A Philosophy Fan Does Not Make A Sexy Rock Wife

There’s a website called Loudwire (I’m assuming it’s a website because it has a Facebook page).

Anyhoo, they’ve got this ongoing series of photographs of the hottest rock wives.

I guess they’re all pretty hot.

Since I make it a habit of reading the comments section of webpage articles I noticed that at least one person has a slightly more expansive ideal of beauty. Someone in the comments section suggested that Sharon Osbourne be included on the hot rock wives list.

This is Sharon Osbourne

This is Sharon Osbourne



Think about it for a moment.

Got your response yet?

Wait wait a minute. Don’t say it out loud.

Well, someone else responded to the suggestion (to include Sharon Osbourne) that although Sharon Osbourne is badass and married to Ozzy Osbourne (which technically makes her a rock wife), she’s not exactly what you would call “hot”.

Derivation style, the response would look like this:

Philosophy Fan ¹ Sexy Rock Wife


I don’t know how Sharon Osbourne would feel about this, but reading the response to the suggestion made me feel kind of sad.

After all, Sharon Osbourne is a smart, capable, and savvy businesswoman. He kicks ass and takes names. And she seems like a funny gal. These are all positive qualities and certainly each quality is hot in its own right. So why Sharon Osbourne isn’t considered “hot”? It can’t be just because of her age. Sharon Osbourne is not that old. Besides, plenty of women of a certain age are considered hot: Helen Mirren, Susan Sarandon, and Demi Moore to name a few.

Wait, Demi Moore isn’t as old as Helen Mirren is she?

No. she’s not.

Oops. Sorry.

But really, even if we don’t consider Sharon Osbourne’s age, is it just Sharon Osbourne’s looks that keep her from being considered hot?

This brings us to that age-old question what is beauty.

Well, that answer depends on who you ask.

… and if you’re a philosopher.

Most people would say that if someone is considered to be “hot” that one possesses physical beauty; that is, one’s face and body are pleasing to look at.

Someone who looks like this:


If you know who this is you probably don't spend too mcu time studying philosophy

If you know who this is you probably don’t spend too much time studying philosophy

But not like this:

susan boyle


Whether we’re looking at a statue of the Venus de Milo, the zaftig models of Peter Paul Rubens, Marilyn Monroe, the 1970s Breck Girl, or modern-day supermodels, beauty has always been defined as unblemished, youthful, and feminine.

Beauty, from the ancient philosophers to Leonardo da Vinci placed beauty in symmetry, form, balance, and proportion. Plato said beauty is found in proper measure and size. Aristotle writes:

To be beautiful, a living creature, and every whole made up of parts, must not only be present a certain order in its arrangement of parts, but also be of a definite magnitude. Beauty is a matter of size and order…

St. Thomas Aquinas says “Beauty is the mark of the well-made, whether it be a universe or an object.” and that beautiful things have unity, clarity and proportion. Beauty is the physical reflection of a perfect God.

This seems to be significantly relevant to the estimation of the beauty of a woman.

Susan Faludi writes that an “unblemished exterior becomes proof of a woman’s internal purity, obedience, and restraint.” (204)

For Freud, beauty, like all things, is linked to sex. Our perception of beauty is nothing more than our sexual urges telling us who are suitable to have sex with. Anthropologists and biologists determined that certain (supposedly universal) traits such as a woman’s waist-hip ratio are indicators of fertility, overall health, and cognitive capacity.

Darwin observed beauty’s ornamental value in attracting an ideal mate.

There’s a reason why you find these women attractive. Yes, THAT'S the reason

There’s a reason why you find these women attractive. Yes, THAT’S the reason

Science gives us an explanation for what we think is beautiful, but science can be a bit of a trap as well. If scientific fact informs our cultural standards (this is why according to anthropologists some cultural standards of beauty are universal), then living up to the scientific ideal of beauty can be harmful to one’s philosophical, if not physical health.

Naomi Wolf, author of The Beauty Myth, writes:

…women both young and old told me about their fear of aging; slim women and heavy ones spoke of the suffering caused by trying to meet the demands of the thin ideal; black, brown, and white women women who looked like fashion models admitted to knowing, from the time they could first consciously think, that the ideal was someone tall, thin, white, and blond, a face without pores, asymmetry, or flaws, someone “wholly” perfect…

Seems like we have a problem, here.

Some people think living up to the cultural/biological standard of beauty is unreasonable.

They think biology isn’t the answer for everything.

Just argue for the infallible truth of reductionism with a philosopher. You’ll see what I mean.

Now, if some feel that our cultural ideal of beauty is unrealistic (or unachievable), this suggests that there is something to beauty other than a manifestation of biological urges or cultural standards.

St. Thomas Aquinas said that the beautiful is what “pleases us upon being seen”.

Well, if you ask any ten people what pleases them upon being seen, you might get ten different answers. What pleases us is often subjective. How many times have we been floored by a spectacular sunset only to hear someone dismiss it as no big deal?


Ain’t this a beaut?

If there’s some room for one’s personal tastes, then beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder.

The German philosopher Immanuel Kant wrote in Critique of Aesthetic Judgment:

There is no science of the beautiful, but only a critique… For a science of the beautiful we would have to determine scientifically, what is by means of proofs, whether a thing was to be considered beautiful or not; and the judgment upon beauty, consequently, would, if belonging to a science; fail to be a judgment of taste.

So, if we ask should Sharon Osbourne be included on a hot rock wives list we must ask this question: is beauty strictly physical?

Some might say the answer is no. Beauty isn’t exclusive to one’s physicality; whether one is judged “pretty”, “handsome”, or “sexy”.

One can be beautiful without being physically attractive.

(Listen: I am in no way saying that Sharon Osbourne is not a physically attractive woman. In my not-at all-humble opinion she is.)

There’s a reason why we say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and that beauty’s only skin deep, and it’s what is on the inside that counts. Yes, to some degree our perception of the beautiful is cultural, even at times exclusively physical, but beauty is also a matter of personal tastes.

