My Favorite Philosopher Is… Problematic

THERE ARE A FEW things these days that truly worry me: Crepey skin… Opioid-induced constipation…

Am I entitled to financial compensation if my loved one was exposed to mesothelioma-causing asbestos?

There is one thing I thought I never had to worry about: philosophers.

I was wrong.

Recent sex scandals involving the (formerly) respected philosophers Colin McGinn and John Searle, and the trial of Rutger’s University philosophy professor, Anna Stubblefield, who was convicted of the sexual assault of a 29 year old man with severe cerebral palsy, have made me think twice about the profession I’d once thought as scandal free.

Stubblefield’s conviction was overturned, by the way.

Nonetheless, it’s all kind of a black eye to the profession.

You see, pretty much nobody likes philosophers.

Sure, our moms and pops love us plenty, but when it comes to what society thinks of lovers of wisdom, the love is much to be desired.

“I have studied many philosophers and many cats. The wisdom of cats is far superior”
– Hippolyte Taine (1828 – 1893)

Philosophers got a shout out during the Republican Presidential Debates last year, but not for the reason that anyone would want to brag about.

Former Republican presidential candidate, Florida Representative Marco Rubio, declared that we need more welders and less philosophers.

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WHO’S TO SAY THIS GUYS DOESN’T READ SCHOPENHAUER IN HIS SPARE TIME/

Rubio’s fellow Republican candidate, Ted Cruz, declared that the Federal Reserve was being run by philosopher-kings.
That kinda sounds like a good thing, but Cruz didn’t mean it that way.

“There is, however, nothing wanting to the idleness of a philosopher but a better name, and that meditation, conversation, and reading should be called “work”.
– Jean de La Bruyere (1645 – 1696)

I’m not saying that welders aren’t a necessity. Lord knows that when I think about the folks who built my apartment, I’m glad that some of them picked up welding instead of Socrates.

But I’m also saying that philosophers can be useful, too.

Speaking of useful…

I thought if I went back to read the old philosophers, I’d find guys (and a few gals) who are not only brilliant, but also free of defect.

Uh…

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Sure, there’s some great classic philosophy, but going back to read the old philosophers just proves that those old white guys really were a bunch of old. white. guys.

They call it the Enlightenment but really, some of them folks weren’t very enlightened.

All Most Some of history’s greatest philosophers are sexist (dare we say even hovering near misogyny) and slightly more than casually racist.

Rousseau abandoned his kids.

Hegel fathered an illegitimate son with his landlord and was kind of a dick to the kid.

Descartes tortured animals.

Heidegger was a Nazi.

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NOT TALKING ABOUT METAPHORICAL NAZI, LIKE HEIDEGGER WAS GRAMMAR NAZI, BUT FULL-ON, HITLER SALUTING NAZI

Even my favorite philosopher, the 18th century Scottish philosopher, David Hume, wrote things that could only be described these days as… problematic.

In 1742, Hume wrote:

“I am apt to suspect that the Negroes, and in general all other species of men to be naturally inferior to the whites. There never was any civilized nation of any other complection than white, nor even any individual eminent in action or speculation.”

Hume also said that the Jews of Europe were “noted for fraud”.

But hey, at least Hume was against slavery!

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WHO KNEW HUME AND HEIDEGGER WOULD HAVE SO MUCH IN COMMON?

Ok, we can say that we shouldn’t judge others by our modern standards. And sometimes we shouldn’t. But here’s the thing: we can judge. We should judge.

You know, something about moral relativism.

Actually, there were plenty of people who objected to racism and sexism even back then.

I got so bummed out about philosophers that like a damned idiot I thought that turning to fictional philosophers would help.

Nope.

First off, there’s a real lack of philosophers in movies.

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LOOKING FOR A SOMEWHAT-DECENT PORTRAYAL OF A PHILOSOPHER IN A MOVIE OF A TV SHOW

As opposed to philosophy or movies that are philosophical – there’s plenty of that.

A lot of it bad.

…Although Richard Linklater’s Waking Life is a pretty good philosophical movie.

In the real world, we have highly entertaining philosophers like Slavoj Zizek, but in film (in movies that aren’t strictly biographical – there’s been movies about Socrates, Hypatia of Alexandria, Confucius, Descartes, Wittgenstein, and Hannah Arendt, among others or adapted from philosophical works, like Ayn Rand’s 1949 film adaptation of her novel, The Fountainhead), philosophers are depicted as dull, ineffectual, arrogant, and morally bankrupt.

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AYN RAND DIDN’T INVENT PHILOSOPHICAL MORAL BANKRUPTCY. SHE JUST GOT THE MOST POPULAR AT IT

Granted, movie philosophers are smart guys (and it is almost always a guy) but personally, especially morally, the movie philosopher is always royally screwed up.

Wait a minute. That describes a few real philosophers.

Movie philosophers are all thought and no action. All preparation and no H. They’re excellent at navel gazing and pontificating; high on the stink of their capacity for rational thought.

Popular depictions of philosophers (in film) tend to reflect the idea that intellectuals are not to be trusted.

Or at the very least they’re not to be taken seriously.

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Cinematic philosophers add nothing of value to society other than to increase the amount of bullshit and useless opinions.

You’re nodding your head, aren’t you?

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In movies, the goal always is to prove how stupid and wrong philosophy and philosophers are.

And philosophers don’t believe in GOD.

Movie philosophers are often philosophical but not philosophers. Like Yoda.

Yoda is a badass because he’s not a philosopher.

I decided to watch a few movies with philosophers in them to get a look-see at philosophers in film.

… and to affirm my confirmation bias.

“Philosophers say a great deal about what is absolutely necessary for science, and it is always so far as one can see, rather naïve, and probably wrong.
– Richard Feynman (1918 -1988)

In Mel Brooks’ History of the World, Part 1, when a “stand-up philosopher” (played by Brooks) gives his occupation, his occupation is corrected to “bullshit artist”.

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In The Life of David Gale, Kevin Spacey plays a philosophy professor put to death for murder.

By the way, he’s not guilty of the crime for which he is executed, mind you. He set himself up to be executed for a crime he didn’t commit to prove that the death penalty is wrong.

That’s a pretty underhanded thing to do.

Because movie philosophers do underhanded things.

Oops. Should I have said SPOILER ALERT?

In Woody Allen’s Irrational Man Joaquin Phoenix plays a philosophy professor (long story short) who attempts to murder a student he was flirted with.

Woody Allen is the king of movies with philosophical themes.

He’s also the king of movies about older men having semi-inappropriate relationships with disturbingly much younger women.

Because philosophers have inappropriate relationships with much younger women, especially if they’re students.

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PHILOSOPHY PROFESSORS AND STING. NOT GONNA EXPLAIN THE REFERENCE

Somehow its always the philosopher who wants to ball his students…

Speaking of balling students…

In the film Leaves of Grass written and directed by Tim Blake Nelson, Edward Norton stars as a Brown University philosophy professor, Bill Kincaid. Kincaid goes back to his hometown in Oklahoma to trade places with his hillbilly marijuana-dealing identical twin brother, Brady (also played by Edward Norton), who is mixed up with the local drug kingpin. In no surprise to the audience, Brady is the smarter twin and is also philosophical – but not like an overeducated intellectual Ivy League college philosophy professor kind of way.

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COME ON, WOULD YOU IF EDWARD NORTON WAS YOUR PHILOSOPHY PROFESSOR?

The Alfred Hitchcock film Rope (1948) is about a pair Nietzsche fans that demonstrate what happens when you get Nietzsche all wrong and that nihilism isn’t for everybody… or anybody.

…and then there’s my favorite, God’s Not Dead, the Christian cinema classic from 2014 starring Kevin Sorbo as an atheist philosophy professor. Yes, THAT atheist philosophy professor – the one, who, on the first day of class, challenges students to prove that God exists.

Or rather, confirm that God doesn’t exist.

Philosophy professors, like Sorbo’s Professor Jeffery Radisson, delight in breaking the faith of his Christian students.

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IT’S AN ESTABLISHED FACT IN PHILOSOPHY CIRCLES THAT SCREAMING ATHEISM IN A STUDENT’S FACE WILL SCREAM THE GOD RIGHT OUT OT THEM

Because he believes that philosophers know everything.

So far as I know, only Hegel thought that. About himself.

God’s Not Dead relies heavily on the popular (mis)conception that all philosophers are godless, God-hating atheists. Sorbo’s philosophy professor is high on his intellectualism. Proving God does not exist is an exercise in confirming his intellectual arrogance.

