WHEN A PHILOSOPHER thinks of philosophical things, one’s thoughts usually turn to things like the usual philosophical subjects: metaphysics or ethics or epistemology.

A philosopher may even be inclined to think of logic.

Although I would never encourage anyone to do that.

I suspect that it is a rare occasion that one would think of the word philosophy and immediately think politics.

Yes, indeed. As you may have observed, there’s not one thing that philosophers don’t have an opinion about, including the form, purpose, and function of government.


Philosophers think about politics.

A lot.

When professional folks talk about politics they call it political science.
When regular folks talk about government they call it politics.
And when philosophers talk about it, they call it political philosophy.

Now, we’ve become quite accustomed to thinking of politicians and the political process through a cynical lens. Politics is a necessary (and sometimes unnecessary) evil. Many people think of politics as a dirty game where the needs of the people come last and only the most corrupt win. Politics is a bunch of people bought and sold by corporations and special interest groups and the only principles that matter are the ones that come attached to a big, fat, lobbyist check.



Politicians consistently rank among the least trusted professions.

Our dim view of government was echoed in the words of the 40th president of the United States, Ronald Reagan who said


Government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem.


Reagan also said


The most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help.


The man was president and he said this.

The freaking head of GOVERNMENT.



Here’s the thing, though: you may not be able to name who came up with what political theory, but you can bet the farm that those philosophers with names you don’t know have influenced the way you live, believe, and act politically more than you know.

Here’s a quick quiz: Name a political philosopher.

Can you?


Come on, take a wild guess.

Still no?

That might have to do with the fact that when we think about politics we think this



Instead of this



When we think about politics, politicians, and people who think about government stuff, we likely to conjure mental images of former B-list actors or former reality show hosts, but philosophers thinking about philosophy is as old as… well, philosophy.
Whether you’re a conservative, liberal, libertarian you have a philosopher to thank for giving you your political ideas.

Philosophers know that politics isn’t just a bunch of theories but a lifestyle.

Take Plato.

Plato’s Republic, written in 360 B.C.E., is all about what makes the ideal city? Plato (as Socrates) asks, what is justice?

You ever heard of Noble Lies? That’s Plato. The Allegory of the Cave? Yep. Plato again.


In Politics, Aristotle wrote “Man is a political animal”.

Aristotle asked how do we achieve the Good life for the people and the polis.

Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan established the idea of the social contract and is considered to be the foundation of Western political philosophy.

The English philosopher John Locke is credited as the father of Liberalism.

In Locke’s Second Treatise of Government, Locke lays the groundwork for American political thought, writing of concepts like natural rights, property, the Law of Nature, and the relationship between the government and the governed.

archive lost 110110


Edmund Burke is considered the father of Conservatism.

Political philosophy is all over everything.

Remember that scene in A Bronx Tale when Sonny asked Calogero if it’s better to be loved or feared?

Sonny was quoting Niccolo Machiavelli. Machiavelli was a political philosopher.



Are you a capitalist?

You are because of Adam Smith. And he wrote about politics.

Did you abandon your children and had them placed in orphanages?

You probably did because you read Jean Jacques Rousseau.


Rousseau argued that monarchies did not possess a divine right to rule.

Some say Rousseau’s writings inspired the French Revolution.

Are you a Bernie Bro?

Thank Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.



Are you a neo-Conservative who hates modernity, thinks Ronald Reagan is the greatest American president, and you often refer to people on welfare as “moochers”?

If so, your personal political philosophy is the product of Leo Strauss and Ayn Rand.

We say we hate all things political, but the political theories of John Stuart Mill, Jeremy Bentham, Alexis de Tocqueville, Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, Friedrich Hayek, Michel Foucault, John Rawls and Robert Nozick (just to name a few) are such an intrinsic part of how we live and think that political philosophy may be – no, IS the most relevant field of philosophy.
You may never read Kant’s metaphysics. You may never experience your own Cartesian method of doubt. Or figure out how to do one of these:



But you will vote. Or think about voting. Or think about not voting. Vote to stay. Vote to leave. If you pledge allegiance to a flag. Or wave a flag in solidarity. Or burn a flag in effigy. It’s all political – and it’s all philosophical.


… Just something to think about on America’s 200 and something-nth birthday.






I’m A Little Late To This Mad Men Thing

You’re born alone, and you’ll die alone, and the world just drops a bunch of rules on top of you to make you forget those facts, but I never forget. I’m living like there’s no tomorrow because there isn’t one. – Don Draper, Mad Men.



images (74)



I used to feel embarrassed to tell people that I watch television.

I’m not anymore.

I watch TV. A lot.

You see, when you hang around with philosophy types, the phrase you’ll most often hear is something like, “I don’t even own a TV” or “I only watch PBS”. Stuff like TV is a distraction or there’s better things to do with one’s brain.

Like reading Kant or Bertrand Russell.

Apparently philosophers aren’t too keen on the TV.

I guess that’s not a bad thing.

But I ain’t like that.

Let me say this clearly so that I‘m not misunderstood: I not only WATCH television, I ENJOY watching television.

I own a TV. Actually, more than one. I have cable. I watch Ridiculousness. I get bummed out when my favorite tattoo artist is eliminated on Ink Master. I take the judges’ critiques of my favorite drag queen personally when I watch RuPaul’s Drag Race.

I make sure to never miss an episode of Master Chef, Project Runway, The Walking Dead, Bar Rescue and Chopped.

I watch Cinemax After Dark.

I DVR Taxicab Confessions.


And yes, I know Taxicab Confessions airs on HBO not Cinemax.


Or, as it’s also known – Skinemax.





Let me tell you something: even though I am an unrepentant TV watcher, I still feel a bit dirty after spending an afternoon binge watching Firefly.


For the twentieth weekend in a row.


I think it has something to do with the fact that my excessive TV watching has afforded me enough time to occasionally chit chat with philosophers.
The deficit of philosophical chat time means my philosophical skills aren’t quite up to par.

Actually, my skills kind of suck.

This has not done well for my self-esteem.

You see, even if you don’t feel bad enough about yourself you’ll invariably end up feeling like a total flunkie once you talk to a philosopher.







Every time I talk to a philosopher, I inevitably leave the conversation feeling bad. Even when I’m engaged in small talk with a philosopher, his “trivial” conversation almost always involves mind-numbing discussions of mind-body dualism or Hegel.


Philosophers really dig talking about Hegel.


This is how any conversation I have with a philosopher goes: I stand, eyes glazing over, while the (real) philosopher talks about something written by Frege or Leibniz- something that I have not a clue about. I stand there; looking at my feet, hoping that the philosopher will forget I’m there or move on to someone smarter else after I attempt to evade the subject by telling a joke. But it never works. My philosophical ignorance is revealed.


dunce cap



This is what most of my trivial conversations are about:



chuck norris




I’d much rather talk about June Thompson’s “forklift foot” or about the lady with the dead chickens on Hoarders.


You know what episode I’m talking about.







I can never admit to a philosopher that I spend more time in front of a TV set than I spend with my nose deep in the pages of a major philosophical treatise.