That explains how people find this beautiful:

brad pitt

And this beautiful:


Beauty is not just a matter of physical fitness but beauty, at least in the philosophical sense, is transcendent; perhaps even a matter of having a good soul. In Symposium Socrates says

A base man is that common lover who loves the body rather than the soul… for as soon as the flower fades, which is what he loved, ‘He takes to the wing and away he flies’… but the lover of a good character remains faithful throughout life, since he has been fused with a lasting thing.

Socrates cautions us not to become enamored only with the physical. Physical beauty fades. We should not merely strive for physical perfection but perfection of the soul. A good soul lasts forever. We should, as Bertrand Russell tells us, appreciate beauty “without appeal to any part of our weaker nature…”

So, it’s not that unusual if one was thinking of beauty beyond one’s physical appearance, that one would think that Sharon Osbourne should very well be included on a hot rock wives list.

That is, assuming Sharon Osbourne has a good soul.

The deal is when we think about beauty philosophically, we shouldn’t focus exclusively on whether a person is physically “hot” but what kind of person we are dealing with.

Is the person a good person?

Are we inspired to be better people when we are around them?

Would we say a person isn’t merely physically beautiful but has a good soul?

If the answer is yes, we might call that person truly beautiful.

At least that’s what a philosopher might tell you.

But then it’s completely expected a philosopher would say so.

Especially since some philosophers look like this:




1) Mortimer J. Adler. Six Great Ideas. 1981. NY: Touchstone. 112.

2) Susan Faludi. Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women. 1991. NY: Crown Publishers. 204.

3) Naomi Wolf. The Beauty Myth. 2002. 1991. NY: HarperCollins. 1.

4) D.L. Irick. Mindless Philosopher: How Philosophy Taught Me Everything I Needed to Know About Popular Culture. 2012. CreateSpace.

5) Symposium. The Great Dialogues of Plato. 1956. 1984. Trans. W.H.D. Rouse. Ed. Eric H. Warmington and Phillip G. Rouse. NY: Signet. 80-1.

On Overthinking While Watching Fox News

I don’t know if I’m a feminist.

I hear a lot of women these days say that they’re not. Some people say that’s because most young women these days don’t know what a feminist is.

I like to think I do.

Even though I believe that women are intellectually, emotionally, and often physically equal to men and that women shouldn’t be judged strictly on their perceived aesthetic worth; even though Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “When a woman has scholarly inclinations there is usually something wrong with her sexuality”, I still hesitate to say that I‘m a feminist.

The philosopher Georg Hegel argued that women’s minds are not equipped to handle the “higher sciences” or philosophy, and wrote, “The difference between man and woman is as between animal and plant.”

I certainly do not agree with that.

I think I agree with the Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus who said “It takes more than just a good looking body. You’ve got to have the heart and soul to go with it.

Maybe my hesitation has something to do with the fact that when someone says the word feminist, one’s mind immediately conjures up an image like this:

I’d like to think that most intellectually or philosophically inclined people (or at least people who think every once in awhile) are beyond thinking that women are only valuable as long as they look good and don’t speak. With all that higher thinking, you’d think that people who think would appreciate a person for their minds more than for their bodies.

I’d like to think smart people would be sapiosexuals.

Unfortunately, in the real world this is not the case.

This is Ken Jennings. He won 74 consecutive games on Jeopardy! If sapiosexuals ran the world this man would be People magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive.

Definition alert: Urban Dictionary defines sapiosexuality as: To become attracted to or sexually aroused by intelligence and its use.

Even among so-called “enlightened” types there is still the urge to conform to a societal approved standard of beauty. Spend a few hours watching cable news (this is what smart people watch instead of The Bad Girls’ Club) and you’ll see what I’m talking (or rather writing) about. Just look at the women moderating the intellectual debate. Fox News anchors Megyn Kelly, Courtney Friel, and Heather Childers weren’t hired because they look smart or even for their ability to engage in intellectual discourse they were hired because they’re blond babes who just happen to deliver your daily dose of things (i.e. news) you’re supposed to think about. Sure, these women can tell us all about the War on Terror, the debt ceiling, transvaginal probes or the latest suicide bombing in Afghanistan, but it’s easier to devote time to serious contemplation when the topics of intellectual discourse comes from someone who is valued purely for her aesthetic worth.

It’s not just that the anchors are basified; the so-called smart guests are also held to the same standard. I can’t say that I’ve ever seen Judith Butler discuss feminism (or any other philosophical topic, for that matter) on a talk show. Not only is there is a lack of unconventionally attractive feminine intellectuals, there’s no lack of name-calling, even among so-called smart people. And attacks on public intellectuals, particularly if the person is female, inevitably devolve to critiques on physical appearance. Feminists and other female intellectuals are often depicted as raging, loud-mouthed, shrewish, man-hating, “feminazis”, and that the only purpose of feminism, as Right-wing pundit Rush Limbaugh says, “was established so as to allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream of society.” (here’s the link. Check it out for yourself: http://mediamatters.org/video/2005/08/16/the-truth-according-to-limbaugh-feminism-establ/133652) Even on the Left, you know, those folks who claim they’re smarter and more intellectually inclined than their Right-wing counterparts, non-fans of Fox News regular Ann Coulter, although she is not an unattractive woman, often deride Coulter, not only for her opinions, but for having a (perceived) masculine appearance. She’s often accused of being transgendered. Some of Ann’s non-fans call her “Man” Coulter.

I think you can see what all the fuss is about.

There is even a Facebook page called “Ann Coulter’s Adam’s Apple”.

Ok, I know. You’re saying Ann Coulter is not a public intellectual. Sorry to bust your bubble, you filthy liberal. The days of Bertrand Russell appearing on the Mike Douglas Show or Buckminster Fuller chatting it up with Dick Cavett are over. These days, Ms. Coulter is about as public intellectual as you can get or rather, will get.

And, let’s be honest, Rachel Maddow also has a pretty noticeable Adam’s apple.

Now, really. Is Rachel Maddow’s Adam’s apple that much smaller than Ann Coulter’s?

