On the One Benefit of Never Having Learned How to Play A Musical Instrument

Music is the answer to the mystery of life.
– Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)

Lately, I’ve gotten into this thing of watching documentaries.

I’m not saying this to sound smart or anything. I’m certainly not bragging about it.

Truth be told, I’m not too keen on indie cinema or documentaries. Any documentary I’ve ever watched I saw on cable television.

So I’m really not as much of a fan of documentaries as I am a fan of cable TV.

Thank goodness for Time Warner Cable.

I hate to have to admit that.

should not have told you that

I know that when a person says that they like documentaries, the immediate mental picture that comes to mind is of some pompous ass who only drinks fair-trade coffee, can determine the quality of wine from its smell, and tells people that they watch documentaries only so they can pontificate about how the only important cinema is based on true life.

I assure you I am not one of those people.

Well, I don’t watch the documentaries that air on the Sundance Channel. I watch the ones that air on HBO. The ones that come on late at night.

The ones that have Taxicab Confessions or Real Sex in the title.

I especially enjoy the documentaries they play on VH-1.

Because I find VH-1’s Behind the Music on Lynyrd Skynyrd more compelling than March of the Penguins.

That one VH-1 aired about Soul Train changed my life.

How can you not watch this and be changed for life?

Did I just admit that?

did i just say that GIF

Being a sucker for anything on VH-1 with the word “documentary” in the description, I decided to watch The Foo Fighters front man Dave Grohl’s documentary Sound City.

BACK IN MY DAY DAVE GROHL WAS JUST THE DRUMMER IN NIRVANA. OH GOD, I’M OLD.

BACK IN MY DAY DAVE GROHL WAS JUST THE DRUMMER IN NIRVANA. OH GOD, I’M OLD.

In the documentary, musicians like Grohl, Lee Ving, Tom Petty, Rick Springfield, Mick Fleetwood, and Trent Reznor talk about their passion for music.

There’s no denying that music plays a fairly important part in most of our lives, not just the lives of musicians. Many of us have arm chaired judged contestants on American Idol.

JUST LOOKING AT WILLIAM HUNG AND YOU KNEW THE SINGING WAS GOING TO BE BAD

JUST LOOKING AT WILLIAM HUNG AND YOU KNEW THE SINGING WAS GOING TO BE BAD

And even more of us are guilty of singing more-than-slightly-off-key renditions of popular songs in the shower.

a pocket full of sunshine

Although most of what philosophers write about music concerns itself with the ontology of music*, drawing the distinctions between art and music, the classification of high and low forms of music, and the role that music plays in the philosophical development of the individual, even philosophers appreciate a tune or two.

Nietzsche famously said, “Without music, life would be a mistake.”

Philosophers, like the professional musicians in Dave Grohl’s documentary, also appreciate music as art.

And philosophy, like music, can be an art.

This looks like a fine place to drop a “That Look On Your Face When” meme.

that look

I know this all seems rather unbelievable.

Not because there are no artists anymore.

But because no one is into philosophy.

You see, even though the media doesn’t make much ado about modern-day painters, poets, or sculptors, being an artist is a fairly legit occupation. Even if they don’t talk about you on TMZ, a person can still find a successful career writing poems, painting or sculpting. We still read the works of Shakespeare, marvel at the paintings of Rembrandt and Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. Students still study Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

It’s a safe bet that if you walked around the streets of any major city you would find at least one person who can name a modern-day painter or poet.

Unfortunately, the same probably can’t be said about philosophy.

Sure, a few folks know about Aristotle and Socrates but how many people can name a philosopher who was born after the Titanic sank?

I know you philosophy majors can. You don’t count.

I blame TV and the movies.

When the television and the motion picture camera were invented philosophy went the way of the dodo.

philosophy's tombstone

What I mean, is that there are still writers and other artists. There are still romantic figures in the arts – modern-day Lord Byrons and Voltaires carry on the days of the troubadours. But they’re mostly in the arts that are meant to entertain. Our romantic artists are all actors or musicians. No one is ever celebrated for the art of creating a beautiful philosophical theory.
You can say your brain is an instrument, but who are we trying to kid?