I could tell you everything there is to know about RuPaul’s guest spot on Walker Texas Ranger or name the number of times Sheldon Cooper has said the word “Bazinga” on Big Bang Theory, but I know virtually nothing about John Locke or his philosophy.


When it comes to philosophy my mind is a tabula rasa – a blank slate.
Which is kind of appropriate considering Locke’s philosophy.


It’s all because I spend most of my waking hours watching television instead of reading philosophy.


I can’t tell you who this is



philippa foot



But I can certainly tell you who this is







Or what TV show made this guy famous



it's torgo



Well, somewhat famous.


By the way, that first picture is of the philosopher, Phillipa Foot.

I know that’s Phillipa Foot because Google told me that’s her.



it's on the internet it must be true



My unfortunate reality is that no matter how much philosophy I read every conversation I’ve ever had with a philosopher is always accompanied by an overwhelming sense of dumb.

A special kind of dumb.







I always feel like at the end of every philosophical conversation that there’s going to be a test.

A test I’m going to fail.




failure ahead



There’s something that these philosophers don’t know, though. They don’t watch TV so they have no idea. This is what they don‘t know: TV can teach you things. Lots of things.


Philosophical things.


It’s true.


I’ve written this before and I’ll say it ‘til the day I die – television is one of the best places to learn philosophy. You don’t have to watch the high-brow stuff, either. You don’t have to spend your evenings watching PBS or some British something-rather starring Dame Maggie Smith.



bitches love downton abbey




You can watch anything. Anything.

The ideas – the philosophy – it’s in there.

I really mean that. You can watch Hobbes’ state of nature play out in an episode of Survivor. You can find Schopenhauer in an episode of Modern Family. Descartes in an episode of Star Trek.



There’s Socrates in The Walking Dead.



I’m kidding about that finding Schopenhauer in Modern Family thing. I wouldn’t know if that’s true or not. I’ve never seen the show.








And, as I discovered, if you watch enough episodes, you’ll find that there’s plenty philosophy to be found in Mad Men.


mad men




Fans of the show already know that Mad Men, created by Matthew Weiner, debuted in July 2007 on the basic cable network AMC (American Music Classics). The series, now going into its sixth and final season, averages 2.5 million viewers per episode.


That’s pretty good numbers for a basic cable TV show.


Until you consider AMC’s zombie drama The Walking Dead.

That show averages 13 million viewers an episode.








Ok. I admit it, I’m a little late to this Mad Men thing. I started watching the show mid-way during season four.

By then, Peggy had already had her baby.

Roger was on marriage number two.

The Lucky Strike guy had gotten Sal fired.

Don was already divorced from Betty and had his eye on Megan.


Who the hell is Anna Draper???





But it’s not because I hadn’t heard of the show.

I didn’t watch it on principle.

You see, Mad Men was on every TV critic’s top ten list.

It was the one show whose poop didn’t stink.



don draper says god bless you



So naturally, now that I’m a fan, I was obligated to do this:







Naturally, the hater pop culture dismissing-philosopher inside me immediately disliked (without watching) the show and would not spend a moment of my time watching a show loved by the non-philosophically-inclined masses.

As it turns out I was wrong.

But then …..


freddy and the haters


Sometimes enjoying TV makes you change your mind about things.


From Sterling Cooper boss Bert Cooper’s love of Ayn Rand’s Objectivism to Betty Draper’s philosophy of femininity, the entire show is soaking in philosophy.








Fortunately for us, we’re not required to watch all seven seasons of Mad Men or contemplate the philosophical doings of the entire cast of characters to get a grasp of the philosophy in Mad Men. You really need only to look at the first season of the show and specifically at only one character: the power-drinking, cigarette smoking, philandering, identity-stealing, Army-deserting, bad dad, anti-hero, Don Draper.








I guess you could spend a little bit of time watching Peggy Olsen.

That whole hidden pregnancy thing was mildly interesting.







In the season 1 (one) episode titled “Hobo Code”, Don Draper awakens his young son Bobby from a sound sleep and tells the boy to ask him anything. The boy asks his father why lightning bugs light up. Don tells his son that he doesn’t know.

Don doesn’t know the answer and does not pretend to know.

Don vows that he will never lie to his son.

We all know that’s a lie.

This is not Don Draper’s first lie. It won’t be Don Draper’s last.



don says lie to everyone about everything



At this point the audience realizes that Don Draper may be the worst man TV dad in television history.









You see, Don Draper’s entire existence is a lie.







Don Draper isn’t really Don Draper at all. Don Draper is really Dick Whitman, the self-described “whore child” who stole the identity of fellow soldier, Don Draper, by switching dog tags with Draper after (the real) Don Draper is mortally wounded in an explosion in Korea.


An explosion totally caused by Dick Whitman, by the way.







This is all morally reprehensible enough, but, as we all know, there’s a moral theory that will justify just about anything we do. Luckily for the man formerly known as Richard Whitman, the man currently known as Don Draper finds employment with an adherent of one such theory.


The man is Bert Cooper. The theory is OBJECTIVISM.


The creator of objectivism, like Don Draper, also changed her name.

Her parents knew her as Alisa Z. Rosenbaum.

The world knows her as Ayn Rand.








Ayn Rand is mentioned no fewer than three times in season one.

Draper’s boss, Ayn Rand-loving Bert Cooper, has a bookshelf in his office that looks like this:



bert cooper's book collection










When Cooper is informed of Draper’s deception, Bert Cooper’s reaction is not moral outrage that Draper is a deserter and identity thief, but “who cares?”







(Ok, this may need explaining: Dick Whitman’s long-lost (or is it abandoned?) kid brother, Adam, discovers that Dick has been living in New York as Don Draper. Adam sends a package of old photographs to Dick/Don that is intercepted by Peter (“Humps”) Campbell, a particularly devious and overly ambitious fellow who works with Don and who very much wants Don’s job. Campbell decides that the best way to Draper’s job is through blackmail and so Campbell threatens to reveal Draper’s secret if Draper does not appoint him to head of accounts. When Peter tells Bert Cooper that Don Draper is not who he says that he is but is actually Dick Whitman, Cooper responds to Campbell’s revelation with “who cares?”)





What Pete Campbell doesn’t realize is that Bert Cooper’s failure to gin up a sense of moral disgust at Don Draper’s behavior has everything to do with his fondness for the philosophy of Ayn Rand.



pete the snitch




What Pete Campbell fails to realize is that he would have saved himself from embarrassment if he had just made himself aware of Rand’s philosophy, based on the virtue of selfishness.

This doesn’t turn out too well for Pete.



not great bob



You see, long before Dick Whitman had become Don Draper or had met Bert Cooper or heard of Ayn Rand, Dick Whitman/Don Draper was already a well-seasoned adherent of Rand’s virtue of selfishness. Dick Whitman didn’t consider what effect his actions in Korea would have on his brother Adam, or about the family of Don Draper or about Draper himself, with whom Dick swaps ID tags when Draper is mortally wounded.




who is dick whitman



Don Draper’s interest in maintaining his new identity (and his secret) means Don has to not care. Don can’t be concerned with the affairs of others (particularly those who potentially can reveal Don’s true identity) because to do so would interfere with his mission to live life as far away from the life of Dick Whitman as possible.