Of course, a woman’s aesthetic worth goes both ways: if a woman is valuable only for her physical appearance, even if she’s on Fox News, she’s not taken seriously. If she isn’t good looking she isn’t asked to talk at all.

Unless she’s on PBS. That’s where the really smart people go.

This explains why people laughed when Kim Kardashian was depicted reading a quantum physics book in a California tourism ad.

Pretty funny picture, huh?

I guess there’s a reason why I watching Fox News got me thinking about looks and stuff… and it’s not because I’m one of those dreadful feminazis Rush Limbaugh enjoys railing about on his radio show. It’s because as a philosopher, I want and I think we all deserve substance over style. If a woman’s opinion isn’t valued because she does or does not conform to a particular aesthetic standard, regardless of which side of the political aisle a woman sits, we’re doing ourselves an intellectual and (ultimately) a philosophical disservice.

When we don’t hear from those who have knowledge and wisdom to share with us, we don’t learn anything.

That might just be what feminism is all about.

Oh, look! The soapbox I’ve been standing on says “feminist” on the side.

I guess this feminist will step down now.


1.  http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=sapiosexual

2. http://mediamatters.org/video/2005/08/16/the-truth-according-to-limbaugh-feminism-establ/133652


The great Coco Chanel once said, “Beauty comes when fashion succeeds”. The key to doing good is looking good. That’s because every girl’s crazy for a sharped-dressed man. It seems that everbody has to look good these days. I mean EVERYBODY. I’m not that old, but I recall a not-too-long-ago when one’s looks, at least one’s fashion sense, wasn’t subject to so much… scutiny. Really. I live nowhere near the fabulous Hollywood lifestyle, yet, even I feel that I have to a maintain ready-for-paparazzi wardrobe.

One never knows; I might end up on YouTube.

What’s really bugging me about our 24 hour runway look is that I know that we weren’t always like this. Sure, one is incouraged to look good (that means no wearing pajama pants at the bank), but there were at least sometimes when you could let your looks “go”. As a person of the female persuasion, I was especially grateful that women, who are often held to an impossibly high standard of feminine beauty, are given a pass on at least two occasions: pregnancy and weight gain.

There was a time — long ago in a galaxy far, far away — that once a woman put on weight or had another person growing inside of her body could “get away” with not paying so much attention to how she presented herself in public. After all, until recently, fat chicks and those with child elicited more “ewws” than “oohs”. I don’t know exactly when food or pregnancy-induced plumpness stopped being a viable excuse explanation for one’s less than fabulous fashion choices (I blame Demi Moore) but the fact that I’m not a size five is no longer an option to excuse explain why I choose to wear men’s shorts and a 2x T-shirt to pick up tomatoes and air freshener the supermarket.

In my defense, I gotta say those shorts are comfortable.

You see, there’s more to this than we think. What we wear isn’t just a matter of looking good versus looking frumpy. How we look, and how we present ourselves, really has more to do with who we are than wearing the appropriate color palettte for the season (this Spring’s colors include Tangerine Tango, Sodalite Blue, Cabaret, and Starfish). What we wear has deep philosophical meaning.

Anyone who has ever seen anyone wearing (at a local Starbucks) or sported a Che Guevara T-shirt knows that our clothes can be used to convey what we believe. Clothes can tell other people our politics, religious convictions (or lack thereof), our sense of humor, or that we’re with stupid. Our clothes often tell others whether we are rich or poor, where we were educated — and especially our gender. When we see a person wearing a dress, even if we cannot see the person’s face, we assume that the person wearing the dress is female. Likewise, if we see an individual wearing a 3-piece suit and hat, we’d assume that Don Draper has just entered the building (that is to say, we assume that the wearer is male).

The problem I think (when I think about it) that I have with the pressure to always look like I’m ready to shashay down the runway is that our clothing defines us, but our clothing can also confine us. My inner feminist philosopher feels that the necessity to look as glamorous as a supermodel or celebrity traps me in an ideal of feminism that is more of a social construct than it reflects who I authentically am. When I dress according to how Vogue or Cosmopolitan magazine says I should dress, am I truly being me? Am I representing who I am or am I just conforming to a social convention created by the sexist, heterosexual, patriarchy intent on, as Simone de Beauvoir says, perpetrating “a myth … to confine women in their oppressed state”?