Obviously the folks who made God’s Not Dead have never heard of Alvin Plantinga.

Or Richard Swinburne.

Or Peter van Inwagen.

Of course the atheist philosophy professor dies in the end.

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RADISSON IS AFRAID TO DIE BECAUSE HE KNOWS ALL PHILOSOPHERS GO TO HELL

By the way, in my experience, never once in a philosophy class that wasn’t specifically a philosophy of religion class did any professor even mention arguments for or against the existence of God.

All of these depictions of philosophers are around because we think philosophers, not just the old white sexists and racists of the past, and not just the present-day philosophers accused of sexual impropriety, are problematic.

Philosophy is problematic.

That is something worth worrying about.

Not crepey skin-level worry, but worrying nonetheless.

 

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SERIOUSLY, HOW CAN YOU LOOK AT THIS AND NOT BE WORRIED?

 

 

** I’d like to add here that there is at least one awesomely excellent portrayal of a philosopher in popular culture, NYU philosophy degree-havin’, tai chi mastering, rip a man’s throat out with his bare hands-doin’ , bouncer (whoops) cooler, James Dalton, portrayed by the late (always great) Patrick Swayze in Road House.
Road House is a supremely bad movie, but in its awfulness is cinematic gold.
And Dalton’s great piece of philosophical mantra, “Be Nice, Until It’s Time To Not Be Nice”.

** I encourage anyone to watch all the films mentioned in this post. If not to see how philosophers are depicted in cinema, some of the movies actually are entertaining to watch.

 

 

For details on the Anna Stubblefield case: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/03/opinion/who-is-the-victim-in-the-anna-stubblefield-case.html

 

Women in Philosophy?

MARCH WAS Women’s History Month.

Since March has been designated the month to celebrate the contributions and accomplishments of the Second Sex throughout history, it seemed an appropriate time to write a blog post about women in philosophy.

As this blog has made abundantly clear, I do philosophy. I did my time at university, thumbing through studying philosophical texts and bullshitting my way through tests and term papers, that somehow I managed to earn a philosophy degree. I think I’ve read enough of the great – excuse me – GREAT (italics added for emphasis) philosophers to say that I have a working knowledge of the who’s who of philosophy.

If you challenged me to name five great (I mean GREAT) philosophers and I can rattle off a quick dozen names – Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Locke, Hume, Kant, Spinoza, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Leibnitz, Schopenhauer, Hegel…

You get the idea.

You may also notice that all of those philosophers are men.

Having a working knowledge of a who’s who of philosophy, you’d think it’d be easy to do the same with women philosophers, but for as much philosophy I’ve read, I’ll be damned if I can name more than five women philosophers without really thinking about the names of numbers four and five.

Well, let’s see… there’s Hypatia of Alexandria, Simone de Beauvoir, Judith Butler… uh… there’s uh… Hmmm… let me think… there’s Onora O’ Neill… Margaret Cavendish…

There. That’s five

and Martha Nussbaum.

Martha Nussbaum!

There. I can name six.

And as I’ve said an annoyingly amount of times before, I’ve been writing philosophical blog for a few years now, and as easily as I might be able to rattle off the names of five women… err… six women philosophers off of my head, I know I can’t name ten.

Thank God for Google, I guess.

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I have to admit my philosophical education didn’t prepare me for conjuring the names of more than six women philosophers.

Of all of the philosophy classes I actually showed up for had, only one class dedicated to women in philosophy.

Now that I’m thinking about it, that was the only class where I read any women philosophers.

Of course, in that ONE class we read de Beauvoir – and of course the class was about gender.

When I was taking philosophy classes I didn’t really think about it.

There was plenty else to think about: how long I could put off graduating… what’s the fewest number of classes I could attend without negatively affecting my grade… do I really have to read and study the assigned material or can I just bullshit my way through exams…?

I mean, I thought about the lack of women philosophers but didn’t think about it.
The answer I gave to myself for the lack of women philosophers was this: I knew that earning a philosophy degree meant reading the foundations of philosophy and the foundations of philosophy are men.

Plato. Aristotle. Kant. Russell…

And so on…

But now that I’m thinking about it, I’m thinking certainly there are women that do philosophy, right?

There’s gotta be more than five.

I mean, Women think, don’t they?

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APPARENTLY THIS SITUATION ONLY HAPPENS IN FICTION

If I thought the things that I think now, I would have demanded that my professors tell me where are all the women in metaphysics! Where are the women in epistemology?! Where are the lady ethicists?! Where are the women logicians???

I’d ask about women logicians even though I hate logic.

Now, I know that bringing up a lack of women philosophers probably sounds like I’m going all triggered SJWs complaining about… whatever, but having done the college philosophy thing, I actually did walk away with the impression that the only philosophy that’s done is done by a bunch of dead old guys.

Probably a slightly overweight old dudes with beards.

Some dude that looks like this

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Or this.

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NOT THE GUY FROM THE OTHER PICTURE

Well, at the risk of sounding triggered, I gotta ask, Is there a legit reason why there aren’t women in philosophy?

Is there a reason why philosophy students aren’t taught the works of women philosophers?

Does philosophy have a problem with women?

Probably.

You don’t have to dig too deeply into the annals of Philosophy to figure out that philosophers have written about women for centuries.

Banquet given by the Seven Sages of Greece

PICTURED: PHILOSOPHERS SHIT TALKIN’ ABOUT WOMEN

I’m sure that the reason why – that even now – there’s a lack of prominent women in philosophy has to do with the legacy of sexism and misogyny. We don’t push girls into the thinking fields: math, science, philosophy because women aren’t capable of thinking philosophically.

Because, apparently, sporting a vagina  (or wandering uterus) disqualifies one from being capable of sustaining a rational thought.

Aristotle observed that women are “incomplete” males.

For Aristotle, being a woman was a “deformity”.

Aristotle also said that women are more (than men):

  • mischievous
  • impulsive
  • easily moved to tears
  • jealous
  • quarrelsome
  • apt to “scold and to strike”
  • void of shame or self respect
  • false of speech
  • deceptive
  • difficult to rouse to action

 
But hey, Aristotle said that women have fewer teeth than men.

Whatever that means.

I assume that it’s a good thing.

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THIS FROM THE SAME GUY WHO THOUGHT SPERM HAS TINY PEOPLE IN IT. HE DID. BELIEVE THAT. LOOK IT UP

Women are incomplete, deformed, trouble causing males, therefore, women should be relegated to domestic duties.

That’s because the natural place for a woman is in the home.

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Heck, why go all the way back to the ancient Greek philosophers?

Hegel said women’s

minds are not adapted to the higher sciences, philosophy, or certain of the arts.

The master of misinterpreted philosophy, Friedrich Nietzsche, wrote:

Woman has so much reason fir shame; in woman there is concealed in woman there is so much superficiality, petty presumption and petty immodesty…

Nietzsche also declared that woman was God’s second mistake.

Schopenhauer wrote:

One need only look at a woman’s shape to discover that she is not intended for either too much mental or too much physical work.

I truly think that the only person that got more philosophers shit talkin’ about them than women is Hegel.

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IN SHORT, AVOID HEGEL 

But really, you don’t need to read the Simone de Beauvoir catalog to know that women have always had a role in philosophy.

Let’s take a moment to think about Hypatia of Alexandria, the fourth century astronomer and philosopher who not only headed the Neoplatonic school in Alexandria, but was put to death by a Christian mob.

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YOU COULD SPEND A FEW MINUTES READING THE STANFORD ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY ARTICLE ON HYPATIA OF OF ALEXANDRIA, BUT WHY DO THAT WHEN YOU CAN AVOID READING COMPLETELY AND WATCH THE MOVIE “AGORA”, STARRING RACHEL WEISZ AS HYPATIA?

 

Did Schopenhauer do that?

I can tell you the answer is no.

Women not only have contributed to philosophical thought, but often add a different perspective to philosophy.

Women philosophers have been at the forefront on subjects such as race, gender, sexuality, disability, and the intersectionality of those subjects with (and in) philosophy. Women, inside and outside of philosophy, have proven that the second sex are more than capable of rational thought.

Let’s take a couple more moments to think about a few more women and ideas in philosophy:

 

  • Simone de Beauvoir’s work on gender in The Second Sex
  • Judith Butler on feminist, gender, and queer theory
  • Carol Gilligan’s Ethics of Care
  • The novels of Ayn Rand and Rand’s philosophical theory of Objectivism

I mean, come on, where would the world be without Rand’s objectivism?

 

Probably in a better place, actually.

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WHEN THE SIMPSONS MAKE FUN OF YOU…..