Don Draper, formerly known as Dick Whitman, acts according to his own self-interests.

Don Draper’s motivation is pure selfishness.

This is why Don offers his brother Adam five thousand dollars in exchange for Adam‘s silence and a promise to never return to New York City.








Don Draper isn’t morally invested in the effect of his adulterous affairs on his wife Betty or for Betty’s feelings (in general) when he talks to her therapist without her knowledge or consent.


Because he’s selfish.

…or it could be because Don is an alcoholic.



good don



When Dick/Don propositions his mistress to run away with him ( actually mistresses, Don carries on with with as many as two women in season one), he does not consider the effect that abandoning his family will have on his children.

In fact, Don doesn’t think about that until he is reminded that leaving would be devastating to the children.


By one of his mistresses, no less.


Hint: it’s because Don is selfish.



Without ever having read it, Don Draper personal morality runs pretty much according to the philosophy of this book:



atlas number 2



Whoops. I meant this book:



atlas shrugged cover art


And this is what happens after you’ve divorced someone who lives life according to the philosophy of Ayn Rand.



betty draper eating 1





betty draper eating 2





betty draper eating 3






betty's i'm fat GIF




Don Draper’s utter lack of regard for the consequences of his actions on others (aka his selfishness) leads Bert Cooper to observe:

Bert Cooper (To Don):By that I mean you are a productive and reasonable man, and in the end completely self-interested. It’s strength. We are different – unsentimental about all the people who depend on our hard work.








Cooper even recommends that Draper pick up a copy of Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and tells Don that he must introduce him to his “friend” Miss Ayn Rand.


One can only imagine what Ayn Rand would with/to Don Draper.







For those of you who have never heard of Ayn Rand or read any of Rand’s novels, Rand’s ethical philosophy, called Objectivism, is based on the principle of self interest; what Rand calls the “virtue of selfishness”.



use this for mad men post




If you’ve never heard of Rand or her work, all I can say is








But I digress…
Don Draper is an example of the kind of man that Rand describes as one who lives fir his own sake “neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself”. This type of is a man completely devoted to the pursuit of his own happiness. Rand says of the Objectivist man:




He is not even militant or defiant about his utter selfishness… He
has a quiet, irrevocable calm of an iron conviction. No
dramatics, no hysteria, no sensitiveness about it —
because there are no doubts… A quick, sharp mind,
courageousness and not afraid to be hurt… He will be himself
at any cost — the only thing he really wants of life. And,
deep inside if him, he knows that he has the ability to
win the fight to be himself.*



In other words….



atlas shrugged 1




Don Draper is the kind of self-made Randian type (like Rand’s Howard Roark and John Galt) that owes nothing to anyone and does things on his own terms. He isn’t (terribly) concerned with what he has to do to get ahead.




feel bad for you





don doesn't think about you




Like the true Randian Objectivist, Don Draper’ pursuit of personal happiness is the reason why we alternately admire and hate him. It is the reason why Don’s fellow ad men envy his life and want to follow in his footsteps.

It’s the reason why women find him irresistible.

It’s also the reason why:




Don Draper Has Issues



Don Draper is a man cut from the Randian mold, but there’s something that makes Don not quite the Objectivist that Bert Cooper thinks that he is.


Don Draper (seemingly) pulls the very existentialist move of self invention.




don draper says what



Existentialism assumes that there is a real you despite the role society imposes on us. We alone choose who we are and what role we want to fulfill. Dick Whitman sheds the confining identity that he was doomed to lead – he runs away from who he was possibly doomed to become – a poor farm boy, raised in a whorehouse – and transforms himself into Don Draper.


Following existentialist philosophy allows poor farm boy Dick Whitman transforms himself from this:








Into this:








Unlike the true existentialist, Dick Whitman doesn’t become who he is, rather, he assumes the identity of someone else. The move doesn’t make the former Dick Whitman any more authentic than he was. If anything, Don Draper is another mask, just another layer Dick Whitman puts on to hide himself. Don repeatedly evades questions about his past because he does not want who he truly is to be revealed.


According to existentialists, failure to be who we truly are means we live our lives inauthenticly.


An inauthentic life, says the existentialist, is a life without meaning.








Fortunately for Don Draper, Rand’s highest moral goal isn’t authenticity; it is fulfilling one’s own self interest.



images don draper problem solving



And as Bert Cooper observed, Don Draper does this in spades.



bert cooper



Sure, Don Draper occasionally says something vaguely existentialist like this:




don says the universe is indifferent




And he hung out with some beatniks who probably read Camus and Sartre.



Don and the Beatniks




But after awhile one eventually figures out that it’s highly unlikely that Don Draper is an existentialist.

At least not in the strict sense of the word.

Which is to say that he really isn’t an existentialist at all.







But to suggest that one can easily figure out Don Draper because he is the kind of man Ayn Rand talks about in Atlas Shrugged  or that he’s a French-style existentialist is to ignore a basic truth about human nature.


The truth is this: Like many people in the real world, the characters of Mad Men are a mix of ideologies. They, like people in the real world, are not philosophically just one thing.


More often than not, Don Draper is just like everyone else – that is to say, Don Draper, ideologically speaking, is a mix of everything and of nothing in particular.


One might say the Don Draper is a “pastiche” of identities and ideologies.


That’s a very postmodern thing to be.*



It’s not surprising that Don Draper is a bit on the postmodern side. Don works in advertising, an occupation where selling the image is the most important commodity.



download (9)



In advertising, it doesn’t matter what the product actually is, what’s important is how the ad makes you feel. Advertising sells an idea – or rather, the feeling associated with an idea. Don Draper says:

Advertising is based on one thing: happiness. And you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It’s freedom from fear. It’s a billboard on the side of the road that screams with reassurance that whatever you’re doing, it’s ok. You are ok.



don draper on ideas



The postmodernist idea is that we shop for identities.

And not necessarily authentic ones.



Becoming who we are is not unlike trying on different hats. During a life time we may try on many hats. Different kinds of hats may look good on us. The hat we wear at any given time may reflect who we are

Or say nothing about us at all.







For the postmodernist, changing one’s hat is like reinventing ourselves. We do it not to get at who we really are, but to play a role or to manifest a particular style.

Or to wear something that matches our outfit.

The image is what matters.



images happiness



According to postmodernism, there is no real. Nothing or no one is (or can be) authentic. We’re not concerned with finding who anyone truly is. We’re not concerned because there  is no real you that we must find to live existentially real lives. Who we are is nothing more than a veneer; the image we portray to others. As crafted as the image we see in advertising.