Shit Sandwich

I was listening to a review of a cd on NPR. I don’t remember who the band was (nor is it important that I remember). I do, however, remember asking myself why is it that music reviewers seem to think that the only good music is music that sounds like 80s college radio? I figured that the reviewer was probably some dude that most likely went to college in the early 1980s, and that, since that was the music that he came of age to, that he’d have some kind of natural bias towards the music that he listened to what he got high with his dormmates back in 1982. I still find that there is this kind of music snobbery that sticks to the claim that college radion is the only place where you will find music worth listening to. That’s where the real music is, they claim. I can imagine that listening to college-rock sounding music becoming a refuge for someone in the early 80s. On mainstream radio, where the musical tastes of housefraus and high school track coaches dominate, the music world was all Hall and Oates, REO Speedwagon, Night Ranger, and God save us, Howard Jones. College radio, on the other hand, was where you’d find the hallowed ground that gave us The Replacements, REM and Husker Du. I bet that that NPR guy is still lamenting that REM hasn’t made a record (and he probably still says “record” because we all know vinyl is better) that sounds like Murmur in over a decade. I have to admit that I have my own college radio experience. I had, like many a daydreaming underachiever, entertained the idea of spinning wax for a living. I, too, had a radio show at the local junior college. Now that was back in the 90s, when music, after hairbands and the freestyle explosion (I still like freestyle, though), was getting back to something called “quality”. Listening to music wasn’t supposed to be merely for enjoyment (and God forbid anyone listen to anything popular), it was supposed to be provoke thought. I was, like my music, supposed to be serious. No cockrock for me my dear, it’s all Ani DiFranco and Dinosaur, jr. . I coundn’t enjoy C&C Music Factory, and it was strictly forbidden to own a copy of Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em — I was to listen only to Eric Matthews and Throwing Muses. If I felt inclined to listen on the rap tip, I could listen to KRS-One or Eric B and Rakim. Because that rap was smart. They say that the 90s are coming back. Some of those who “shaped the decade” are pulling themselves out of mothballed obscurity and dusting off their sometimes painfully out of date aggro-rock and hitting the road. No Doubt, Greenday (ok, they’re still popular), Limp Bizkit, Tool, Jane’s Addiction, NIN… even Creed is planning to rub themselves all over the American music listening public again (as if we missed that). By the way, before anyone gets on that “who the hell are you to talk shit” vibe, I will state right here and now that I am the most important element to the whole music industry — the consumer. My dollar (or lack thereof) determines who stays and who goes. That’s who I am. And that’s why I will talk as much shit as I want to. That said, all this nostalgia, when looking backwards, makes things seem so much better than it was. That’s mostly because back then we convinced ourselves that things were better than it was. We were younger. And being younger makes you the authority of cool. There’s nothing more shattering of that delusion than thumbing through one’s cd sollection and finding a Tonic or a Squirrel Nut Zippers cd. It’s humbling By the way, when I did spin records, I played disco. Of course disco is the epitome of mainstream music. It is, to borrow a title from Depeche Mode, music for the masses. But, as it was the 90s, I was playing disco ironically. The funny thing about nostalgia is that we tend to only look back at the better things. When we do that, we ignore all the things that we once said, “thank God that’s over” about. Unfortunately, this stirs in us the habit of not just looking back, but wishing for a return to the “good times”. It’s kind of like how people talk about the 50s. They say it was a time when things were better, simpler. Meanwhile focusing on the good and making it better than it was ignores the fact the for some people, your good old days was their bad old days. I can’t imagine anyone who got beat up for drinking from the wrong drinking fountain wants to go back to those fabulous fifties. Wishing for the past to return (because back then was better than now) is almost as bad as those who not only wish for the return, but actively re-enact it (I’m not talking about Civil War re-enactments, although I think those are pretty creepy. I’m talking about things like 70s music reviews featuring people like KC of KC and the Sunshine Band (sans the Sunshine Band), and most of the guys from the Tramps. That sort of thing). Living in the past, like that, sort of becomes its own kind of experience machine. It becomes a fortress of solitude within which neither the outside world nor modern music can intrude. We may not literally be climbing into a box with electrodes attached to our brain, but drowning out the present reality while listening to Tragic Kingdom, telling myself that ‘this is what good music is’, is in my own way like hooking up my brain to electrodes and programming for myself a better, more good feeling reality. Actually, I’d be listening to the downward spiral, burning nag champa incense, with the lights turned down low, telling myself ‘ this is what good music is’. Of course, our prima facie comment is to say that my disagreement with the NPR guy is merely a difference of tastes. It is no different than if me and this guy were looking at the Mona Lisa, and he says that he sees a masterpiece while I say that my 8 year-old neighbor Dante can do better. If we scratch the surface a little deeper, to find the philosophy behind our disagreement, we may say that our argument is one of aesthetics. And this is correct. He hears the beauty of a cd that I do not. But, as Susan Sontag tells us (not just her, but plenty of others), any aesthetic judgment shuttles in a statement of ethics as well. It’s soon revealed that any discussion about music, art, etc, pretty much sucks all the way around. we’re either a) headed for a discussion of values, which is difficult enough, or b) we’re talking aesthetics, which is even less tangible. But we can’t ignore tastes. If I say that I listen to the Cure because whenever I hear the song “End”, it “moves” me, I am stating that the song ilicits an emotional response from me whenever I hear it. Tastes may be a matter of emotion (never a favorite topic among philosophers), and unwinnable. That is, emotions are philosophical nonstarters. But there is something else at work besides emotions when I say that I like this or that music. When I say that I like the Cure more than I like Bauhaus (and I do), or if I say that the music of my youth is better than the music that is out now (and I do), what I am saying is that my dog is better than your dog. It’s a matter of tastes, but the assertion is two-fold. It isn’t just a matter of tastes. It’s