Now that I’m thinking about it, maybe women shouldn’t do philosophy.

I’m kidding.

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REASON ENOUGH TO NOT TAKE AYN RAND SERIOUSLY. YES I REALIZE THAT’S AN AD HOMINEM

If studying philosophy proves anything, it proves that PEOPLE are capable of philosophical thought; that good philosophical ideas and bad philosophical ideas are not exclusive to any gender.

Given the current state of rational thought: dealing in alternative facts and a society where politicians call for “less philosophers”, we should encourage anyone who is willing to THINK. We should welcome them and give them the same intellectual respect as the ancient Greeks, Hume, Kant, or even, God forbid, Georg Hegel.

 

…even if their uterus is wandering.

25 THOUGHTS ABOUT PHILOSOPHY

I’VE BEEN DOING this philosophy thing for a few years now.

I’ve done the college. I’ve done the book. I do the blog.

In fact, this isn’t my first philosophy blog.

I had another one. It was called The Kantian Egoist. I ended that blog to start up this blog, The Mindless Philosopher. I think I’ll be doing this for awhile.

Earning a philosophy degree, writing a book, and writing a philosophy blog for a few years – that’s a lot of years thinking about things. In particular, it’s a lot of years spent thinking about philosophy.

And after thinking about philosophy for a few years, I’ve come to a few conclusions.

Twenty five, to be exact.

Some of these thoughts I hold to with more conviction than others. Some are just thoughts that popped up in my head and I probably won’t believe in a couple of months.

I think these few things:

1. Don’t get into philosophical arguments with people who aren’t philosophers.

Philosopher/non-philosopher arguments never turn out well – especially for the philosopher. If you feel the need to use some philosophical jargon coming on, just stop talking. Things can only go downhill from there.

2. Everything ultimately is philosophical.

Everything.

3. Philosophy isn’t dead or dying. It’s just having a really bad hair day.

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The very act of declaring philosophy is dead is a philosophical statement. ‘Nuff said.

4. There’s nothing wrong with having a philosophy degree.

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*NOT ACCURATE

5. Everyone is a little bit of a philosopher, and not just when they’re drunk.

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6. Philosophers drink way too much alcohol… and coffee.

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7. There is a real problem with academic philosophy.

Academic philosophy is out of touch with what’s going on outside academia. Professional philosophers spend too much time focusing on theory and not enough time on real people in the real world.

8. Accept the fact that there will always be people who think what you do is useless.

Like they say, haters gonna hate.

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9. Analytic philosophy will make you a better thinker, but continental philosophy will tell you what’s going on.

Or at least to figure out David Lynch flicks.

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WHAT. THE. F@#K?

10. There is a real possibility that the postmodernists won.

11. Dropping Hegel’s name in conversation will never make you appear smarter. Even when talking to philosophers.

12. Whatever you think you know about Nietzsche’s philosophy, you’re probably wrong.

If someone tells you they’re a nihilist, they probably ain’t.

13. If you ever see these on someone’s bookshelf, RUN.

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14. Nobody’s arguments are a declarative statement, supported by a set of premises. Nobody in the real world argues like that. Not even philosophers.

15. There’s more to philosophy than what you read in college.

16. Read the German philosophers. You won’t like it, but you’ll appreciate it after to do.

Well, at least try to read the German philosophers. We’ll understand if you skip Hegel.

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17. Read some Eastern philosophy. Heck, read philosophy that wasn’t written by a man or a western European.

18. Don’t forget that you’re a part of all of this too. Philosophy is not a spectator sport.

19. If you’re on a bus and you want people to leave you alone, read Kant. Better yet, read Hegel.

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YEAH. NOBODY’S GONNA TALK TO THIS GUY

20. If you want to start a conversation, read Marx or Rand.

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CHICKS DEFINITELY WANT TO TALK TO THIS GUY

21. Something may sound profound, but it ain’t always philosophical.

22. All philosophical theories/schools of thought have been depicted in at least one episode of Star Trek.

Name an episode: Second Chances, A Measure of a Man, The Omega Directive… any episode. IT’S ALL PHILOSOPHY.

23. Woody Allen is not the end-all, be-all of philosophical filmmaking. Its ok if you’re not a fan.

You can learn a bit from watching old Toho Godzilla flicks, too.

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THERE ARE INNUMERABLE MORAL IMPLICATIONS OF FUCKING THIS BRIDGE

24. Consulting Wikipedia and/or watching YouTube philosophy videos is acceptable to explain/clarify a philosophical theory or concept (so long as neither is your only primary source).

25. And lastly, I thought this: Never let anyone make you feel like your well-reasoned, philosophy-based ideas, observations, or arguments aren’t relevant or are worth less because you studied “philosophy”.

Philosophy is the mother of medicine. Philosophy also is the mother of science. And philosophy is the mother of political science and economics. Plato’s Republic influence on politics stretches from ancient Greece to Washington D.C. today. Adam Smith called himself a moral philosopher. Aristotle’s philosophy not only shaped the Catholic Church but also shaped western civilization. Whether folks want to believe it or not, philosophers and their irrelevant, navel-gazing thoughts have shaped and influenced ideas and institutions since… well, since forever. If anybody gives me guff about studying philosophy or being a philosopher, I tell them to buzz off.

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Or I can call the nay sayers “flat-headed, insipid, nauseating”, and “illiterate” – just like Schopenhauer said about Hegel.

Becoming A Philosopher Was the Worst Thing To Happen To My Record Collection

I WASN’T BORN a fan of philosophy.

Many, many years ago I was just another latch-key kid who watched too much TV. With an empty house, plenty of snacks, and a TV remote in hand, I spent countless hours not doing my homework, watching everything from He-Man to The People’s Court to The Oprah Winfrey Show.

Back in the day, when music television meant a channel actually showed music videos, I watched a lot of MTV.
Now, back then, when music videos were becoming a thing, most videos weren’t very good.

And sometimes after watching a video, you would wish you’d never seen what the band actually looked like.

 

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I WISH I’D NEVER SEEN THIS VIDEO

But every so often you’d see a video that had something more than bad camera work, cheesy sets and costumes, and big 80’s hair going on.

Some videos gave you the idea that there we something going on behind what we see.

In some cases, the thing going on behind the thing we see is philosophical.

Before I had ever heard of Jean-Paul Sartre. Before I had heard of Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble. And long before I had ever heard of postmodernism, I had heard of David Bowie.

Not only were Bowie’s music videos visually stunning, but many of his videos would leave me thinking, “Is there something else going on, here?”

As it turns out, there almost always was.

 

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LOOK CLOSELY. THERE’S SOMETHING GOING ON, HERE

This explains why when David Bowie died in January of this year, I felt a little sadder than I normally would for the usual celebrity death. Bowie’s death wasn’t just the loss of a musical idol. It was a philosophical loss as well.

 

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THE FACT THAT THEY LOOK ALIKE MAY NOT BE COINCIDENTAL

If I had my choice, I’d much prefer that my philosophical lessons come from watching music videos rather than from reading philosophy books. Really, if you think about it most songs are kinda philosophical, so it would make (some) sense that one would learn a philosophical lesson or two from their favorite musician.

 

bill ted and socrates

WE ALL REMEMBER THAT TIME SOCRATES TOURED WITH WYLD STALLYNS

 

It wouldn’t be too unreasonable, then, to consider the philosophy of some musicians in the same way that we adhere to the ideas of a particular philosopher.

The trouble pops up when one’s musical idols become what YouTube famous* atheist Steve Shives calls “problematic”.

And David Bowie certainly is “problematic”.

 

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David Bowie, like many other musicians, had certain relations that may be called “inappropriate”.

 

(comment) chris hansen

THIS KIND OF INAPPROPRIATE

“Baby Groupie” Lori Mattix recounted in an article for Thrillist that was deflowered by Bowie in the 1970s when she was just 14 years old.

Although Mattix insists that she’s suffered no irreparable damage from her encounter with David Bowie (in fact, Mattix says she was a willing participant and has no regrets), the fact that Bowie was an adult and Mattix had not yet reached the age of consent presents a problem. To wit: sexual relations with an individual under the age of consent, even if the individual is willing, is illegal.

The law calls it statutory rape.

 

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The statutory rape allegations against David Bowie rape have lead some to argue that we should think of Bowie less like this:

 

Greatest Artists of All Time

 

and more like this:

 

bowie mugshot

 

The reason why, I think, has something to do with the fact that our favorite musicians are more than mere entertainers.

You see, music, according to Socrates, is an essential element in life. Not just because listening to music makes a long road trip fun, but because music plays a part in the formation of a good soul.