Nobody ever sold out Madison Square Garden playing their brain.

AN ACTUAL PHOTO FROM SCHOPENHAUER’S LAST PHILOSOPHY TOUR (SCHOPENHAUER SHOWN CENTER STAGE)

AN ACTUAL PHOTO FROM SCHOPENHAUER’S LAST PHILOSOPHY TOUR (SCHOPENHAUER SHOWN CENTER STAGE)

And since I never learned how to play an instrument I’ve had plenty of time to think about these things….

I suppose that’s one benefit of never having learned how to play a musical instrument.

The problem isn’t just that philosophers aren’t very popular these days, thinking about things in general has gotten a bad rap.

There is something wrong with our ideology.

There’s something wrong with the basic principles upon which our culture is based.

You see, a growing number of Americans aren’t into reading anything. According to a Pew Center poll nearly a quarter of Americans did not read a single book in 2014.

SEE?

SEE?

It seems that the space where we communicate is getting smaller and smaller. So small in fact that we aren’t really required to read at all. Twitter limits us to 140 characters. Websites like Snapchat are purely visual.

There is no need to write anything.

And it’s not just that there are no words, but that the image we post disappears in a matter of minutes.

Think about it – what we communicate literally disappears.

poof 1

Even the visual image doesn’t last for very long.

I don’t know if it’s because we want to save trees or because the Illuminati has dumbed down the herd so they can imprison us in re-education death FEMA camps, but I contend that when people don’t read – when people stop studying the written word, there’s a problem.

Sure, you can learn from visuals. We’re all been able to put together a bookshelf by just looking at the diagram. But when a significant number of people (and growing) stop reading and society increasingly communicates via the visual image and the visual is temporary, how can we expect to sustain a culture that wants to read, analyze, and develop the kind of passion for the written word that some have for music?

BELIEVE IT OR NOT, THERE IS ACTUALLY SUCH A THING AS LOVING BOOKS TOO MUCH

BELIEVE IT OR NOT, THERE IS ACTUALLY SUCH A THING AS LOVING BOOKS TOO MUCH

You see, to truly develop the intellect, you need to read; to meditate on what you‘ve just read. If we don’t appreciate the written word, we lose the capacity to communicate complex ideas (like philosophy, for instance). Like the great works of literature, complex ideas can’t be communicated in just 140 characters. Complex ideas can’t be limited to just visuals. Much less one that self destructs in 90 seconds.
Look, I’m not calling for everyone to throw out their guitars and ditch their Twitter accounts because we should all study philosophy. Yeah, I write and blog about philosophy. But it’s not even deep philosophy. I write about how philosophical concepts relate to the things we see on TV, in movie theaters, read in books, hear in songs and see in our popular culture in general.
I know what I do is not as marketable as a fashion blog or a mommy blog. Or blogging recipes or posting pictures of my cat. I know anything I will ever post on the internet will never have as many views as Tyler Oakley. A philosopher will never be asked to host a late night talk show.

That’s because philosophers are lousy at stand-up.**

 THERE IS NO OPEN MIC NIGHT AT THE PIRAEUS

THERE IS NO OPEN MIC NIGHT AT THE PIRAEUS

But dammit, this what I write. This is my passion. I think that reading and thinking about philosophy should be everyone else’s passion, too.

At least somewhat as much as some people love music.

Now that I think about it, Rush is pretty much that band, isn’t it?

ONLY RUSH COULD MAKE THE PHILOSOPHY OF AYN RAND SEEM DEEP

ONLY RUSH COULD MAKE THE PHILOSOPHY OF AYN RAND SEEM DEEP

So the question is, how do you get people to want to think about stuff like philosophy? How do you convince people that a career in philosophy can be just as rewarding as a career in the music industry?

GRAND FUNK RAILROAD SANG SONGS ABOUT BANGING GROUPIES, NOT READING BERTRAND RUSSELL

GRAND FUNK RAILROAD SANG SONGS ABOUT BANGING GROUPIES, NOT READING BERTRAND RUSSELL

Listen: some people worked long and hard to figure out how to get people to stop thinking. There must be some way to do the inverse. Plunking down books in front of people and making them read doesn’t work anymore. There’s nothing to be gained by being all smart and philosophical about everything.