Dick Whitman is a genuine fake Don Draper.




is don a real person



Don Draper’s identity is the embodiment of postmodern advertising. The primary concern in advertising is not authenticity. Life is a fashion statement. And Don Draper doesn’t seem terribly concerned with being authentic, either.



hello, worst calling


What Dick Whitman does best is sell the idea of Don Draper.


The idea of the attractive image of an American success story.








When it comes down to it, I know assume think the reason why television audiences like TV shows like Mad Men and are attracted to characters like Don Draper has to do with the fact that we are intrigued by the mix of ideologies. As we watch the chaotic philosophical lives of unreal people, we can not only vicariously experience their philosophical struggles but (hopefully) gain insight and understand our own real world philosophical conundrums.



pete's impotent rage



We tune in to Mad Men to watch the characters as they struggle with ethical dilemmas and exhibit the moral contradictions that, if we did the same thing in the real world, would alienate us from our friends, co-workers, and family.


We see, while watching the unreal lives of those who inhabit the world of Sterling Cooper Draper Price (Cutler, Chaough….whoever) that these characters, though fictional, are like us in the real world – we are all a mix of different, often conflicting, ideologies.


The philosophical principles by which we live our lives and our moral choices are often inconsistent; sometimes even incoherent.


The fact that these characters are able to do thins that we can not do and get away with doing it is why we praise Don Draper’s Randian self-centered rugged individualism



images don of thrones



and condemn him for his inability to keep his zipper closed around any woman within his immediate vicinity (except for Peggy Olsen).



images (45)



What’s up with the Don-not-doing-Peggy thing?







We see Don’s existentialist tendencies yet we also see that Don is a product of society where authenticity is as real as the happy, smiling family in a Coca-Cola ad.




betty draper cola ad



I’m sure the second half of the final season will give me more to think about.







We’ll have to wait until Spring 2015 to see how Don Draper’s philosophical struggle ultimately plays out.




don draper can't be more awesome than himself


Unfortunately, with Mad Men drawing to a close I’ll have to move on to other philosophical thought-inspiring television. Luckily, I’ve just been turned on to another TV show that I hear is not only philosophical, but is also pretty popular.

I think it’s called Breaking Bad.

It’s all about a high school chemistry teacher who gets into selling meth.

I haven’t seen it yet, but from what I’ve heard, I’m sure it’s gonna be philosophically compelling

Hey, maybe you should watch it, too!




* Ayn Rand is most often associated with Libertarianism. Don is mum about his political preferences, besides remarking that he preferred Nixon over Kennedy (Nixon was a man who built himself from the ground up, as opposed to JFK who was born with a silver spoon). Draper’s politics tend to be apolitical. We can assume, given Don’s actions, that it is highly unlikely that he is a liberal Democrat.
* It is worth noting that the term “postmodernism” applies to a broad range of subjects, including art, architecture, literature, and philosophy. (For more info on postmodernism in philosophy check out the SEP entry on Postmodernism:









1. Leonard Peikoff. “Afterword”. 1992. In The Fountainhead. Ayn Rand. [orig. published 1943]. NY: Signet. p. 698.

Chick Writin’

It’s generally thought that philosophy is a man’s game.

Without even really thinking about it, I can name at least a couple dozen male philosophers. At least a couple dozen.

Every philosophy student learns the names by heart: Socrates, Aristotle, Plato, Hume, Spinoza, Leibniz, Kant, Locke, Mill, Kierkegaard, Hegel, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Heidegger, Russell, Wittgenstein …


They’re the pillars of philosophy.


I can name more. I bet you can, too.

Unfortunately I can’t say the same about the ladies.

I mean, I know there are women philosophers. I’ve read a few. Simone de Beauvoir. Judith Butler. Ayn Rand. Hannah Arendt. Helene Cixous. Christine Korsgaard. Susan Wolf.

My list pretty much dries up there.

I’ll be damned if I can name a dozen let alone a couple dozen professional lady philosophers.



Who is this lady????

Who is this lady????



And I don’t think I’ve ever identified one by just her last name.

Everybody says they’ve read Nietzsche. When was the last time you heard anyone say they just finished reading Butler?


If you don’t know which Butler to whom I refer, I mean this Butler: Judith Butler. She’s a philosopher.

If you don’t know which Butler to whom I refer, I mean this Butler: Judith Butler. She’s a philosopher.



The general assumption was (and still is) that men are better at thinking than women.

You know, thinking stuff like math, logic map reading, AND philosophy.

I write about philosophy.

I guess in the broadest sense of the word that makes me a philosopher.

However, I am of the female persuasion and I write about philosophy.


Uh-oh. Problem.


The thing is, is that I don’t really think of myself as a female philosopher. When I engage in a philosophical discussion, if the opportunity conceal my gender arises, I’ll do it. Even my Facebook profile pic is a picture of a man.

This is my current Facebook profile pic.

don draper for profile pic



It’s not only a picture of a man, Don Draper; it’s a picture of a man from a decade when women were definitely treated like second class citizens.


Now, I suppose I can say my reluctance to reveal my gender has to has to do with some sort of socially-conditioned, unconscious desire to abide by the white, heterosexual, Christian male patriarchy. But to say that would be a little too obvious.

And really, I don’t think it’s that at all.

The reason why, I think, has something to do with not wanting to be just a female philosopher – that being a female philosopher means that the only philosophical writing I do is chick writing.





You see, when you tell everyone that you’re a woman and you like to write, it’s almost inevitable that someone will assume that all you write about is your kids, fashion, the men you’re dating, and your period.

Just occasionally pausing to write about the oppressive capitalist white male patriarchy or how lesbians are still under represented and maligned in society, political institutions, and in the media.

Well for starters, I don’t have kids. I haven’t bought a new article of clothing in over two years, and my current dating situation could be best described as Tatooine-esque.


The fact that I just used a Star Wars reference might be a reason why it’s so.


Or worse yet, being a chick writer or writing about chick issues immediately associates one with militant man-hating.

Philosophy professor Michael Levin wrote in his book, Feminism and Freedom, that feminism is an “antidemocratic, if not totalitarian ideology.”


feminist with scissors



Just for the record I don’t hate men.

But for the ones I do hate, my hatred is well deserved.





Wait. I got off track.


I suppose Aristotle was right.

He said that women are more quarrelsome than men.

Aristotle wrote that women favor emotion over intellect. This is the reason why, Aristotle says, women are irrational. Irrationality has no place in philosophy.



feminist hammer



Still, feminist philosophy, or philosophy by or about women in general, bears the stigma of being not-quite-legitimate philosophy.
Feminist philosophy tends to focus on the interpersonal – how the individual, in particular, how women (as women) relate to and in society. Whereas male philosophers tend to emphasize the pursuit of knowledge and absolute, objective truth, female philosophers tend to examine the role of women and aspects of femininity in societal institutions (politics, economics, religion), and the relationships between cultural concepts such as womanhood, class, sexuality, sexual preference and identity, and race.
And then there’s this:

this is what femimism looks like



When you’re a feminist, people make cruel memes about you.


Unfortunately the view isn’t  that much different in philosophy.