According to Socrates, it is important that we not only listen to music, but also listen to the right kind of music.

 

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And because the music we listen to is the right kind of music the quality of the music also reflects the quality of the people making the music. The right kind of music is made by the right kind of people.

And by “the right kind of people” we mean the kind of right-souled examples the community should follow.

 

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IT’S NOT AN UNFAIR ASSUMPTION THAT SOCRATES WOULD APPROVE OF MUSIC PERFORMED ONLY BY PEOPLE DRESSED LIKE THIS

 

But what about philosophers? As lovers of wisdom, philosophers should also be the right-souled kind of people the community should follow. Socrates even suggested that society should be ruled a philosopher-king. If we use the same standard for philosophers that we use for music and the makers of music, how many philosophers qualify as the right kind of people?
Well, let’s take a look at a few philosophers, shall we?
Hume and Kant were racists. Jean-Jacques Rousseau abandoned his family. Hegel was shitty to his illegitimate son. Hegel also said “The difference between man and woman is as between animal and plant”. Schopenhauer was a misogynist who described women as “[a] mental myopic” and pushed a woman down a flight of stairs.

 

arthur schopenhauer 1

Bertrand Russell had multiple infidelities with the wives of his friends. Nietzsche was a German nationalist who may or may not have influenced the Nazis. Heidegger was a Nazi. Descartes experimented on cats while they were still alive. Diogenes masturbated in public. Colin McGinn resigned from his position at the University of Miami following allegations by a female student of sexual harassment . Rutgers University philosophy professor, Anna Stubblefield was tried and convicted of sexually assaulting an intellectually disabled man.

 

Foucault was just weird.

 

sexy foucault

If you think about it, it’s not exactly a group of good souls.

Long story short, if we’re looking for the kind of good-souled people worth following, we may find very few in philosophy.

And that’s the point – just like some advised when David Bowie’s sexual improprieties came to light following his death – perhaps we should learn to separate the artist from his art – and the philosopher from his philosophy.

art from artist

philosophy from philosopher

 

Although I think that it’s sometimes for our own psychological peace of mind to ignore the unsavory bits of a philosopher’s or artist’s personal life, there’s something about overlooking the unpleasant parts that kinda, well, bugs me.

 

grinds my gears

EXCUSE ME WHILE I HAVE A PETER GRIFFIN MOMENT

I mean, why would we? Can we ignore the unsavory bits? Should we? Is it to our philosophical benefit to excise aspects of a person’s life and actions? Are some illegal acts really no big deal? At what point can we or should we not overlook the personal life or actions of a pop culture idol or a philosopher?

 

no heidegger

 

To be honest, I don’t know. I’m well aware of Bertrand Russell’s adulterous behavior and yet I still believe that Russell is one of the greatest minds of the 20th century. I’ve read the racist views of Hume and Kant and yet I still refer to Kant’s ethics and Hume’s metaphysics regularly in my writing. And even though Schopenhauer truly was an awful person, he retains a soft spot in my heart.

 

I still hate Hegel, though.

Finding out that Hegel was a turd of a human being only makes me hate him more.

 

hegel TLDR

 

I probably won’t stop listening to David Bowie’s music, either.

 

I think, in the end, we shouldn’t be required to abandon our fandom or appreciation for Hegel, Heidegger, Hume, Kant, or David Bowie. What we should be, however, is mindful. We should be mindful of the fact that anyone we look up to, be they a philosopher or our favorite singer, is a flawed human being.

We should never fail to remind ourselves that the ability to communicate profound words or deep insights does not make a person perfect (nor should it). We should remember that sometimes even good people do bad things.
tumblr_inline_mxe0qqbxnq1qcryb6

When all is said and done, there’s still a philosophical lesson to be learned – if only for the opportunity to ask what do we do when our idols are “problematic”?

I still don’t know.

If you figure out the answer let me know.

 

 

 

 

* I mean the term “YouTube famous” un-disparagingly, but to merely state that Steve Shives has a sizable following on YouTube. I, for one, am rather jealous of Shives’ following. I’m not even “Wordpress famous”.
I would also recommend checking out Shives’ commentary on David Bowie: 

 

 

 

SOURCES:

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/01/17/david-bowie-and-rock-n-roll-s-statutory-rape-problem.html

God Rest Ye Merry Kierkegaard

I WOULD BE LYING IF I said that I am a Christmas person. I’m not.

At all.

I don’t like Christmas.

Of course, none of this has anything to do with the fact that I do philosophy. I started not liking the Yuletide season long before I ever opened up a book of philosophical whatnot. Being a Christmas person is just not in my bones.

I speculate that at least some of my dislike has to do with Christmas carols.
That Christmas Shoes song…

ugh.

 

worst christmas song ever 1

 

Although, I maintain that my love of philosophy has nothing to do with my non-fondness of Christmas, some folks would like you believe that it‘s all because of philosophy.

That being a philosopher is the quickest path to eternal damnation.

 

gods-not-dead-movie-poster-ftr

LIKE THIS MOVIE

 

Head’s up: some of you may not know this, but there are many philosophers who not only celebrate Christmas but also accept Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior.

That’s right, Kevin Sorbo.

Philosophers are Christians, too.

Like this guy

 

kierkegaard

 

and this guy

 

plantinga

 

and this guy

craig
There’s actually more than a few Christian philosophers out there.

And not all of them are dead.

 

Kind of like God.

 

nietzsche-is-dead

 
Although the common (mis)perception of philosophers is that philosophers are a bunch of God-hating academics that delight in nothing more than de-Christianizing freshman students.

 

crazy-evolutionist-in-chick-tract
Yes, Kevin Sorbo. I’m still talking about you.

 

post-31569-kevin-sorbo-disappointed-gif-i-fiwo

 
Actually reading philosophy would inform even the most hardcore philosophers-hate-Jesus/morality folks that philosophy is also chocked full of some of the same Christian values that we teach/preach when we celebrate the birth of Christ.

Unless you’re reading Nietzsche.

 

nietzsche sweater 1

IT’S PROBABLY A SAFE BET THAT OLD FRED WOULD HAVE HATED THIS SWEATER

 
All the God talk at Christmastime isn’t just a great opportunity to contemplate the metaphysics of man’s existence and the universe, it’s also the perfect opportunity to contemplate one’s philosophical beliefs while also acknowledging the religious and philosophical influence of the central moral figure of the western world.

That figure would be Jesus.

 

jesus philosophy

 

 

If you think about it, Christian Christmas ethics, with its principle of peace and good will towards men, is (basically) the foundation of every ethical theory.

 

christmas ayn

EVERY ETHICAL THEORY MAYBE EXCEPT FOR OBJECTIVISM. PRETTY SURE AYN RAND WOULD TELL JESUS F#!K YOU

 

Pick a moral philosopher – Mill, Bentham, Kant, Tillich… you name it. Every ethical theory is all about doing good for our fellow man.

 

The creed which accepts as the foundation of morals, Utility, or the Greatest Happiness Principle, holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness.

 

Heck, Kant even wrote that our actions must first come from disposition of good will.

 

Nothing in the world – indeed nothing even beyond the world – can possibly be
conceived which could be called good without qualification except a GOOD WILL.

It’s not just getting presents that get philosophers all jazzed about Christmas.

It’s also about all the philosophy to be found this time of year!
Christmas stories of characters like Ebenezer Scrooge and The Grinch teach us about forgiveness and redemption.

ETHICS!

Modern Christmas classics like A Christmas Story and A Charlie Brown Christmas teach us the moral lesson of discovering what’s important in life.

MORE ETHICS!

Rankin-Bass’ Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer gives us a lesson in what to do when our beliefs are challenged by countervailing evidence and finding one’s place in the world.

EPISTEMOLOGY!
METAPHYSICS!

That’s all stuff that philosophers talk about.

 

muscle philosopher shirt

YES. IF YOU BECOME A PHILOSOPHER YOUR ARMS WILL LOOK EXACTLY LIKE THIS

 

So, if you hear anyone say that it’s improper for a philosopher to celebrate the holidays, tell them “Bah, humbug!” and hang another bauble on the Christmas tree. Offer the naysayer a mug of eggnog and explain, despite what Chick Tracts may have them believe, that there is nothing immoral about philosophy.
Still doesn’t mean a philosopher has to like Christmas, though.

I F@&#ING LOVE PHILOSOPHY

philosophers vs welders

 

 

I’VE BEEN WRITING The Mindless Philosopher blog for some time now. And I’m not ashamed to say that after one book and years of blogging that I have developed a true love of wisdom. I have more philosophy books on my bookshelf than any other genre of literature.

