophy professor should have a favorite member of One Direction

If your favorite member isn’t Zayn you’re not even worth talking to.





but an awareness of what’s going on outside of the university may help with things.

Things like communicating with people…who don’t know or care who Wittgenstein is.

Or, if only to prove that philosophy is still relevant to popular culture.

(so that your philosophy department isn’t shut down).

The lack of academic philosophers in the public sphere has left an opening for others, sometimes less qualified, to slip through.

Philosophy bros.





You see, there’s nothing wrong with laymen getting involved with philosophy. A slave can be just as wise as a devotee of Socrates. However, there’s a risk we take when we the make average Joe and Jane popular philosophers – sometimes average folks have no idea what in THE FUCK they’re talking about.





And as any of us who has ever sat in a classroom with a fellow philosophy student who has no CLUE what they were talking about can tell you, people who don’t think right about things can end up doing more harm than good.





Although philosophy should be for everyone, it’s also useful to get advice from the experts
…at least sometimes.

Academic philosophers know the formal rules of philosophy. Because they’re trained in the academy, academic philosophers are familiar with the theories and how to think about the theories critically, and more importantly — how to think about and apply the theories correctly.

And yes, academic philosophers know the correct philosophical nomenclature to use.

That comes in handy when using words like “valid”, “argument”, “logically follows”, or “intuition”.

If you’re talking to a academic philosopher, these words might not mean what you think they mean.


If I want to discuss refrigerator repair, I’ll go to a refrigerator repairman. If I want to know about the correct application of utilitarian ethics in a trolley problem scenario, I’ll look to someone who studied utilitarian ethics.

Just like churches realized that they needed to appeal to the masses to retain power popularity, academic philosophy needs to get hip with the times. Academia needs to ditch the ivory tower and jump into the pop cultural cesspool that is Dr. Phil, Star Trek, and YouTube clickbait thumbnail reaction vids.

Philosophers have a responsibility to teach the people.

And the people watch The Big Bang Theory**.

I think Žižek would be great on that show.



*it might be worth noting that Plato and Aristotle didn’t have college degrees. But then, it’s also worth noting that at that time there were no academic degrees.
** The Big Bang Theory (CBS) is the highest rated network English-speaking tv show in the U.S.








THERE ARE ONLY TWO months of the year that mean anything to me: October and February.

Not because of Halloween and Valentine’s Day.

The reason why October and February hold such a dear place in my heart is because October and February are the months when The Walking Dead seasons begin.

First half of the season begins in October. Second half begins in February.

It’s March. Second half of season 8. They just killed Carl Grimes.

No old man Carl. No Lydia licking Carl’s empty eyehole. No Carl doing ANYTHING.


Oops. Spoiler alert.  



Well, anyway….


While watching a tv show about flesh eating ambulatory revenants, my mind drifts, from time to time, to the subject of flesh – namely, the fact that zombies consume human flesh.
In the world of The Walking Dead, living humans are just meat to eat.

Even the vegetarian zombies chow down on the non-undead.

It must be quite odd for a person who has their entire life not eating animal flesh to die, knowing that their reanimated corpse will compelled to eat nothing other than the substance they’ve sworn off.    

I mean, is a vegan zombie morally offended every moment they’re devouring a person?

Can a zombie experience an ethical dilemma?



A zombie probably can’t, but a living person certainly can experience the ethical conundrum – should I eat meat?    

Now, I’m not asking if a person can eat meat – most humans have canine teeth, meat is digestible, and we can derive nutrients from animal products.

Heads up: I’m not making my argument here.

Not doing a because-we-can-we-ought-to kind of argument kind of thing.


But I will say this. I’m gonna say it right now:

I eat meat.

This is a fact about myself that I’m not exactly proud of.

As a person who is halfway aware of the way things are and remotely concerned about my health, I’m aware that the unnecessary suffering and abuse inflicted on animals on factory farms is not only cruel to my fellow living beings, but also the unsanitary conditions (and excessive use of antibiotics) makes for meat that is potentially harmful to human health as well.

And as a philosopher, the infliction of pain and suffering on sentient beings should bother me (at least a little bit) morally.


It does.


But still… despite what I know about harvesting and eating, I continue to consume meat. I feel like there’s something that is keeping me from joining the growing chorus of voices that have abandoned their meat-eating ways and declare I AM VEGAN.


…and not just because bacon tastes yummy.



I think the reason why might have something to do with speciesism.

A lot of humans, whether they know it or not, practice speciesism.  

In his book Animal Liberation (1975), the Australian philosopher, Peter Singer (born: July 6, 1946), describes speciesism as a bias in favor of one’s own species and against a species because that particular species is that species. That is, people are biased in favor of people (and people-like animals like primates) at the expense of the interests of other non-human species.

We are less inclined to consider the interests of species that do not resemble humans or ones we cannot anthropomorphize. 



The fact that non-human animals are not human or can’t be given human-like qualities shouldn’t exclude them from our moral considerations. Non-human animals feel, and that, Singer argues, is enough to consider the interests of non-human animals.



Preferably using utilitarian ethics.


According to Singer, speciesism is as morally wrong as racism or sexism.

We recognize that prejudice against humans based on religion, gender, or race, is arbitrary (therefore, unjustifiable). Most people would reject the argument that a particular race or religion is more valuable than another. The notion that men are more valuable than women is…well, we like to say that we’ve advanced beyond thinking about women like Aristotle. Or Nietzsche.