Keep in mind when I say “nothing to be gained” I mean doing philosophy doesn’t make you a lot of money.

CHANCES ARE ALVIN PLANTINGA WILL NEVER TAKE A PICTURE LIKE THIS

CHANCES ARE ALVIN PLANTINGA WILL NEVER TAKE A PICTURE LIKE THIS

The average philosophy professor earns about $65,000/year.

Unless you work for California State University system (you’ll only make a measly $48,000/year).

THIS ACTUAL PHILOSOPHER HAS EXACTLY TWO DOLLARS IN HIS POCKET

THIS ACTUAL PHILOSOPHER HAS EXACTLY TWO DOLLARS IN HIS POCKET

Dave Grohl is worth $260 million.

dave grohl smiling

WORTH MORE THAN THE ENTIRE PHILOSOPHY DEPARTMENT AT YOUR LOCAL UNIVERSITY

What’s worse is that we’ve been trained to think that only ugly and/or un-famous people think.

People who are decidedly un-rock star.

Really.

Seriously. Think about it for a minute. Studying and thinking about serious stuff is for ugly people. This is why, no matter what contributions this man has made to modern thought –

YEP. PHILOSOPHERS PRETTY MUCH LOOK LIKE THIS

YEP. PHILOSOPHERS PRETTY MUCH LOOK LIKE THIS

We wouldn’t buy him for one second doing something like this:

david lee roth GIF

That’s why folks like Chris Hayes and Rachel Maddow are on MSNBC and not on Fashion Police.

Why you’ll never see Kate Upton at an APA convention.

Not to say that Rachel Maddow is unattractive. I don’t think she is.
And not to say that Kate Upton would never give a keynote speech to the American Philosophical Association.

But you get my point.

There has to be a way to convince people that thinking, dare we even say philosophizing about things is not only not just for the unattractive, but for everyone. That all of our lives will be a little better if we start critically thinking about things.

That being a philosopher is as sexy as being a musician.

sexy philosopher

Here’s something I think Dave Grohl and Socrates would agree on: There’s something about music that can make us think, that can motivate us in ways that other forms of art cannot. That’s why Kant made a distinction between high and low forms of music.

popstars y u no read kant

It’s why Socrates tells us that we must be careful of what kind of music we listen to.

good music vs. bad music

Of course, there is a dark side to encouraging all this philosophical thinking; to making philosophy sexier.
Our problem is this: If we want to encourage thinking about philosophy the same way we think about our favorite rock musician, philosophical thinking inevitably will be sexualized, thus counteracting the point of encouraging people to value our capacity to reason over mere physical attributes.

pig thoughts

Not to mention the incredible difficulty of convincing the intellectual elite that gaining sway over public perception and opinion means they’ll have to ditch their academic ivory towers for the low and gritty world of common public discourse.

SOCRATES REALIZES HE'S GOING TO HAVE TO TALK TO AVERAGE PEOPLE

SOCRATES REALIZES HE’S GOING TO HAVE TO TALK TO AVERAGE PEOPLE

The thing is, philosophy really is like music.

It’s got a good beat and you can dance to it
dancing philosophers

But seriously, tho.
Contemplating life’s “big questions” touches us deep in our souls in the same way we are moved by a good song by our favorite band. Philosophers and rock stars are equally known for coming off as arrogant.

One can easily imagine Hegel, who said philosophy “must not lower itself to the people” jumping into the crowd to quell one of the rowdy rabble like this:

I suppose people will eventually get to a point when they’ll collectively rise up and after so many years of intellectual abuse, change the way we think about things.

And that, my friends, is the one benefit of never having learned how to play a musical instrument.

It’s knowing that one day doing this

philosophy lecture

Will get you just as famous as doing this

dave grohl guitar

….. and your name won’t have to be Slavoj Zizek, either.

Alas, it remains a great deal more difficult to covey the passion or sex appeal of thinking critically.