It wasn’t always the case, though.

My first intellectual love wasn’t philosophy. It was politics.

I LOVED politics.

The mere thought of a presidential election cycle gave me the all over tinglies.

However, my love of all things political eventually faded and I found happiness with another, older, love

PHILOSOPHY.

 

From the moment I read my first line of Hume, I was hooked. I’ve been through Kant and Russell. Descartes and Kierkegaard. Aristotle and Kripke. I truly believe that there’s no greater intellectual satisfaction than actually understanding Hegel.

I can’t put it any other way than to say

 

i fucking love philosophy

 

This is why it distresses me so much to hear practitioners of my first love speak with such harshness towards something I hold so dear to my heart.

On November 10, 2015, during the Republican Presidential debate, Florida Senator, Marco Rubio said:

 

Rubio debate 1

 

Needless to say, I took the Senator’s sentiments personally.

I was perplexed. Hurt. I sat and stared at my TV set, baffled by what I had just seen.

 

my-mad-fat-diary-rae-what-face

 

Rubio’s inexplicable attack on philosophers was not his first, nor was Senator Rubio’s comment the only anti-philosopher sentiment expressed during the debate. Senator Ted Cruz (R, Texas), asserted that the Federal Reserve is being run by “a series of philosopher kings.” Said Senator Cruz

What the fed is doing now, it is a series of philosopher kings trying to guess what’s happening to the economy.

tumblr_nangn827x01rfduvxo1_250

 

The candidates might have talked all about budgets and foreign policy, but for me, the overwhelming message I took from the debate was

 

philosophy

 

I could have gotten angry about what I believed was straight-up philosophy bashing. I didn’t though. I didn’t because I think I know what Senator Rubio is trying to get at.

Assuming that Senator Rubio isn’t just on an anti-philosopher kick, the Senator is expressing his frustration over the fact that our culture does not value manual labor. We over value occupations where people talk and pontificate (and in some cases, literally don’t produce anything) over occupations where people actually do things – make stuff.

 

stuff2band2bthings

 

Truth be told, Plato’s philosopher-king doesn’t really bother himself with manual tasks.

 

cm-52261-05130280d33ed6

 

The problem with pursuing a college degree in philosophy, according to the philosophy non-enthusiasts, is that students take out loans to study subjects that seemingly have no prospects for occupations in the “real” world or outside of academia. They leave university swamped with student loan debt that they are unable to pay (because the lack of professional philosopher gigs). This is a burden not only on individuals, but also on the economy.

 

philosophers-famous-photos-wife1

 

The perception that philosophy is a surefire path to poverty is why there’s been a push among educators to direct students into the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields, with the intention of producing students who will be competitive in the international job market and secure the nation’s economic prosperity.

 

phil pic 124

THIS IS WHY YOUR TEACHERS WANT YOU TO LEARN GEOMETRY

 

 

The belief that philosophy is not a economically viable career is why politicians want to see students to learn how to do this:

 

computer engineer

 

Instead of doing this:

 

philosophers under tree.jpg

 

Ok, you know how I said that Senator Rubio’s sentiments weren’t complete bullshit?

Well, of course, saying something isn’t complete bullshit suggests the possibility that something may be just a little bit bullshit.

And in this case, that happens to be true.

There’s a noticeable bit of bullshit to what Senator Marco Rubio said.

 

rubio grammar

THERE CERTAINLY WAS SOME BULLSHIT. AND NOT JUST RUBIO’S BAD GRAMMAR

 

You see, there’s something that Senator Marco Rubio is forgetting, namely, the fact that philosophy is the mother of many disciplines. The first politicians were philosophers. You’d be one hell of an idiot to dismiss how PHILOSOPHERS like Plato, Aristotle, Mill, Locke, Hobbes, Edmund Burke, Adam Smith, Bentham, Rousseau, Marx, Ayn Rand, John Rawls (and many other philosophers) have shaped and influenced political institutions and political discourse.

 

Senator Rubio can’t neglect the fact that American statesmen – and philosophers – Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Thomas Paine did better for the country by pursuing philosophical contemplation rather than taking up a career in welding.

 

thomas jefferson. philosopher

Ummmm…… yeah

 

Philosophy, as Jefferson was well aware, stresses critical thinking – an essential element for a lasting democracy.

Thomas Jefferson declared

“wherever the people are well-informed they can be trusted with their own government.”

It’s not unreasonable to assume that a well-informed people, in Jefferson’s view, are also a contemplative people. People who use their faculties to reason when casting their votes.

 

tumblr_inline_mpf70ibwyr1qz4rgp

 

 

And let’s not forget that Leo Strauss, the father of Neo-Conservatism, a political view Senator Rubio is quite familiar with, was a philosophy professor at University of Chicago.

 

strauss-large

ON SECOND THOUGHT, MAYBE STRAUSS SHOULD HAVE TAKEN UP WELDING

 

Seriously, even economists started out as philosophers.

 

download (11)

 

Philosophy’s mark can be found in many fields including medicine, psychology, mathematics, even physics.

Now that I’m thinking of it, Senator Rubio’s fellow republican presidential contender, Carly Fiorina, is a philosophy major. Fiorina received her philosophy degree from Stanford University in 1976.

 

 

qbmmxuo

 

Seriously, the real reason why Senator Rubio’s comments are more than a tad bit on the bullshit side, is because what he said just isn’t true.

Philosophy, despite beliefs to the contrary, can be a economically viable career.

 

money-gif

 

And not just for those in academia.

 

Check out this graph:

philosopher vs welder 2

 

And this pie chart:

welders vs. philosophers

 

Professional philosophers earn on average, $71,000/yr. versus the average $40,000 yearly salary earned by professional welders. The average salary over time for a worker with bachelor’s degree in philosophy is nearly $100,000 per year.

In addition to not-too-shabby yearly earnings, philosophy majors earn high (if not the highest scores) on exams, including the Law Schools Admission Test (LSAT), Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) and the Graduate Record Examination (GRE).

 

power of philosophy

 

And it’s not like philosophers just sit under a tree, being broke all day, contemplating their big toe. Philosophers aren’t limited to just being philosophers. There are many successful folks with philosophy degrees in fields outside of philosophy.

 

Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel has a degree in philosophy.

peter thiel

 

As does LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman.

 

reid hoffman

 

And Flickr co-founder Stewart Butterfield.

 

stewart butterfield

 

And Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger.

larry sanger

 

And activist investor Carl Icahn.

 

carl icahn

 

So does billionaire George Soros.

 

george soros

 

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer also has a degree in philosophy.

 

stephen breyer

 

Pope John Paul II also majored in philosophy.

 

pope john paul II

 

And you can’t get any more successful than that.

 

txtvbdl

 

*For a more comprehensive list of successful philosophy majors see: 

http://www.apaonline.org/?whostudiesphilosophy

 

If you think about it, the point of the welder-philosopher conflict isn’t that we should praise one and discourage the other, but that we should appreciate both.

 

85833-is-it-too-much-to-ask-for-both-2yvg

 

Yes, the world needs welders. A lot of them. Vocational work is not only necessary but also valuable work. But so is philosophy. Philosophy is essential to the kind of life we should want to live.

 

socrates johnson

BE HONEST. THIS IS THE KIND OF LIFE YOU WANT TO LIVE, ISN’T IT?

 

Society needs people who will question, analyze; argue. Philosophy teaches critical thinking and intellectual clarity. Philosophy empowers us to understand not just the foundations of our political institutions, but also to examine our moral choices and the moral implications of what we do (by the way, ethics is a branch of philosophy). Philosophers ponder life’s big questions.

 

giphy

 

Even theology can’t escape the influence of philosophy. Many theologians, past and present, were and are also philosophers.

 

thomas aquinas

WE’RE PRETTY SURE THAT THE REASON WHY SUMMA THEOLOGICA WAS NEVER FINISHED HAD SOMETHING TO DO WITH ST. THOMAS AQUINAS’ OBSESSION WITH WELDING

 

Really, in the end, folks, there’s no rule that says that a person can’t be a welder and a philosopher.

 

ThinkerWelderWeb

 

Some folks might think that the economy-er… world would be better off with less philosophers, but I say that’s just a load of poppycock. Being a philosopher doesn’t mean that one looks down from their academic ivory tower, scoffing at all the not-deep thinking people who work with their hands and take their showers after they come home from work. Nor does being a welder mean that a person can’t enjoy reading Plato and contemplating the meaning of life. I may be going out on a limb here, but I’ll say, with more than a little bit of certainty, that there at least a few welders out there who would join me when I proclaim that I – I mean, WE FUCKING LOVE PHILOSOPHY.