That can make a lady philosopher steer clear of writing about any issue that stinks of feminism. Even if what you’re writing is philosophical.

And it really doesn’t help much when a few of those great male minds of philosophy rattle off statements like:


It is only males who are created directly by the gods and are given souls. Those who live rightly return to the stars, but those who are ‘cowards or [lead unrighteous lives] may with reason be supposed to have changed into the nature of women in the second generation’. This downward progress may construe through successive reincarnations unless reversed. In this situation, obviously it is only men who are complete human beings and can hope for ultimate fulfillment. The best a woman can hope for is to become a man.


Encouraging, right?


If Plato thinks I’m a soulless idiot why would I ever imagine that I could possibly have a career in philosophy?

And besides, as we all know all the important philosophers are men.



on feminism



The thing is, is that I really don’t have any problem with feminists, feminism, or female philosophers. Goodness knows that there’s more to philosophy than Socrates and Kierkegaard. I think what I’m trying to avoid writing not-really-philosophy philosophy. Even though women have contributed many brilliant ideas, theories, and schools of thought to philosophy, there’s still this thing I can’t get over – the thought that my gender necessarily obligates me to write about – my gender.

Even serious women philosophers, like Ayn Rand, are depicted like this:



sexy ayn!



Or worse yet, what they write is dismissed as just chick stuff.

Man-hating chick stuff.



i need feminism



Listen, I know I’m being a little short-sighted on the prevalence and influence of women philosophers. I well aware of the fact that women philosophers write about more than sexuality and gender issues and that women have contributed more than their feminine charm and good looks to the body philosophic. Hannah Arendt famously wrote about the Nazis. And Ayn Rand’s ethical philosophy, like it or not, is still influential.

Rand’s followers have ranged from CEOs of major corporations to former Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, to the 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee, Paul Ryan.

By the way, are you aware that Ryan now says that his rumored fondness for Rand’s philosophy is an urban myth?



paul ryan


Still, I went through the whole earning a philosophy degree process, and during the entire time I read only one female philosopher who didn’t write about lady stuff. AND during the entire time I was a philosophy student, there was only one class offered on feminist philosophy.


keep patriarchy



Perhaps that’s the problem, eh?

Betty Friedan wrote that she wanted women to “master the secrets of the atoms, or the stars”, and wanted women to pioneer “a new concept in government or society”.

I’m pretty sure what she wanted applies to philosophy, too.

Philosophy will continue be a man’s game so long as folks like me keep referring to themselves (myself) as “folks like me”.

I shouldn’t be so worried about being a chick writer or writing about chick stuff. Certainly philosophy has plenty to do with rational arguments and logic, but it also has to do with things like reality. And my reality is seen through my lady eyes.




ryan gosling hey girl meme



Whether I like it or even want to admit it, everything I write is chick writin’.
Now I don’t feel so bad writing about my period.



You can expect that post in exactly 28 days.







Plato. Timaeus. (90e). Available at Project Gutenberg

Susan Faludi. Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women. 1991. NY: Crown Publishers, Inc.

Fishers of Supermen

I’ve been doing this philosophy thing for a while, now. I think I’ve gotten pretty good at it.

I’m much better at philosophizing than I am at playing basketball or Scrabble.

I think better than I dance.

I’m better at talking about Hume than I am at gourmet cooking.

I’m pretty good at doing something with minimal money-making potential.


That doesn’t bother me, though. You see, philosophers don’t get into philosophy for it’s money making prospects – they do it because they love it.

We are indeed lovers of wisdom.

That kind of bugs me.

I used to get frustrated in my philosophy classes. I read Plato and Aristotle. I read Descartes. I read Hume and Kant.

And Rousseau.

And Russell.

De Beauvoir. Marx. Locke. Mill.

They’re all dead now.

I would sit and think how distant philosophy seemed from anything contemporary. Nothing related to how the world is now. It seemed that right now didn’t matter as much as back then. How so many philosophers seemed to hold anything popular with a fair amount of contempt.

Ancient philosophers are the only ones who know how to think.

That never worked for me.

I promised myself that when I graduated, I would write the book that I always wanted to read. I thought if there was anyone out there who thought like me, we’d find each other across the internet. We’d prove that philosophical thought didn’t stop with Socrates.

We would become a movement.

We would become a new Vienna Circle.

So I wrote a book.

I started a blog and a Facebook page.

I was to be a fisher of supermen.

It’s been a few years since then. Things are pretty much the same as they were when I started. I’m not the Oprah Winfrey of philosophy.

If I’m to believe one of my former professors, it has to do with the fact that I lack proper philosophical street cred. That is to say, philosophers think that the only people qualified to speak (or at least write) about philosophy have a PhD.

Philosophers can be kind of stingy with their wisdom.

A philosophical velvet rope.

Apparently, breaking into professional philosophy is harder than getting into Studio 54.

Alvin Plantinga is the new Steve Rubell.

The thing is, there are plenty of non-professionals writing and speaking about all sorts of topics in books, on TV, and all over the internet. Some are pretty successful.

Could it be that no one is interested in philosophy?

No. that can’t be it. I refuse to believe that it’s that no one is interested in philosophy. There are still philosophy departments on college campuses and plenty of philosophy blogs out there.

Not as many blogs as the number devoted to celebrity gossip, but they’re out there.

My blog is one of them.

There’s a problem, though.

There’s no new Vienna Circle.

All I’ve accomplished is Vienna solipsism.

One thing I have noticed is that everybody else’s stuff seems to have what my stuff lacks – an opinion.
Their stuff has a point of view.
When I write, I try to be topical. I try to humorous and down-to-earth, but it’s not connecting to my an (any) audience.

I barely have 100 likes on my Facebook page.

There are pages devoted to characters from the movie Jaws that have more likes than my page.

So it can’t be that difficult to get a like or two.

See, I think my problem is that I’ve been playing things too safe. I’m stuck on that old habit of writing that one becomes accustomed to when in college.

That damned impartial writing. My writing is passive when it should be active. I write “One” instead of “I”. I say “One may conclude” instead of “I think that”.

I try to write about philosophy but I’ve been trying to do it impartially. That ultimately is impossible to do.

My writing doesn’t have a voice.

It makes for boring philosophy. A boring blog.

A boring Facebook page.


I know philosophy is grounded in reason and analytical but that shouldn’t exclude taking a position on anything. Kant definitely thought deontological ethics was the way to go. And there was no convincing Ayn Rand that objectivism might not work even while she collected social security.

Bertrand Russell had an ontology, but he also wrote what he thought about damn-near everything else. Russell wrote his opinions on other philosophers and other philosophical schools of thought. He wrote on topics ranging from politics, religion, international affairs, to marriage and sex.

Here I am. Trying to be analytical.

Trying to be impartial.

Trying not to offend anyone.

Because no philosopher ever did that.

Socrates never had to drink hemlock.

If you’re happy and you know it rattle your chains

I watch a lot of MSNBC.

Yeah, I’m a liberal so I watch MSNBC.

Plus, I got this thing for Rachel Maddow.

I won’t explain it here. I don’t want it to get weird.