OK, SO IT’S NOT QUITE AS APPEALING AS ADAM LEVINE

OK, SO IT’S NOT QUITE AS APPEALING AS ADAM LEVINE

A working knowledge of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus is still a lot less sexy than playing a guitar and bedding groupies.

Wait – do philosophers have groupies?

Guitar solo!
* If you want to read one of those articles on the ontology of music read: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/music/

** a notable exception to the philosophers are lousy at stand-up rule may be Ricky Gervais, who has a degree in philosophy from University College London.

SOURCES:
http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/01/the-decline-of-the-american-book-lover/283222/

http://work.chron.com/much-philosophy-professor-make-year-8750.html

http://www.celebritynetworth.com/richest-celebrities/rock-stars/dave-grohl-net-worth/

The Mouse That Bored

Psst. Come here. I want to tell you something.

Ready for it?

Listen carefully.

Here it is:

I hate reading philosophy.

I HATE READING PHILOSOPHY.

There. I said it.

There’s a perfectly legit reason for it.

 

philosophy messes your mind up

 
Studying. Reading. Writing serious compositions about philosophy. I hate it.

It’s not because I don’t understand what I’m reading.

Except if I’m reading Bertrand Russell.

That mofo confuses me.

ME, READING RUSSELL

ME, READING RUSSELL

 

 

 

I hate reading philosophy because it’s boring.

B.O.R.I.N.G.

Philosophy is boring.

It’s tedious and dull.

And there’s rarely any pictures.
Let’s face it, philosophy is boring. Philosophers are boring. People who aren’t philosophers but like to talk philosophically are beyond boring.

 

 

zooey

 

 

Nietzsche’s mustache is about as exciting as philosophy gets.

 

NIETZSCHE ROCKED THAT MUSTACHE LIKE A TOTAL BOSS

NIETZSCHE ROCKED THAT MUSTACHE LIKE A TOTAL BOSS

 

 

All philosophy might as well be written in comic sans.

 

 

no comic sans

 

 
Quick quiz: Who would you rather invite to a party, Ke$ha or Alvin Plantinga?
HERE’S ALVIN PLANTINGA:

 

 

 

 

 

AND HERE’S KE$HA:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Now honestly, who would you rather party with?

Right.

 

 

When I was a philosophy student, I would sit in class and think about anything other than philosophy.

I’d think about my growling stomach… My itchy right foot… How many names when singing The Name Game rhyme with cuss words… The uneven tile on the floor… Imagining what color and style of underwear my professors wore… Deciphering the lyrics to R.E.M’s “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)”…

 

 

Why film adaptations of good Stephen King books rarely make good movies.

 

 

NOW THAT I’M THINKING ABOUT IT, THE MIST WAS KINDA GOOD.

NOW THAT I’M THINKING ABOUT IT, THE MIST WAS KINDA GOOD.

 

 

 

I’d do anything in class but read or think about philosophy.
I shouldn’t be saying this, but I managed to earn a degree in philosophy without ever actually reading a philosophy book. I’d rather watch philosophy on TV.

I honestly can’t comprehend a philosophical theory unless it relates to an episode of Star Trek.

Star Trek is awesome.

 

It’s interesting and exciting. There’s photon torpedoes, phasers, Vulcan neck pinches, android crew members, the Borg and Captain Kirk shouting, “KHHHAAAAAAANNNN!!!!!”

 

It’s exactly the opposite of philosophy.

 

 

THIS SINGLE CINEMATIC MOMENT WAS MORE INTERESTING THAN ALL OF MY YEARS AS A PHILOSOPHY STUDENT

THIS SINGLE CINEMATIC MOMENT WAS MORE INTERESTING THAN ALL OF MY YEARS AS A PHILOSOPHY STUDENT

 

 

Ok. Do me a favor. Read this:

 

We may say, for example, that some dogs are white and not thereby
commit ourselves to recognizing either doghood or whiteness as
entities. ‘Some dogs are white’ says some things that are dogs are
white; and, in order that this statement be true, the things over
which the bound variable ‘something’ ranges must include some
white dogs, but need not include doghood or whiteness. On the
other hand, when we say that some zoological species are cross-
fertile we are committing ourselves to recognizing as entities the
several species themselves, abstract though they are. We remain
so committed at least until we devise some way of so paraphrasing
the statement as to show that the seeming reference to species on
the part of our bound variable was an avoidable manner of
speaking.