 

 

 

 

SOURCES:
http://www.vox.com/2015/11/10/9709948/marco-rubio-philosophy-welder

http://thinkprogress.org/politics/2015/11/10/3721387/why-marco-rubio-owes-philosophy-majors-an-apology/

http://dailynous.com/2015/09/04/salaries-of-philosophy-majors-over-time/

http://www.techinsider.io/insanely-successful-philosophy-majors-2015-11

 

The Trouble With Melanin

“At the heart of racism is the religious assertion that God made a creative mistake when he brought some people into being” – Friedrich Otto Hertz
HAVE YOU EVER had one of those moments?

One of Those kind of moments.

Maybe you had one in a department store. Or in an elevator. On a sidewalk.

Or in a restaurant.

Or if you’re the President of the United States….
One of those kind of moments when you have to stop and ask yourself

was that racist

It’s pretty easy to spot a racist or an act of racism when a person is dressed like this:

klans men
or if you find one of these burning on your front lawn

cross burning

But, you see, racism is sometimes difficult to figure out.

Is a seemingly racist incident an unintentional micro aggression or a full-on David Duke-style PDR?

Public Display of Racism.
no dogs negroes or mexicans

Quick quiz: Is this a Public Display of Racism?

Is this?

Or this?

Are you thinking the answer is definitely yes

…. or are you thinking that the question is debatable?

A couple of weeks ago, while shopping at the local KMart

Because layaway is wonderful.

I was perusing the home entertainment section when an elderly white woman approached me and asked if I had seen the movie 12 Years A Slave in the DVD section. She explained how she loved the book and wanted to watch the movie to see if it is a good as Solomon Northup’s memoir of his life as a free man wrongfully enslaved.

Asking a fellow customer if they know the location of a product isn’t unusual. I’ve done it plenty of times myself.

I think the reason why she specifically asked me had a little something to do with my complexion.

My complexion, mind you, looks a little like this:
arm
So naturally, in response to the woman’s inquiry, I felt a little like this:

I assumed that the reason why the woman asked me, and not any other person in the home entertainment department (including store employees) if I knew where 12 Years A Slave was, was because of one thing.

One, elephant-sized, melanin-soaked, thing.

A BIG, MELANIN-SOAKED ELEPHANT

A BIG, MELANIN-SOAKED ELEPHANT

Now, here’s the problem: I don’t know if the woman was racist.
I have only what I assume to be true of the woman and her state of mind.

TRY AS I MIGHT, I HAVE NOT MASTERED THE ART OF MINDREADING.

TRY AS I MIGHT, I HAVE NOT MASTERED THE ART OF MINDREADING.

Based on my prima facie assessment of the situation, I made three assumptions about the elderly woman.

The elderly white woman asked me where to find 12 Years A Slave because:

1. She assumed that because of my race, I had not only seen the movie 12 Years A Slave, but I also knew the location of the DVD in the store ( possibly an unintentional microaggression).

In case you’re wondering, a microaggression is:

the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.

B. The elderly woman was merely asking the nearest person in the area.

3. The lady was a full-on racist who assumed that I had not only seen the movie 12 Years A Slave, but I also knew the location of the DVD in the store.

You see, despite my epistemic prowess, I don’t know what the lady was thinking. I can only assume to know – and even then, my assumption is just an assumption. Even assuming that the woman’s inquiry was made with the best of intentions doesn’t mean that my perception of racism wasn’t actually racism.
It doesn’t necessarily mean that it was, either.
images redneck
In The Souls of Black Folk , W.E.B. DuBois wrote, “The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line.”
no japanese
If you’ve spent any time paying any attention to the media, you’d know that in the 21st century race is still a problem.

THIS IS NOT A PHOTO FROM THE 1950S. IT WAS TAKEN AT A KLAN RALLY IN SOUTH CAROLINA IN JUNE, 2015

THIS IS NOT A PHOTO FROM THE 1950S. IT WAS TAKEN AT A KLAN RALLY IN SOUTH CAROLINA IN JUNE, 2015

That fact might have something to do with this:

THIS IS A LIST OFTHE NUMBER OF KNOWN HATE GROUPS IN THE UNITED STATES

THIS IS A LIST OFTHE NUMBER OF KNOWN HATE GROUPS IN THE UNITED STATES

THIS IS A MAP OFTHE DISTRIBUTION OF KNOWN HATE GROUPS IN THE UNITED STATES

THIS IS A MAP OFTHE DISTRIBUTION OF KNOWN HATE GROUPS IN THE UNITED STATES

It’s obvious that we spend a lot of time thinking about and discussing (and often arguing about) race. And we think we have a grip on exactly what race is.

Wait a minute. I’ve been talking about the term “race”.

The philosopher in me says it’s time I define my terminology.

Generally speaking, race is defined as a set of characteristics that differentiate groups of humans. Race is viewed as an indicator of certain inherited attributes of which traits like skin color physical features, body type, hair color and texture, provide an indicator of supposedly biologically based attributes such as mental capacity, and moral aptitude. The concept of race has evolved over time, but the practice of classifying people is as old as history. Civilizations have always defined and separated themselves according to tribe, language or religious practices. In the Bible, God distinguished the Israelites from the Gentiles. The Greek philosopher Aristotle differentiated the “civilized” Greeks and the Persian “barbarians” and wrote, “This is why the poets say ‘it is fitting for Greeks to rule barbarians’”.

 ARISTOTLE: CLASSICAL PHILOSOPHER AND ANCIENT GREEK RACIST

ARISTOTLE: CLASSICAL PHILOSOPHER AND ANCIENT GREEK RACIST

Our modern concept of race is a relatively new idea. The modern concept can be traced back to the 15th century (a.k.a. the Age of Discovery). European exploration of the New World is significant for two reasons: 1) European expansion led to the colonization of newly acquired territories, and 2) contact between fair-skinned European explorers and the darker complexioned native populations of Asia and Africa led to the development of racial categorization based on physical characteristics

… or phenotypes.
The concept of biological race developed as exploration of the New World and the need for labor required a justification for the enslavement of indigenous peoples and European colonialism. As a result of the enslavement of indigenous Americans and Africans in the New World, the world’s population was divided into three primary races:

the Caucasian race

Albert-Camus

the Mongoloid race

asian man

and the Negroid race

african woman

The white race, according to the race of European colonizers, is superior, while other races (in particular enslaved Africans) are considered inferior.

THOMAS JEFFERSON, THIRD PRESIDENT OT THE UNITED STATES, WROTE AFTER SLAVERY THAT, “WHEN FREED, HE [NEGROES] IS TO BE REMOVED BEYOND THE REACH OF MIXTURE”  SO, IF JEFFERSON HAD HIS WAY, THIS WOULD NEVER HAPPEN IN THE 23RD CENTURY

THOMAS JEFFERSON, THIRD PRESIDENT OT THE UNITED STATES, WROTE AFTER SLAVERY THAT, “WHEN FREED, HE [NEGROES] IS TO BE REMOVED BEYOND THE REACH OF MIXTURE”
SO, IF JEFFERSON HAD HIS WAY, THIS WOULD NEVER HAPPEN IN THE 23RD CENTURY

The 2008 election and the 2012 re-election of President Barack Obama was supposed to have ushered in an era of American “post-racialism”; the fulfillment of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream of a society where individuals are judged not by race, but by the content of their character.

Race, in this era of post-racialism, is supposedly not an issue.

Or so we’d like to think.

THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO WAY THIS IS EVEN REMOTELY RACIST

THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO WAY THIS IS EVEN REMOTELY RACIST

Let’s face it, we think in stereotypes. Thinking of serial killers conjures up images of white guys. Looking of terrorists? Sorry, Arabs. When your neighbor says someone tagged his retaining wall, we think Mexican tagging crew.

That might just be a Californian thing.

You say someone just knocked over car a liquor store (probably to get money to buy crack)? Yep, it probably was a black dude.

None of us likes to be stereotyped, but the justification for stereotyping (or its cousin, racial profiling) is often stated as, given one’s racial and/or ethnic background one is predisposed to certain behavior can provide us with handy shortcut for figuring out what kind of people we’re dealing with and how those people are likely to behave. After all, when we look at other people, race is one of those things we notice.