also a moral statement. In the popular vernacular “good” is often a matter of taste. A good wine, a good movie, even when we judge people (a good looking man or woman, “good” hair, etc), is often subjective or relative. There are people who like red wine and people who only drink white. Some people think that Super Troopers is the best movie ever made. Not everyone agrees that something is good. When we think of art (of which music is a part) we usually speak of things that we see — paintings, sculpture, drawings, etc. We’d say that we see a beautiful painting, or a visually stunning motion picture. In questions of aesthetics, it’s easier to discuss the visual. When we speak of music, good music, we are speaking in terms of beauty — beautiful melody, a beautiful voice… St. Thomas Aquinas says “the beautiful… is that which pleases us upon being seen”. Of course music is not seen (except for those people who say that the literally see colors when they hear music), but I think Aquinas’ statement applies equally to music. Aquinas says that a beautiful object has unity, proportion and clarity. Something that is beautiful is a whole composed of parts. This is also true of music. A composition is comprised of parts. We can say that a song has unity, proportion and clarity. It is said that, to the degree that they are technically what music should be, Mozart’s symphonies are the greatest musical compositions of all time. This is because Mozart’s music has unity, proportion and clarity (to borrow Aquinas’ terminology). Honestly, I’m not a fan. I like the Impressionists. For what it’s worth, I’d pick Satie. But here’s the problem again. Unity, proportionality, and clarity are supposed to be universal standards. But there is (still) disagreement. What about people who say that they don’t like Mozart’s music? What about people who say that they like a composer such as Phillip Glass? What about Yoko Ono fans? Is Aquinas guilty of pushing off his own tastes as universal standards? When I say that some band or music is good or is not good, like trying to convince someone that they’re wasting their time listening to Interpol, or that they should take up listening to the Brothers Johnson, I’m not just saying that the music is good aurally pleasing. I’m alco saying that the music is good for you. Listening to the Brothers Johnson will enhance your life. Listening will make you a better person, and by extension, if everybody listened to it, we’d all be better for it. Of course, Socrates spoke of this when he said that children must be taught the right kind of education for the betterment of the city. According to Socrates ( we all know that everything that is attributed ot having been said by Socrates is really Plato’s opinion, right?), the right kind of education (of which music is a part) produced the right kind of people. This, in turn, contributes to the ideal city. Socrates explains that “music” includes speech and literature (Russell says that we can expand music to include culture generally). Music, for Socrates’ ideal city, serves to enhance the soul. Therefore, the music that we hear must be the right kind to foster the right traits in the individual. Music must encourage qualities such as courage and temperance. Socrates says,” … in the rearingof music is most sovereign? Because rhythm and harmony most of all insinuate themeselves into the inmost part of the soul and most vigorously lay hold of it in bringing grace with them; and they make a man graceful if he is correctly reared, if not, the opposite”. Socrates goes on to say,” … the man properly reared on rhythm and harmony would have the sharpest sense for what’s been left out and what isn’t a fine product of nature… having the right kind of dislikes he would praise the fine things,… and receiving them into his soul, he would be reared on them and become a gentleman”. For the inhabitants of Socrates’ ideal city, music isn’t listened to for pleasure — it serves a greater purpose — to make better people. For this reason, Socrates warns, music must be chosen very carefully. Music, as we know, shapes not only individuals, but can influence an entire culture. As I’m writing this, I am reminding myself that last week celebrated the 40th anniversary of Woodstock, and how the music of the “Woodstock Generation” influenced and shaped our culture (a fact that the Baby Boomers never hesitate to remind those of us who first heard of Sonny Bono when he was elected mayor of Palm Springs). Socrates says that there must be rigid censorship of all music. Music has the potential to enhance the soul, but it can also damage it. Socrates says that Homer (because of his depictions of the gods) must be banned. Music should not encourage people to fear things such as death, or encourage people to laugh too much (a baffoon lacks seriousness). Men should not hear music that makes them weak. That would mean, in our time, that any music by Rob Thomas or Keith Urban would (and should) be banned. I get the feeling that Keith Urban cries… alot. Socrates isn’t wrong, exactly. When Reagan was elected in 1980, there was a push to reclaim what America had lost in the 1970s, which was, in part, due to an era of “sensitive” men, “in touch” with their “feminine” side, like Alan Alda and James Taylor setting the cultural tone for what men should be. As expected, a socially acceptable image of a weakened man led to the election of Jimmy Carter, which directly led to the taking of hostages by Iranian militants at the American embassay in Tehran in 1979. If a culture praises weak music, it will become weak. Likewise, this is why Ozzy Osborne got blamed ofr teen suicides, and Judas Priest got sued for encouraging teens to kill themselves. It’s why Tupac and Marilyn Manson were blamed for corrupting the souls of the youth and encouraging bad behavior. The worry is that by listening to the wrong music, we will nurture the wrong kind of soul and becone the wrong kind of people. Any parent whose child discovered speed metal in the 80s, or gangsta rap in the 90s, or who has a pre-teen daughter who thinks that the Pussycat Dolls are the greatest thing ever, or has a son who went emo two years ago, knows this fear. As Chop Top said in Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, “music is my life”. This is true. How many people arThis is whate defined by what kind of music that they listen to? Emos, goths, deadheads, metalheads, punks — all are influenced by music. This is why we play patriotic music on the 4th of July or hymns at Christmastime. We know that Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” stirs the right kind of emotions at the end of a fireworks display. It makes us want to be better Americans. It makes us want to be better people. And this is what the NPR reviewer was saying. So the point is, is that when he says that that college radio sounding band is good music, it’s almost unimportant that I actually enjoy the music that he’s recommending. The point is, is no matter whether I enjoy it or not, the music is good. And even if I don’t think that I benefitted at all from listening to it, I did.