Too weird… More weird.

My God, what was I talking about?

Oh yeah, this.

I watch MSNBC. I even watch on weekends. I suspect that whoever is in charge of weekend programming thinks no one is watching because they air the same shows practically every weekend. They show that Dominick Dunne show about people killing each other. A lot. I think I’ve seen the same one about the poor dude who marries the rich lady from Texas and then poisons her with arsenic-laced pills about a dozen times already.

Besides, Dominick Dunne has been dead for how many years now?

Dominick Dunne died in 2009. I think it's time MSNBC change it's weekend line-up

Dominick Dunne died in 2009. I think it’s time MSNBC change it’s weekend line-up


Anyway, in addition to showing the same episodes of that Dominick Dunne show (Really, MSNBC. Airing that show is getting a little creepy) the weekend programming staff seems to be fascinated by shows about sex slaves.

Apparently they’re everywhere.

I had no idea.

Next to illegal drugs and guns, human trafficking (especially for the purpose of prostitution) is big (illegal) international business. It’s estimated nearly 800,000 people, especially women and children, are globally trafficked a year.

I'm not talking about this kind of slave, but real ones.

I’m not talking about this kind of slave, but real ones.


You Know, if you think about it, it’s not entirely shocking that modern slavery still exists given the fact that slaves and slavery (of some form or another) have been around since the birth of human civilization.

Slavery is not only a historical fact; it’s been tolerated (historically) in many cultures. Slaves traditionally were conquered people or people who owed money and were sold into slavery to work off debts. Ancient Mesopotamia, India, China, Egypt, Greece, Rome, and pre-Columbian Americans held slaves. Slavery is even mentioned in the Bible. Despite its prohibitions against such immoral acts such as witchcraft, mixing fabrics, eating shellfish, and making fun of bald men, the Bible does not prohibit slavery. Christian civilizations sometimes lessened slavery and occasionally slaves were liberated,  but neither Christian nor Islam (Mohammed urged that slaves should be treated well) did not end the practice of enslaving people.

By the way, the Bible does tell us how we should treat slaves (Leviticus 25:35-55).

Seriously though, according to the Bible making fun of a bald man may be a bad idea.

Just read 2 Kings 2:23-24.





Bears, man. Bears.


And now for the philosophy.

Like many folks in the ancient world, the Greek philosopher Aristotle does not object to slavery. Aristotle argues that just as nature produces philosophers (the highest men), nature also produces natural slaves. Some are designated from birth to rule while others are destined to be ruled. Aristotle states that in the household (which is the foundation of society) slavery is not only expedient, it’s right. The slave is (and should be) naturally inferior to the master. Slaves should not be Greeks but inferior people but barbarians, (who are natural slaves). In Politics, Aristotle writes:

But among barbarians no distinction is made between women and slaves, because there is no natural ruler among them: they are a community of slaves, male and female. Wherefore the poets say:

“It is meet that Hellenes should rule over barbarians”;

as if they thought that the barbarian and the slave were by nature one.

The slave, says Aristotle, is a “living tool” and the master cannot be friends with his slaves (that’s because slaves are not full people like their masters). Aristotle states that slaves should not be educated as a superior person is educated (because they can‘t be, anyway). Slaves should be taught useful arts like cooking, cleaning, and how to care for livestock.

Although the ancient Greek philosophers inspired the philosophy of the Enlightenment, it’s clear that there is no “all men are created equal” according to Aristotle.

(At this point it’s important to note that even though slavery has existed since people figured out that you can force other people to do hard work for you if you beat them, the criteria for who was fit (in Aristotle’s case naturally fit) for slavery is not racial in the same sense that we view race. The racial qualification for servitude (i.e. being African) wasn’t established until the mid-1400s when the enslavement of Africans was justified on the basis that Africans were an inferior race only fit for servitude).

With the pre-Enlightenment ideals of freedom, liberty, and self-determination spread across Europe and the American colonies, some saw enslavement of Africans as contrary to those ideals and by the mid-1800s objections to slavery on the grounds that enslaving one’s fellow humans is morally wrong (namely because lifelong servitude causes suffering) grounded the abolitionist movement. Abolitionists saw slavery as a sham, a denial of human rights; and to force others to forfeit their God-given liberty is contrary to the American belief in Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

Slaves were miserable. They weren’t happy and presumably would be happier if they weren’t slaves.

That’s a fairly easy assumption to make about people who lived like this:

slaves in chains


The great abolitionist Frederick Douglass addressed how the institution of slavery contradicted the principles of the Declaration of Independence. Douglass wrote:

What to the American slave is your Fourth of July? I answer, a day that reveals to him more than all other days of the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is a constant victim. To him your celebration is a sham… your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery… are to him mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy

A thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages


Douglass wrote “It was not color, but crime, not God, but man, that afforded the true explanation for the existence of slavery.”

Douglass wrote “It was not color, but crime, not God, but man, that afforded the true explanation for the existence of slavery.”


The funny thing about slavery (if it’s even possible for anything to be funny about slavery) is that the America’s Founding Fathers, some of whom were certainly slave owners, believed that slavery was wrong. The late historian Howard Zinn writes that in the original draft of the Declaration of Independence Thomas Jefferson wrote that King George III of England suppressed “every legislative attempt to prohibit or restrain the execrable commerce”.

However, Zinn adds, Jefferson’s condemnation of the king was excised from the final draft of the Declaration by the Continental Congress.

The funny thing about the funny thing about slavery is although Jefferson believed that slavery is evil he still owned slaves. Jefferson, like his fellow Founders, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Madison, John Jay, and Alexander Hamilton, believed slavery was an evil institution that was antithetical to the ideals of the Declaration of Independence.

But some of them still owned slaves.

I think I kinda know why.

Besides the fact that no one who has the opportunity to say no wants to pick cotton by hand.

I know I’m going to do a bit of stretching here. But play along with me.

We trace our ideals of freedom and liberty (at least as a politically guaranteed right) to the philosophy of John Locke (who, by the way, was heavily invested in the slave trade), but we also trace our idea of democracy to ancient Athens, a society that believed that not only is slavery morally permitted but a part of the natural order. Our idea of democracy isn’t just Lockean but also the ancient Platonic/Aristotelian view of the purpose and function of proper government.

I’m getting to my point. Bear with me. It’s gonna take a sec.

Aristotle (and Plato and Socrates) believed that the aim of government is the good of the whole. And Happiness (capital H) is a part of that good. The good, according to Aristotle, consists in acting virtuously, but also (as Socrates also believed) in performing according to one’s assigned role in society. The good of the community is inextricably tied to everyone doing what he (or she) is supposed to do. Society cannot function if people do not perform according to their characteristic function this is the only way a society can be harmonious. Aristotle writes:

But perhaps the reader thinks that though no one will dispute the statement that happiness is the best thing in the world, yet a still more precise definition of it is needed.

This will best be gained, I think, by asking. What is the function of man? For as the goodness and the excellence of a piper or a sculptor, or the practiser of any art, and generally of those who have any function or business to do, lies in that function, so man’s good would seem to lie in his function., if he has one.