 THERE’S A REASON WHY SOME PEOPLE DON’T WANT THIS GUY TO BE THE NEW JAMES BOND. YES, THAT REASON

THERE’S A REASON WHY SOME PEOPLE DON’T WANT THIS GUY TO BE THE NEW JAMES BOND. YES, THAT REASON

Race is never a pleasant subject to talk about. It’s one of those subjects that doesn’t usually pop up in a philosophy class (unless the class is specifically about race). I suspect that the reason why race isn’t discussed much in philosophy has to do with the fact that philosophy is dominated by white men. That’s no lie. I was once pressed to name five African-American philosophers. I came up with Cornel West, Ken Taylor and Angela Davis, but after conjuring up three names, I was tapped out of black philosophers.

I was shocked by my lack of knowledge about non-white male philosophers. I thought, “Hey, I’m not just some dude on the street, I actually studied philosophy, and I should be able to name five black philosophers!” Yet I had no idea of the names of more than three philosophers who share my skin tone.

THIS GUY IS THE BEGINNING AND END OF MY BLACK PHILOSOPHERS LIST (p.s. THE GUY IN THE PICTURE IS PHILOSOPHER KEN TAYLOR)

THIS GUY IS THE BEGINNING AND END OF MY BLACK PHILOSOPHERS LIST (p.s. THE GUY IN THE PICTURE IS PHILOSOPHER KEN TAYLOR)

The subject tends to stir up emotions. A lot of historical baggage. We want clear-headed conversations. Naturally, my inclination would be to turn to what philosophers have to say about the subject of race. They’ve actually had plenty to say, just not all of it good.

It should surprise no one that philosophers are partially to blame not only for our inaccurate conceptions of race, but also more than a little bit responsible for racism.

Wanna know how?

LOOK AT THIS PHILOSOPHER CLOSELY. HE HAS A LOT TO DO WITH WHY RACISM EXISTS

LOOK AT THIS PHILOSOPHER CLOSELY. HE HAS A LOT TO DO WITH WHY RACISM EXISTS

Given Aristotle’s sentiments towards non-Greek peoples, we are tempted to assume that modern (keep in mind that “modern” philosophy starts in the 17th century) philosophers would have been immune from the ancient view of classifying people as superior and inferior based solely on the assumed characteristics (of inferiority and superiority) associated with one’s geographical location.

Our assumption, however, would be wrong.

Enlightenment philosophers not only championed reason and science but also the belief that only certain groups of people are capable of rational thought. The Enlightenment belief that only certain people possess the capacity to reason provided the scientific basis for race and racism. Enlightenment thinkers developed the notion that the so-called superior, “civilized” races of Europe were successful because other, inferior races, specifically the African race, lack the capacity for rational thought.

In Immanuel Kant’s essay, “On the Different Races of Man” (1775), Kant attempts to establish a scientific basis for the classification of the races and divides humans into four distinct races:

1. Northern Europe (very blond) of damp cold
2. America (copper red) of dry cold
3. Black (Senegambia) of dry heat
4. Indians (olive-yellow) of dry heat

Based on his observations of the different races, Kant declared the natural moral and intellectual superiority of the white race and stated that superiority or inferiority of the world’s other races depends on its proximity to whiteness. Naturally, the dark skin of the African race, sets it in opposition to the white race.

Therefore, black = inferior.

don't listen to negroes
Kant observes, blacks are “passionate” and “talkative” and lack the capacity for reason. Because blacks cannot reason, Kant argues, they cannot be educated but can only be trained to serve as slaves. Kant agrees with Hume, who also argued that blacks lack the capacity to reason, that since blacks lack the capacity for rational thought, blacks also lack the capacity for talent, as talent necessarily depends on the capacity for reason. Kant writes:

The yellow Indians do have meager talent. The Negroes are far
below them, and at the lowest point are part of the American
people.

So, if observation of behavior leads to stereotyping, we are likely to think that Asians are better at math but make for bad drivers, white people are genetically prone to bad dancing, have a penchant for fair trade coffee, as I am genetically predisposed to having many children and speaking loudly in public places. In addition to stereotyping, as Immanuel Kant and his fellow philosophers demonstrate, we tend to think of our “group” as superior while emphasizing the supposed “inferior” qualities of other groups. It is, then, no surprise to us that Kant declares:

The Negroes of Africa have by nature no feeling that rises above the
trifling. Mr. Hume challenges anyone to cite a single example in
which a Negro has shown talents, and asserts that among the
hundreds of thousands of blacks who are transported elsewhere
from their countries, although many of them have even been set
free, still not a single one was every found who presented anything
great in art or science or any other praiseworthy quality, even
though among the whites some continually rise aloft from the lowest
rabble, and through superior gifts earn respect in the world. So
fundamental is the difference between these two races of man, and
it appears to be as great in regard to mental capacities as in colour.

Well, while we’re at it, why don’t we take a look at what David Hume had to say about black people:

I am apt to suspect the Negroes to be naturally inferior to whites.
there scarcely ever was a civilized nation of that complexion, nor
any individual eminent either in action or speculation.

ALTHOUGH HUME CONSIDERED THE “BARBARIAN” ANCIENT GERMAN RACE INFERIOR TO OTHER EUROPEANS (LIKE SCOTSMEN, LIKE HUME), HUME STATED THAT THE ANCIENT GERMANS “HAVE STILL SOMETHING EMINENT ABOUT THEM, IN THEIR VALOUR, FORM OF GOVERNMENT, OR SOME OTHER PARTICULAR”

ALTHOUGH HUME CONSIDERED THE “BARBARIAN” ANCIENT GERMAN RACE INFERIOR TO OTHER EUROPEANS (LIKE SCOTSMEN, LIKE HUME), HUME STATED THAT THE ANCIENT GERMANS “HAVE STILL SOMETHING EMINENT ABOUT THEM, IN THEIR VALOUR, FORM OF GOVERNMENT, OR SOME OTHER PARTICULAR”

Let’s take a moment to read what other great minds and “enlightened” philosophers had to say about black people:

Thomas Jefferson:

…in memory they are equal to the white; in reason much inferior,
as I think one could scarcely be capable of tracing and
comprehending the investigations of Euclid; and that in
imagination they are dull, tasteless and anomalous… never
yet could I find that a black had uttered a thought above the level
of plain narration.

Montesquieu:

It is hardly to be believed that God, who is a wise being, should
place a soul, especially a good soul, in such a black ugly body…
The negroes prefer a glass necklace to that gold which polite
nations so highly value. Can there be a greater proof of their
wanting common sense?

Alexis de Tocqueville:

I do not think that blacks will ever mingle sufficiently completely
with the white to form a single people with them. The introduction
of this foreign race is anyhow is the one great plague on America.

Voltaire:

If their understanding is not of a different nature from ours… it is
at least inferior. They are not capable of any great application or
association of ideas, and seem formed neither for the advantages
nor the abuses of our philosophy.

President Gerald Ford Administration cabinet member, Earl Butz, said to singer Pat Boone:

Pat, the only thing coloreds are looking for in life are a tight pussy, loose shoes, and a warm place to shit.

Well, seriously, who isn’t looking for that?

PROOF IT’S NOT JUST BLACK FOLKS WHO ENJOY A NICE PLACE TO SHIT

PROOF IT’S NOT JUST BLACK FOLKS WHO ENJOY A NICE PLACE TO SHIT

Unfortunately for Hume, Jefferson, Montesquieu, Voltaire and Kant, (not to mention the Social Darwinists), and the aptly-named Mr. Earl Butz, a close examination of race reveals: A) philosophers don’t know everything, and second: there is no biological basis for race.

Most scientists agree that race is not a matter of biology, but is a social construct.*

Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates contends, all humans can trace their origins to 50,000 years ago to Ethiopia in Africa. Unfortunately for Immanuel Kant, one’s physical appearance (or even supposed inherited genetic qualities) is not a reliable method of judging a person’s character, moral aptitude, or intellectual capacity.

We can’t assume based on one’s perceived race that this person is inferior

prince mugshot

Or assume based on perceived race that this person is superior

bill gates mugshot

But here’s the thing: it’s not entirely our fault that we stereotype groups of people. Scientists theorize that our tendency for stereotyping is the result of a biologically engrained need to classify people and objects and to form tribal connections with other, like humans. To successfully operate and adapt to our environment, humans make associations between objects and actions (not too unlike Hume’s view on cause and effect). We associate objects and actions – for instance, lemons and sour, bees and sting, or black neighbors with higher crime rates. If we observe a group of people and a particular behavior, we are likely to assume that all of the members of that group also behave in a similar manner.

stereotypes_are_awesome

Funny thing, race is. Despite the fact that plenty (if not all) of us know that race is a social construct, when we inquire about someone’s race, we’re still looking for some indication of who a person is. And when someone doesn’t act according to our notions of how that race should act, we’re often perplexed. We observe that such and such or so and so doesn’t “act black” or that a particular person acts like an “Oreo”, Uncle Tom, “Twinkie”, “banana” or “wigger”.

white person with dreadlocks

There’s a nasty little idea floating around that people who do not act according to how their race should act aren’t acting authentically.