The Great Personality Test

I think I’m fairly smart. Someone once told me that I “look smart”. This is not a compliment. I also had a friend that told me that I have a way about me that puts other people at ease. In short, I have a “Great Personality”. … and we all know what that means. Earlier this year, First Lady, Michelle Obama, made Maxim magazine’s hot chicks list. Ok, she was in the 90s, but, hey she made the list. Former supermodel and wife of David Bowie, Iman said the she was going to be honest about the whole Michelle Obama thing. She said, and I’m taking some liberties in recalling this, that the First Lady is not all that, and that she is an “interesting” looking woman. Iman polished the insult by adding that, more importantly, Michelle Obama is very intelligent — and that, in the long run, that’s what’s important. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out what Iman meant. If you have a list of hot chicks, Michelle Obama does not belong on that list — even if her guns are spectacular. Hot chick lists, let’s face it, are basically a list of chicks that a guy (and I guess some ladies, if they are so inclined) whack it to. A really tall black chick with big biceps and an underbite I would guess wouldn’t pop up in a list that includes the likes of Scarlet Johansson and Megan Fox. What we’re talking about, whether we say someone is hot, smokin’, fine, tight, the bees knees or the cat’s pajamas, or just plain “f”-able, is beautiful. And as usual, philosophers will stick their noses into any subject on which one can form an opinion. The science of beauty is no exception. The arena of philosophy that deals with beauty and what is beautiful is called aesthetics. When philosophers speak about beauty it’s usually in discussions about art, music, or nature, or (even) the sciences or the beauty in a theory. When Bertrand Russell wrote about mathematics, he wrote mathematics, “rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty — a beauty cold an austere… without appeal to any part of our weaker nature, without the gorgeous trappings of painting or music…” . The beauty of mathematics, for Russell, is found in the symmetry and consistency of things like a math equation. Now, I realize that I have stepped into the glass house and locking the door behind me, but if one looked at Mr. Russell, one would not wonder why he felt as such. I suppose that many a philosophy professor has, on the first day of class, surveyed his class, knowing which students are destined to become philosophy majors. I would guess that it’s safe to assume that the good looking students are there for the credits. And that we are truly flabbergasted when they are not. Which, may in my case, explain why not one, but three of my philosophy professors recommended that I become a philosophy major (winking emoticon). There is all sorts of philosophy talk about beauty when it comes to art, or music, or even the beauty of math or science. But what about people? …Which makes me think of our latest pop cultural encounter with Britain’s Got Talent second runner-up and recent freak-out participant, Susan Boyle. Unfortunate Sue has been described as “unique”, “talented”, “special”, “endearing”, and so on. The thing is, is that people are attempting to find something complimentary to say about a woman in a culture where most of any compliments payed to anyone is focused primarily on one’s looks. Since she’s not … we must find something nice to say. Hence, Susan Boyle is “great”, or the half-assed insult a “plain jane”. In a Star Magazine article from May 4, 2009, the article was entitled “What A Voice!”. The article even featured a digitized “make-over” of Susan Boyle if she decides (oh, please do!) to change her image. But, the emphasis on her voice made me think of what Iman said. We can say to Susan Boyle, “At least you have your voice, because in the long run, that’s what’s important”. (What’s funny is that in that same issue, there was an article about IndyCar racer, Danica Patrick, who was featured in a bikini. I don’t think that the article contained anything about her racig record or anything about IndyCar racing in general. The point of the feature is that Danica Patrick is hot.)If one is so inclined, pay attention to how the entertainment press speaks about Susan Boyle. Her looks become the 500 lb. gorilla in the room. At times, they speak of her appearance as one would speak of someone with a handicap or birth defect. (Susan “overcomes” the odds and “triumphs”. What odds, I wonder?) They show digitized “before and after” photos like the before and after photographs are displayed on informercials about little kids in Central America after they get surgery on their cleft palates. It’s kind of sickening. But strangely, alot of philosophy is mum on the matter. That doesn’t mean that it’s not discussed. There is plenty of talk about what or who we consider beautiful. But it seems that the old pros to whom we often refer are strangely silent about beauty and people. Maybe it’s because, unlike our thoughts on the nature of reality or whether utlitarianism or Kantianism are viable moral theories, judging how we look, whether we are considered “beautiful” or not, is kind of personal. That is, beauty, unlike the way we’d like to think of our philosophy, is a matter of taste. It’s what you think that matters — but not in the quatifiable, logically sound, way that philosophers like their theories — it’s gut reactions, it’s… what or who you like, and there’s absolutely no logic to be found in that. We can’t say with certainty that our belief that such and such or whoever is beautiful is true. Enevitably, someone will disagree with our choice. When we talk about beauty, it affects us in a way that our beliefs do not. You can be the smartest, most talented guy in the world (and you’ve figured out how to get around Hume’s problem of induction), voted five times– in a row– the funniest fellow on earth, but if you look like Joseph Merrick, chances are you won’t be dating much (especially if you happen to be of the female persuasion). When it comes to the perceptions and judgments of others, we can obscure our beliefs in ways that we cannot when it comes to our appearance. We can hide our atheism in a crowd of Christians, but hiding your face, unless one has religious reasons for doing so, is slightly more difficult. Beauty, being a matter of taste and as we all know, is a matter of contrasts. That is, things tend to be judged in accordance to something else. Something that is beautiful is more pleasing than some other thing. So, if Bertrand Russell were to look at any standard derivation next to my own theory of inconsistentism, it’s fairly obvious which one would be more pleasing to his eye. But, when we say something is more pleasing, what we may be suggesting that something is better than something else. When we say something is better, we imply that something is good (one thing is gooder than another thing). Good, according to the philosopher, is something that is not merely physical, but is something that is transcendent. The mere pleasures associated with the corporeal are often favored less than those goods that go beyond the transitory physical world. Aristotle famously wrote that a life devoted exclusively to physical pleasure is the life of beasts. (it’s worth noting that Aristotle wrote “exclusively” devoted to pleasure). We know that, by reading Plato, Kant, Mill, and the like, that what is good is not always what is pleasurable. This suggests that, if beauty is associated with some good (I really should be using a capital G when writing good), that what is beautiful may not always be what is pleasing to the eye. If anyone remembers high school algebra ( I do, I took it twice), quadratic equations are most displeasing to the eye. If we were to ask Russell, we could bet that he would see nothing but pure beauty. Good, as it is thought of philosophically, involves some sort of ultimate end, purpose or function. It’s easy to see this when we think of art. Although we may disagree what is art, or which art is beautiful, we can agree that when we look at a piece of art, we have in our minds some list of qualities that we use to judge the merits of a particular piece of work. We may look for symmetry or overall composition. We look at color, or how closely the piece reflects reality. If I say that I judge the artistic merit of a particular piece of art on how it represents reality, I am saying that I am judging how closely the piece comes to showing the world as it really is. What I am looking for is how accurately the piece tells the truth. And we know, of course, that Truth is Good. Truth is an element of the Good. And good art,if it is Good then, it must be truthful. Any truth contributes to the overall, collective good (oops, Good). Plato’s Republic, bk. III has Socrates explaining how the arts must be taught to bring about the ideal society. Socrates says that art, music, poetry, education, exercise (among other things) must be taught correctly if society is to foster the right characteristics in its citizens. (These characteristics include moderation, courage, and truthfulness). On the topic of music, Socrates states that is important to teach the right kind of music, “Because rhythm and harmony most of all insinuate themselves into the inmost part of the soul… and they make a man graceful in he is correctly reared, if not, the opposite… the man properly raised on rhythm and harmony would have the sharpest sense for what’s been left out and what isn’t a fine product or craft or what isn’t a fine product of nature…” According Plato (or Socrates, whichever one you believed actually existed), a man who is raised on the right art is a better perciever of what is Good. This ability contributes to the soul. A good judge of what is Good has an enhanced soul, a Good soul. This, of course, allows us to infer that a person who lives life philosophically is, in the Platonic sense, a beautiful person, even if, according to our standards, they are not. Other philosophers, such as Nietzsche, made a similar connection between art and the soul. Art, says Fred, binds the emotion and rational spirits within man (oops, Man) together. From Plato to Marx, art serves a social/political function. “Beautiful” art enhances the individual. But what about people? Beauty in art, from the artist’s perspective, is meant to illicit an response. Most likely, the desires response is emotional. (I really can’t imagine any artist who wanted exclusively physical repsonses from his audience. Oh, wait. I may have thought of one. One may be the late Bob Flannigan. There’s no way you can look at what he did and not react physically). Anyway, where was I? Was I anywhere? If an artist wants to cull an emotional response from his audience, he knows that the reaction will enevitably be varied and relative. “One man’s junk is another man’s treasure”, they say. But, that’s what we want to avoid in philosophy — Relativity. Relativity negates the notion of innate goodness (or truth), which is exactly what we are speaking of when we look for the Good. What the philosopher looks for is some quality that is universally applicable (transcendental ideals or forms, if you prefer), or at least something near consistent. But art or whatever we’re looking at that can, in one man stir his emotions while leaving another man stoically unaffected is not what we want. It doesn’t help us to answer the question. If we regard beauty in the way that the artist takes his art, then what we deal with is mere felt responses, we get good, but only in the material sense — not the higher, transcendent, capital G good that we’re looking for! Maybe that’s the problem. If we look at the biological function of beauty, we see that beauty or appealingness serves the purposes of reproduction. I heard on the news that there is a greenery that houses a flower called a “corpse flower”. It is set to bloom sometime this week. The smell of the flower, they say, is akin to the smell of rotting flesh. That smell, although cringe inducing to us, is the sweet smell of honey to the various incects that catch a whiff of the aroma and are drawn to it. The smell is how the flower attracts bugs that will aid in its reproduction. We don’t like the smell (and anyone who does seriously needs to get checked out). But the smell is not for us. It’s to get a response out of another animal. The smell’s please-a-bility is relative to what kind of species you are. The same may be for beauty. That is, it isn’t a matter of goodness (unless you consider reproduction a Good), but a matter of taste. Perhaps the intrinsic goodness of beauty is that it facilitates a greater goodness, namely that finding Angelina Jolie smokin’ hot contributes to the propagation of the human species. I know that this is something of a look to the biology (i.e. reductionist) answer. And I know that reductionist answers (or explanations, as I say), do little if anything to satisfy the philosophic heart of the questions we are attempting to answer. But, really, it’s the best I can do. If it’s any consolation, as someone who sports one of those terrific personalities, I’d personally like to think that there is something that is intrinsic to beauty that is beyond one’s mere physical appearance. That there is indeed, such a thing as a beautiful soul.