So, when everyone is acting according to his/her characteristic function, we are not only acting for the good of the community, we are also Happy. We are unhappy when we don’t perform according to the role assigned to us by nature.

Aristotle says “thus it seems that happiness is something final and self-sufficing, and is the end of all that man does.”

Ok, Aristotle wants everybody to be happy. And we know that being a slave obviously makes one unhappy, so there’s no way we can justify having slaves, right?

Well, not entirely.

You see, when Aristotle wrote about happiness, he wasn’t exclusively writing about how we feel. He was writing about how we are that is, what kind of people we are. If we are virtuous, we are happy no matter what role we occupy in life. Aristotle calls this kind of Happiness eudemonia.

Aristotle writes that the good things that make us happy (wealth, pleasure, health, etc.) are second to a higher good. According to Aristotle, eudemonia consists in development of a virtuous soul.

And as we all know, Aristotle says when we act according to our characteristic function we are participating in virtuous activity.

This all has me wondering…

If it was believed that Africans were naturally fit for slavery is it possible that, despite the fact that slavery is brutal and is a denial of human freedom, that Jefferson believed that his slaves were happy?

At least in the philosophical sense?




If anyone objects to my argument, remember this is just a philosophical exercise (or thought experiment, if you will), not an actual treatise on slavery, its philosophical merits (if any), or Thomas Jefferson’s actual view on the emotional/philosophical state of his slaves. I’m more than certain that my ancestors would have thrown over philosophical happiness for freedom.

In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle writes, “Again, the enjoyment of bodily pleasures is within the reach of anybody, of a slave no less than the best of men; but no one supposes that a slave can participate in happiness, seeing that he cannot participate in the proper life of man. For indeed happiness does not consist in pastimes of this sort, but in the exercise of virtue, as we have already said.” (pg. 233)  According to Aristotle, since a slave is not a full human being, a slave cannot be happy.

Yikes! That’s worse than Jefferson!


1. Howard Zinn. A People’s History of the United States: 1492-Present. 1999. 1980. NY: Perennial Classics. 72, 182-3.

2. Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. Trans. F.H. Peters, M.A. 2004 [1893] . NY: Barnes and Noble Books. 10-11, 232, 233.

3. Aristotle. “Politics”. Trans. Benjamin Jowett. The Pocket Aristotle. 1958, 1942. Ed. Justin D. Kaplan. NY: Pocket Books. 279.


Life Is Brutish, Undead, and Short: On Hobbes’ State of Nature and The Walking Dead


Any George A. Romero fan will tell you that zombie movies aren’t just about zombies.

Sure, Romero’s zombies are gross and nasty, and there’s plenty of blood, gore and scares.

Hence the appeal.

Sparkly vampires might get the ‘tween crowds all worked up and kissing their posters of shimmering, brooding, pout-lipped blood-suckers on their walls

Go Team Edward!

– but for some folks (in particular those folks who like a little bit of thinking served alongside their horror) zombies are definitely they way to go.

Wait, are the Twilight films even considered horror? Horrible yes, but are they horror?

Good Lord, I hope not.

If you look (not even so) closely, Romero’s zombies are always about something – civil unrest, consumerism, militarism, bureaucracy, or the war on terror…

and the sorry fact that there will always be some idiot who won’t put down his camera long enough to save his own life.

Of course, Romero’s zombie films aren’t the only place you’ll find zombie symbolism. In Max Brooks’ best-selling novel, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, the undead represent a global crisis: viral pandemics, environmental disasters, terrorism, economic collapse…

You name the crisis, zombies can be it.

This could be part of the reason why zombies, despite their utter grossness, are a pop culture favorite. And the ratings success of AMC’s The Walking Dead has proved that audiences are more than willing to watch a weekly television show about a world full of cannibalistic revenants. Ostensibly, the show is about a group of survivors in a zombie plague. And that works just fine – undead flesh eaters are fun to watch. But if you look a little bit closer, you’ll see that The Walking Dead, like the zombie films of George A. Romero, is actually about something.

If you ask me, I think The Walking Dead is really about the state of nature.

Although David Hume writes that the state of nature is purely hypothetical (the state of nature never actually existed at any time in human history), and writes, “‘tis utterly impossible for men to remain any considerable time in that savage condition, which precedes society…”, the state of nature is meant to explore the origin of natural law and the social contract.

In political philosophy the state of nature precedes the political community and leads to the social contract. John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Montesquieu, and Hobbes all wrote about the state of nature.

If you’re not familiar with the concept of the “state of nature”, you’ve probably heard the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) famous quote in wrote in Leviathan (1651) that in the state of nature, life is “brutish, nasty, and short.”

This is what Hobbes had to say about the state of nature:

In such condition, there is no place for industry… no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea… no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and, which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death; and the life of man solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. (emphasis added)

Thomas Hobbes, in Leviathan, writes that the state of nature is the “natural condition of mankind.” Nature, according to Hobbes, has made all men equal “in the faculties of the body, and mind” and even though one person may be quicker or stronger than the other, Hobbes writes “the weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest, either by secret machination, or by confederacy with others…”

In the state of nature, Hobbes states, each man is left to define his own rules. Hobbes says human nature positions people to fight each other and with no authority to intervene or prevent violence human “society” is nothing more than a war of “all against all”. Hobbes writes, since self-preservation is supreme, our benevolence towards others is limited, and people are easily offended and quick to fight. Since each person operates according to their own law, our actions are influenced only by our own interests and we treat others not according to how we want to be treated, but according on how we decide to treat them. Thomas Hobbes says people are left to master others “by force or wiles… all the men he can.”

Hobbes states that the need for self-preservation is so essential that in order to save our own lives people agree to band together for mutual protection and to appoint a ruler to maintain social order. We leave the state of nature (where people possess maximum freedom) and agree to mutually binding rules. This is the social contract.

According to social contract theory, we agree that the law may restrict our freedom in order to preserve or promote freedom. For example, we agree to laws that restrict people from murdering each other in the interest of preserving the public’s right to live in peace without fear of their lives being cut short through act of violence.

Try as they might, these zombies will never enter into the social contract.

Try as they might, these zombies will never enter into the social contract.

Although it is entirely possible that the state of nature never existed, it might under the right circumstances.

– like a zombie apocalypse.

Unlike the hypothetical state of nature, where Hobbes tells us the urge for self-preservation leads us out of the state of nature and into the social contract, during the zombie apocalypse, the zombie plague infects people back into the state of nature. The zombie symbolizes untamed human nature. It is driven only by base drives; the need to consume and devour everything and everyone in its path. A zombie does not think, it does not reason. It has no desire to create or participate in civilization. Zombies do not create art. They will never participate in the social contract. Zombies will kill you without even thinking about it.

That’s because a zombie can’t think about it.

It is an all-out war between the living and the dead.

There is constant fear of violent death. And as young Sophia Peletier learns, life during the zombie apocalypse is indeed “Nasty, brutish and short”.