Likewise, according to Singer, valuing human life over non-human life or treating a species better because it is cute and cuddly (and it does “human” things) is arbitrary and unjustifiable. To insist that a cat or a dog is more valuable than a cow or a chicken is, according to Singer, a double standard.

Historically speaking, philosophy hasn’t been kind to animals. Aristotle referred to non-human animals as “brute beasts”. Rene Descartes (1596 -1650) maintained that animals are incapable of reason and do not feel pain. Animals, Descartes stated, are mere organic machines.

Because animals cannot reason, Descartes argued, they don’t have souls. And because animals don’t have souls, we are not morally obligated to consider their interests.

Remember, folks… that howling you hear isn’t the sounds of an animal screaming in pain.


It’s the sounds of the clock’s springs breaking.


Although the German Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) believed that animals are mere beasts, Kant rejected the notion that we can do with non-human animals as we please. Kant argues that, although we are not directly morally obligated to animals, we have an indirect moral duty to care for their welfare. Kant argues that our treatment of animals is tied to our treatment of those we have a direct moral obligation to  people.

Kant argues that people who are cruel to animals are often also cruel to people.

In Lectures on Ethics, Kant states:

American philosopher Christine Korsgaard (born: April 9, 1952), not only argues that it is wrong to kill animals for consumption, but also argues that the factory farming, specifically the production of meat, is more damaging to the environment and human health than a plant-based diet. Korsgaard argues, like Singer, that our moral obligation to animals is not negated by the fact that animals are not human.  

Korsgaard states:


…the loss of life matters to a human being in certain ways that it wouldn’t matter to another sort of animal… I don’t think it follows that a non-human animal’s life is of no value to her: after all, the loss of her life is the loss of everything that is good for her.

On factory farms, Korsgaard states:


…the whole human enterprise will be supported by a bloodbath of cruelty, hidden away behind the closed walls of those farms.


Korsgaard also observes the irony of maintaining the belief in the higher rationality and morality of humans while simultaneously justifying the killing of other, supposedly less developed, species. 

Ok… Factory farms are bad. And maybe we shouldn’t eat animals. But that doesn’t mean that we should start treating non-human animals like people, right? Humans are just different from other animals… right? But what, if anything, makes people different from non-human animals? What makes people different from cats and dogs and cows and chickens has something to do with a little concept called personhood.


Our friend, Wikipedia defines personhood as:


the status of being a person. Defining personhood is a controversial topic in philosophy and law and is closely tied with legal and political concepts of citizenship, equality, and liberty. According to law, only a natural person or legal personality has rights, protections, privileges, responsibilities, and legal liability.


If you are a person, you are worthy of moral consideration.

If you are worthy of moral consideration. your interests matter.

And exactly what makes you a person with interests that matter?

If you ask Immanuel Kant, you are a person with interests that matter if you are rational.

Kant writes:


…every rational being, exists as an end in himself and not merely as a means to be arbitrarily used by this or that will…Beings whose existence depends not on our will but on nature have, nevertheless, if they are not rational beings, only a relative value as means and are therefore called things. On the other hand, rational beings are called persons inasmuch as their nature already marks them out as ends in themselves.


Non-human animals can’t be “persons” because they are not rational.

Hold on a minute, you say. There are plenty of humans that aren’t rational.





Small children are notoriously irrational. Mentally ill and developmentally disabled people may also lack the degree of rationality required for personhood. On the other hand, non-human animals such as crows, pigs, octopuses, certain breeds of dogs, and primates (like chimps and bonobos) often display a degree of cognitive ability (aka, rational thought) not seen in some humans. 

So, that means some animals are persons, right?




In 2013, the Florida-based Nonhuman Rights Project filed a lawsuit in the state appeals court of Manhattan on behalf of a pair of chimpanzees named Kiko and Tommy, arguing that the pair should be released from captivity and placed in an outdoor habitat. The lawsuit claimed the chimpanzees’ captivity violated their rights. Wise argued that Kiko and Tommy are entitled to the same legal rights as persons.  Their lawyer, Steven Wise, argued that chimpanzees (like Kiko and Tommy) possess the mental capacity for complex thought and can perform tasks and make choices.





Now, if philosophers (including Aristotle, Descartes, and Kant) hold that the capacity for cognitive thought and decision making are qualifications for personhood, it should follow that a non-human animal capable of complex thought and decision making – even to a minimal degree − is a person.

If not legally, then at least philosophically.

And if we hold moral objections to eating animals that are like us or are us, then we should not eat non-human animals.  

Unfortunately for Tommy and Kiko, the Appellate Court in Manhattan ruled that Kiko and Tommy are not persons under the law and therefore not entitled to human rights.  

The Court ruling stated:


The asserted cognitive and linguistic capabilities of chimpanzees do not translate to a chimpanzee’s capacity or ability, like humans, to bear legal duties, or to be held legally accountable for their actions

The Court added that non-human animals “lack sufficient responsibility to have any legal standing.”


So…. What are we to do?


As of now, non-human animals are not entitled to legal personhood. Legally speaking, speciesism remains the law of the land. Killing, eating, or experimenting on (most) non-human animals is legally permitted, if not, in large part, socially acceptable.

Unless the law changes (or a zombie apocalypse turns us all into meat eaters), the question of eating meat will remain a philosophical conundrum – a matter of personal taste between you and your ethical theory of choice.

Until then…. Subway® Chicken & Bacon Ranch sandwiches. Forever.