The Monster Is Your Personality Type!

I’ve been seeing way too much of these Twilight people. Especially that dude that they keep trying to tell me is hot. He’s all over TMZ. They show him with his shirt off, they show him with that chick from the movie that he may or may not be dating… I’m just waiting for the point when this dude pops out of my sock drawer. I see the guy. I don’t get it. Anyway, it’s not that I have a problem with the type of movie this dude is in — I like vampire movies. I’m just a little disappointed in myself for suddenly getting all purist over how a bloodsucker movie is supposed to be. That’s strange, because I’m no fan of Anne Rice, either; which is supposed to be what those Twilight movies are — they’re the new Anne Rice or whatever. Whatever. Personally, I’m a fan of the old Hammer flicks. Nobody does the Count quite like Christopher Lee. Which brings me to an old question that gets bounced around from time to time during sometimes sprited conversations between genre fans. The question being, which movie monster would you want to be? The choices are usually limited to the three primary movie monsters — the wolfman, Dracula (or a vampire generally construed), or Frankenstein’s monster (I say Frankenstein’s monster as opposed to “Frankenstein” because as the purists will tell you, “Frankenstein” is the name of the doctor, not the monster). I guess with the growing populariy of the undead flick, that we’ll soon be adding zombies to the mix. Although I suspect that I’m the only person that I know that would pick the zombie as the movie monster that I’d most like to be. My sister says that she dislikes zombies, not for the fact that they eat the flesh of the living ( although that has something to do with why she does), but for the fact that, according to her, zombies are jsut plain rude. They pounce on you and tear you to pieces without even asking! At least some vampires get you to cooperate by seducing you to give up your blood. But not the zombie. The hoarde sees you, and then they strike. And, what makes things worse is that, thanks to Zach Snyder, zombies aren’t the shambling, you can outwalk them types, oh no. They run. Fast. So, the name of the game is pick a monster. It seems pretty easy. People usually go for the vamp, not because he drinks blood, but because he’s suave, he’s usually pretty well-off, and her gets all the chicks. And if the vampire in question looks anything like Asia Argento looked in Love Bites, you can see why. Werewolves, although it’s admittedly cool to go around snarling and howling at the moon, are kind of hit and miss. If you’re stuck being the Lon Cheney, jr. sort of wolfman, you’ll look like some dude who went to the dog groomers and glued a bunch of shavings to his face. That look may have scared the pants off of people back in the day, but now it just screams “LAME”. If you’re lucky enough to look like David Naughton in An American Werewolf In London (probably still the best werewolf flick ever made), or the Lycans of Underworld (although the vampires looked cooler), then you’re better off. I thought that it was pretty amazing that the same guy who played Lucien in Underworld is the same guy who played David Frost in Nixon/Frost. But I guess that’s why they call it “acting”. Unfortunately for Frankenstein’s monster, aside from the occasional “ugh!” or “ummm!”, he isn’t that exciting. Nobody ever picks him. Even if you say that the monster (as played by Peter Boyle) in Young Frankenstein is an option. Wait. I think that I read once that Marilyn Manson said in an interview that if he had to choose, that he’d choose Frankenstein’s monster. He said that everyone picks Dracula because he’s a badass who gets the chicks. But the monster, Manson said, is a deeper character. He’s a monster, for goodness sakes! He’s already an outcast. He’s got a heart, and feelings, and a (abby normal) mind, just like the rest of us, but people run from him. They reject him at first sight because he’s an abomination. They try to destroy him. Even his own creator rejects him. Manson said that Frankenstein’s monster was a character that is closer to who he was and how society was treating him. (this was when Marilyn Manson was the musical “boogeyman” being blamed for every malcontented white teenager’s shooting spree. Remember back then?) But that’s the idea. Manson saw what the monster symbolized and applied it to who he saw himself as a person. The monster represented a being, who through no fault of his own, (he was after all, only what his maker had made him), was rejected and shunned by society. He was a monster who embodied all that was unnatural and sinful within man’s soul and desires. Desire is what the choice is supposed to reveal about ourselves when we pick which movie monster we’d like to be. The vampire is, according to those who read too many meanings into things, a vision of a rape fantasy. He comes to you (and it is usually a he) in the middle of the night under coat of darkness. He takes your blood without your consent. His teeth, of course, are merely metaphor. They are his sharp penises that penetrate you. You catch his disease by sucking from him (and there is absolutely no need to say what that means). It’s also worth noting that the type of vampire is revelatory as well. Do you want to look like Brad Pitt in Interview With the Vampire? or do you want to look like Max Schrek’s Nosferatu? The elegant, erudite ladies man (wait, Anne Rice’s characters were kind of gay, so I guess you’d be an elegant, erudite man’s man. Which is absolutely ok by me), or do you favor the bestial nightcrawler (who, on an episode of Spongebob Squarepants had a thing for playing with lightswitches)? Says a bit about who you thing you are. Primarily that at some point in your life (sooner rather than later) you’ll end up on a sex offender registry. If you say the wolfman, that’s supposed to be nothing but uncontrolled id. It is man’s inner beasts literally ripping through him and taking control. He turns from man to beast. Into the flesh-ripping wolf. Wolves have totally creepy eyes. Does anyone else think that? The wolfman doesn’t think he’s all instinct. Of course, like the vampire, there’s the enevitable sexual component to the monster. Of course, I could get crude, and suggest that you avoid bending over in front of the wolfman, lest you wnat to be had that-way-style, but since this is supposed to be somewhat academic, I won’t. Werewolf people are underhanded and seriously not to be trusted. How much can you trust someone who literally turns into a dog? Lastly, if you choose doc Vic’s monster. Well, you’re a sorry sack of crap that probably listens to too much of the Cure, and thinks that the world just doesn’t undestand his poetry. You hate people, but what you really want most of all is a girlfriend — which would require you to like people. Until then, you’ll just lock your bedroom door and sulk to Dead Can Dance.