Alas, poor Sophia. Oh look, her shirt has a rainbow!

Alas, poor Sophia. Oh look, her shirt has a rainbow!

After watching a few episodes of The Walking Dead, it’s fairy easy to figure out that The Walking Dead isn’t merely a zombie TV show, but a morality play wherein the main characters, led by former sheriff’s deputy Rick Grimes, struggle to hold on to what is left of their humanity following the collapse of civilized society. Civilization in The Walking Dead has returned to a state resembling Hobbes’ state of nature. Robert Kirkman, creator of The Walking Dead, states that he wanted:

[to see] … how living in a world like this twists and turns things around to where morals get twisted and people’s actions that they would think are morally wrong end up being the right thing to do. And just showing how miserable it would be to live in this world.

However, in the world of The Walking Dead, it is not only the dead who threaten the survivors, but the living do as well. The series’ tagline for the third season was “fear the living”. Without law or fear of punishment, no one is trustworthy. The living are as dangerous, if not more threatening than the undead.

Given the state of lawlessness and incivility in Robert Kirkman’s zombie apocalypse, surely Kirkman was channeling Hobbes’ state of nature war of all against all when he created The Walking Dead. It remains to be seen how civilized the civilized enclave of Woodbury will remain in the aftermath of the attack/rescue mission by Rick Grimes and his fellow survivors in which the Governor (of Woodbury) lost and eye and his daughter is re-killed. By all signs, the traumatic events have caused the Governor to let go of his grip on what remained of his humanity.

Does this mean that there is no hope for these characters to emerge from the state of nature?

I wonder how much deeper into the state of nature the characters of The Walking Dead will go?

My guess is that The Governor won’t be reading any John Rawls the second half of season three.

My guess is that The Governor won’t be reading any John Rawls the second half of season three.


2. Thomas Hobbes Leviathan. 1985 [1651]. NY: Penguin Books. 184
3. David Hume A Treatise of Human Nature. 2000, 2005 [1739]. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (Bk. 3, Pt. 2, sec. 2)
4. “Making of The Walking Dead”. The Walking Dead: The Complete First Season. Anchor Bay Entertainment. 2011.

Every Four Years Someone Is Lying to You

Every four years Americans have the opportunity to elect their new leader. These days electing a new president or re-electing the incumbent president is no big deal. But if you think about how much of history was dominated by monarchs and self-appointed rulers, you’d think that Americans should take the opportunity dare I say right to choose their leaders a little more seriously. However, despite our right to choose less than half of all eligible voters voted in the presidential election.

Thank God for pluralism or we’d never elect a president.

The funny thing about Americans and elections is that despite the fact that the numbers of regular voters seems to indicate a general lack of interest in the political process, people often complain about the quality of the candidates running for office. Americans often say that they don’t vote because there’s no one worth voting for. One reason why many Americans say no one is worth voting for is because politicians are  professional liars who will say anything to anyone to get elected.

It seems that when it comes to politicians, the American public wants a leader capable of telling the truth.

It also seems that a truth-telling politician is a bit of a contradiction. Or at least a creature as rare as a diamond or mythical like a unicorn.

The philosopher Harry G. Frankfurt writes that a functional society must have “a robust appreciation of the endlessly protean utility of the truth.”   If you think about it, an honest politician shouldn’t be regarded as an oxymoron. The truth is a necessary element for cultivating the kind of informed public that Thomas Jefferson says is necessary for maintaining a democracy. And on whole, the American public says we want a politician who won’t drown us in platitudes, repeat the same party-approved talking points or God forbid, lie right to our faces. In film and television, movies like Dave, The American President, The West Wing, The Distinguished Gentleman, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and Bulworth demonstrate our desire for  a leader who tells the truth; someone the public can trust will tell them what the deal really is.
We say we want to elect someone like this:

That’s what we say we want. But is a truth-telling politician really what we want?

…. Or what we deserve?

If history (or philosophy) tells us anything, the answer to both questions is no.

Founding Father, Alexander Hamilton (one-third of Publius, authors of The Federalist Papers), wrote that “Those politicians and statesmen who have been the most celebrated for the soundness of their principles and for the justness of their views…” require the power of secrecy to fulfill their duties while in office. The power of secrecy entails the power to withhold information from the public. The English political philosopher John Locke (whose political philosophy influenced the Founders) argued that executive  (presidential) discretionary powers exist without the approval of the legislative or the people, and that the executive for the sake of the public good may take action that runs counter to the will of the people.

Now, think about it. If the power of the government (the executive branch, anyway) includes the power to do what the public doesn’t want you to do, it might be fair to assume that some lying would be required on the part of the politician. Wait before you object, let me tell you this: Plato says not only is it fair to assume a politician is lying to the public, for the politician, lying to the people is essential.

In Book III of Plato’s Republic, Socrates states that in order to ensure the loyalty of the people to the city, the people must be told a “needful falsehood” (or Noble Lie), a myth that ties the people to their home nation.* Socrates says:

Could we… somehow contrive one of those lies that come into being… some one noble lie to persuade, in the best case, even the rulers, but if not them, the rest of the city?

The purpose of lying to the people, Socrates reasons, is to ensure harmony within the state. And as we all know, Plato says that without harmony, we cannot become philosopher-kings.*

You might be tempted to reject Plato’s we-need-to-think-philosophically-stuff and say that Plato’s lying-as-public-policy argument should remain in the ancient philosopher’s dustbin. Here’s the thing: the argument for lying to the public isn’t just an ancient philosopher’s idea. The late German-American political philosopher, Leo Strauss (September 20, 1899 – October 18, 1973), argued that the intent of lie is not outright deception or done with malevolent intent, but that lies are told for the purpose of instilling the people with good morals and fostering personal and civil enlightenment. If we think about lies done for the purpose of making society better, we might be inclined to want a politician who is inclined to lie to the people.


At least we can tell ourselves when a politician lies he’s really looking out for our philosophical well-being.



* If you’re familiar with the practice of political lies and politicians lying, you might be thinking what is the difference between Plato and Machiavelli. It may be important to distinguish Plato’s Noble Lies from Machiavellian lies, which are told with the intention of seizing or maintaining tyrannical power or for nefarious purposes.

* Ok, I’ll be honest here. Plato endorsed Noble Lies because he believed that some people (aka philosopher-kings) are smarter and more qualified to lead than Average Joe and Jane like you and me. The Noble Lie, Socrates says, is meant not only to convince the rabble that whatever class and/or occupation we have in life is dictated by the gods, but are also told with the belief that some people are not mentally adept enough to make their own political decisions.

* It is important to mention that not all of the Founding Fathers believed that it is essential to lie to the people. Thomas Jefferson believed that the truth should be plain for all of the people to see.


Harry  G. Frankfurt. 2006. On Truth.  New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 15

Plato. 1968. The Republic. Trans. Allan Bloom. Book III. 414 b-c

Publius. The Federalist Papers. 1961. Ed. Clinton Rossiter. New York: Signet Classics. 422.