THIS IS PROBABLY NOT WHAT COMES TO MIND WHEN YOU THINK OF WHAT A “TYPICAL” ASIAN MAN SHOULD LOOK LIKE

THIS IS PROBABLY NOT WHAT COMES TO MIND WHEN YOU THINK OF WHAT A “TYPICAL” ASIAN MAN SHOULD LOOK LIKE

But as any scientist will tell you, the fact that one is biologically a particular “color” or race does not infer that one’s behavior or cultural race conforms to our perception or expectations of how an individual of that race or color should act. The philosopher Robert Gooding-Williams distinguishes being racially (or biologically) black and being a black person. A racial personhood, according to Robert Gooding-Williams, is one’s racial identity – how we choose to identify ourselves.** 
rachel dolezal ebony cover

It’s worth noting that on the 2010 U.S. census form, individuals were given a choice of fifteen racial categories: American Indian of Alaska Native, Black, African-American or Negro, White, Native Hawaiian, Asian Indian, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Guamanian or Chamorro, Samoan, other Pacific Islander, Other Asian, and some other race. There is some degree of satisfaction that the ability to choose one’s racial identity from fifteen races is a far cry from the three race categorization (Caucasian, Asian, and Negro) that dominated racial thinking for centuries, however, having more choices hasn’t necessarily cleared up our definition of race.
The terms “Latino” and “Hispanic” are specified on the U.S. Census form as an ethnicity, not as a separate race. However, if asked to specify a race a person may identify himself as Latino or Hispanic, but racially he may be categorized as Caucasian, Asian, or black. …. Just in case you were wondering.

I’m not a fan of Metallica. It’s not for lack of trying. I’m not saying that their music sucks or anything like that. I appreciate the band’s role as a seminal hard rock/metal band that has influenced and continues to influence many other rock bands. And their 2009 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is well deserved. It’s just that Metallica, musically speaking, is not my cup of tea. Well, that’s only partially true. Really, it’s not even that I don’t like Metallica; I’m actually not supposed to like Metallica or any other hard rock band.

Metallica and all other musical artists who fall under the rubric “metal” is generally thought to be “white guy music” – angry white guy music – off limits to folks like me. Music, like everything else, is categorized. Or, more to the point, there’s music we’re supposed to like and music other people are supposed to like.

kanye lennon

Listen: I like the angry white guy music. I read David Sedaris books. I watched The Daily Show (and truly was heartbroken when Jon Stewart announced he’s leaving the show), and not only do I thoroughly enjoy watching The Colbert Report, I think that Stephen Colbert is sexy (in a snarky kind of way). I listen to National Public Radio. I love This American Life. I have a Liberal Arts degree. I recycle. I write a blog. I drink bottled water. I’m even a fan of Noam Chomsky.

Well, more of a fan of Chris Hedges than Noam Chomsky.

All of these traits (at least according to the website Stuff White People Like) are associated with white people.
People like this:


Not people like this:

But, if we know that race is nothing more than a social construct, the fact that Cornel West suggests that Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim is a blues man, or why Rachel Dolezal, a white woman, identifies as a black woman or why Latino kids living in East Los Angeles are some of Morrissey‘s most ardently loyal fans, and why I, being nowhere near being an angry white guy enjoys the snarky humor of The Colbert Report and am proud to say that my favorite musical artists are The Beatles, Steely Dan, The Cure, and nine inch nails.

Given my druthers, I would rather dress like this:

black goth girl

Than like this:

hip hop girl

The truth about race is that a particular frame of mind or set of characteristics is not innate and does not belong exclusively to one racial group.
W.C. Fields once said, “It ain’t what they call you, it’s what you answer to”. Contrary to what Kant, Hume, and Jefferson believed, our race does not determine who we are and what we are capable of. Every individual is capable of dictating his own course in life, according to what each person determines is the path to personal happiness. For many of us, race is irrelevant when it comes to who we are. We are who we are, regardless of what we are.

…..Which brings me back to the old lady in Kmart.

I think that the elderly woman who asked me where to find the movie 12 Years A Slave was suffering from making an assumption about another individual based on hundreds of years of misguided (and often pernicious) thinking about race. She may not believe the racist ideology of Kant or Thomas Jefferson, but we’ve certainly been reared in a culture grounded in the Enlightenment philosophies of Immanuel Kant, David Hume, and the Founding Fathers. And in that way, we may believe or act upon certain beliefs and stereotypes about a particular race without ever making the conscious effort to adopt a racist world view.

So, although I could have reasonably yelled at that woman:

I also have to acknowledge the possibility that philosophers really are as influential as every philosopher bitches and moans wants them (us) to be. Many of us practice Kantian philosophy –

Just not the right kind of Kantian philosophy.

YOU MAY THINK THAT YOU’RE NOT INTO PHILOSOPHY, BUT DEEP DOWN THIS IS WHAT YOU ACTUALLY BELIEVE

YOU MAY THINK THAT YOU’RE NOT INTO PHILOSOPHY, BUT DEEP DOWN THIS IS WHAT YOU ACTUALLY BELIEVE

Besides, in the end, our race does not matter; what matters is that each of us finds a way to live authentically.

Well, it matters if you’re an existentialist.
Wait, Kant wasn’t an existentialist, was he?

*I’d like to state here that the philosophers that I am quoting (Kant, Hume, etc) spoke about all races, not just those of African descent. I am singling out their opinions on blacks for selfish reasons and secondly to demonstrate how wrong many well-regarded philosophers have been (and sometimes are) on the subject of race. In fact, some nationalities and ethnicities are now categorized as “white” were not only excluded from the white race, but also subject to racially-motivated stereotyping, such as Eastern Europeans (including Poles, Slavs, and Jews), natives of Southern Italy, Germans, and the Irish.
** This does not just apply to black people but to all races. According to Gooding-Williams biological race is not equivalent to cultural race.

SOURCES:

1. Census racial categories from: http://www.prb.org/Articles/2009/questionnaire.aspx.

2. Aristotle. The Politics. Trans. Carnes Lord. p.36.

3. Matthew R. Hachee. “Kant, Race, and Reason” https://www.msu.edu/~hacheema/kant2.htm.

4. Kant quote on the difference between the talent of Negroes and Asian “Indians”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_racism#Immanuel_Kant.

5. Hume’s essay “Of National Character”. http://www.philosophicalmisadventures.com/?p=6.

6. Thomas Jefferson. “Notes On the State of Virginia”. The Portable Thomas Jefferson. 1975. Ed. Merrill D. Peterson. NY: Penguin Books. pp.188-9.

7. Great Treasury of Western Thought: A Compendium of Important Statements of Man and His Institutions by the Great Thinkers in Western History. 1977. Eds. Mortimer J. Adler and Charles van Doren. NY: R R Bowker Company. p.756.

8. Great Treasury of Western Thought: A Compendium of Important Statements of Man and His Institutions by the Great Thinkers in Western History. 1977. Eds. Mortimer J. Adler and Charles van Doren. NY: R R Bowker Company. p. 759.

9. Voltaire quote on race is from Voltaire’s essay “The Negro” [1733]. http://oll.libertyfund.org/?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.php%3Ftitle=666&chapter=81914&layout=html&Itemid=27.

10. “10 Questions”. Time. February 16, 2009. Vol. 173. No. 6. p.6.

11. Siri Carpenter. “Buried Prejudice: The Bigot In Your Brain”. Scientific American Mind. May 1, 2008: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=buried-prejudice-the-bigot-in-your-brain.

12. Kant’s statement on the inferiority of blacks is from “Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and the Sublime” (1764) http://www.philosophicalmisadventures.com/?p=20.

13. Francis D. Adams and Barry Sanders. Alienable Rights: The Exclusion of African Americans In A White Man’s Land, 1619-2000. 2003. NY: Harper Collins Publishers. p.92.

14. Paul C. Taylor. Race: A Philosophical Introduction. 2006. Malden, MA: Polity Press. p.112.

15. Gilbert Ryle. “The Concept of Mind”. Twenty Questions: An Introduction to Philosophy. 1988. Eds. G. Lee Bowie, Meredith W. Michaels, Robert C. Solomon, and Robert J. Fogelin. NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc. p. 178