I tried SO hard to like this movie

With the exception of the films of Coleman Francis, I’m willing to watch just about anything , and usually I’ll find something worth liking about them — whether it’s the fact that Hugh Jackman is nearly always entertaining, or a wacky title sequence. There’s always something. Did I forget to mention that I usually find something worth liking? I know that there are movies that everyone else is supposed to like, and then there are films that only certain people are supposed to like ( supposedly the difference is that everyone else watches “movies” and only certain people watch films or worse yet, the cinema). So I was watching this movie called Pi. It’s directed (and written, I think), by Darren Aronofsky, who is currently enjoying some fame for his Oscar nominated movie The Wrestler. Since I had already seen his other movie, the heart-warming Requiem for a Dream, I decided that I must see more films by this guy! And that was Pi. I guess, for those who haven’t seen it, Pi is about this dude who’s really good at math who decides that he wants to figure out the math behind the stock market. Eventually, as all smart math guys do, he goes a little nuts, and ends up drilling himself in the head. Really, that’s the plot. I thought that, since I’m into philosophy n’ all, that I would like it. Two reasons: 1) it’s in black and white (and black and white automatically means quality), and 2) because it looked like a movie that people who are into philosophy would like. There’s a list, you know. There really is. It’s a list of things that philosophy people are supposed to be “into”. We’re supposed to like Woody Allen movies (except for Antz that’s a no-go for me), Monty Python flicks ( you’re supposed to be able to recite dialogue from these), Coen Brothers movies, jazz music, and “fair trade” coffee. I also think that any movie written by Steve Martin (except for The Jerk) is supposed to be somewhere on that list. They’re supposed to be stuff that are infused with all sorts of deep meaning and philosophic subtexts. Which is why pedestrian level philosophers like Star Trek. In Gene Roddenberry’s universe there isno such thing as subtlety. It’s all whack you over the head with a crowbar — and the point of philosophy is that not everyone gets this stuff. Which, I guess is where the philosophic rubber hits the road. At least that’s what the assholes believe, anyway. But the cold, harsh reality is, is that movies like Pi are damned hard to watch. It’s not that I didn’t get it, either. Oh I got it. Look, Being John Malkovich isn’t so much difficult to understand than it is hard to pay attention to if you have anything resembling a sense of boredom. And by the way, would Catherine Keener please stop playing the smart-talking, intellectually superior ( to you), chick?!? The plain truth is, is that Super Troopers is not only more entertaining than most “philosophic” movies — but it also probably is philosophically better for you. I swear that there is a difference between a movie that is just on its own smart (like the social commentary in the original Night of the Living Dead), and a movie that comes off like it is some sort of philosophy lesson (like Vanilla Sky). I’m not going to say exactly where I think this movie fits,but even now I keep thinking that I really should have liked Pi. While I’m writing this, I’m really thinking, wondering if there actually is some sort of philosopher profile that, once I join the ranks of THEM, I will automatically assume? Are there traits (or qualities, if that’s the way you roll) that I must necessarily have as a philosopher? If so what are they? A tendency to rattle on about things that no one else cares about? The ability to talk for ten straight minutes without ever answering the question that I was asked? Will I lose my ability to talk to normal people?!?!? Of course, half of what I’m saying is in jest (well, except for the not liking the movie Pi no matter how hard I’ve tried to). But, I think that there’s something more going on than this all being about a matter of taste. Without going into some sort of really overcomplicated postmodern take on high and low culture, there is a perception that there are things that everybody else likes and other things that only 0ther people like. That’s kind of messed up.