 
Pretty boring, right?

I’m not going to tell you who wrote it other than to tell you it was written by a philosopher.

Ok, it was W.V.O. Quine. He wrote that.

 

Now read this:

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the road less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

 

 

Liked that, didn‘t you?

That’s because it’s Robert Frost. Frost was a poet.
The thing is, I managed to earn a philosophy degree without ever really reading a book.

Whoops. I shouldn’t have said that.

 

 

whoops

 

 

In case you haven’t figured it out or experienced it yourself, I didn’t read philosophy books because philosophy is boring!

 

To be honest, I can’t enjoy philosophy unless it relates to an episode of Star Trek.

 

 

I DON’T KNOW HOW THE GORN IS PHILOSOPHICAL BUT DAMMIT, I’M GOING TO WATCH STAR TREK UNTIL I FIGURE OUT HOW IT IS

I DON’T KNOW HOW THE GORN IS PHILOSOPHICAL BUT DAMMIT, I’M GOING TO WATCH STAR TREK UNTIL I FIGURE OUT HOW IT IS

 

 

Come on, admit it. You’d rather watch Star Trek than read ANYTHING philosophical.

 

Star Trek has EVERYTHING – there’s spaceships, space battles, photon torpedoes, phasers, the Vulcan neck pinch, the Borg, and Worf.

 

 

LT. WORF. BADASS LEVEL: KLINGON

LT. WORF. BADASS LEVEL: KLINGON

 

 

And if that’s not enough, there’s all those philosophical episodes:

The Measure of A Man
The Inner Light
Who Watches the Watchers?
In the Pale Moonlight
City On the Edge of Forever
All Good Things

 

That’s just a few.

 

With the notable exception of that cinematic eye violation known as Star Trek: Insurrection, the philosophical undertones of Star Trek enhance the show’s excitement – it makes the show interesting.

 

Precisely the opposite of what you get in most philosophy.

kirk and spock go platonic

 
Although you can intentionally mispronounce Immanuel Kant’s last name to sound like what Fifty Shades of Grey is all about, intentionally mis-doing anything else to Kant (or his name) won’t make reading Kant’s philosophy – or any other philosophy – un-boring.

 

Perhaps this means that philosophers should freshen things up a bit.

 

Maybe it’s time for philosophy to be a little less Plato’s Academy and go a little more Hollywood.

 

EVERYBODY WOULD READ DESCARTES IF DESCARTES LOOKED LIKE THIS

EVERYBODY WOULD READ DESCARTES IF DESCARTES LOOKED LIKE THIS

 

I would add the following suggestions:

 

  • A reality TV show staring J-Woww and Slavoj Zizek
  • Judith Butler would be as popular as Sandra Bullock if she showed a little side boob.
  • An UFC match between Alvin Plantinga and Rampage Jackson

 

NOT PICTURED: RAMPAGE JACKSON

NOT PICTURED: RAMPAGE JACKSON

 

 

  • Car chases
  • A newly-discovered Martin Heidegger-Hannah Arendt sex tape
  • A big-screen adaptation of Fear and Trembling staring Channing Tatum as Kierkegaard
  • A Miley Cyrus concept album based on Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico- Philosophicus
  • A prime-time special of philosophical quotes delivered by Honey Boo Boo

 

 

THIS OUGHTA PULL IN RATINGS

THIS OUGHTA PULL IN RATINGS

 

 

I assume, if philosophers expect to enhance their reputation and increase their popularity, that they’ll abandon their academic ivory towers and follow my advice.

 

Ok philosophers, now it’s your turn.

 

I’ll tell y’all how it all works out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SOURCES:
1) Willard Van Orman Quine. “On What There Is” [1948]. From A logical Point of View. 1953, 1980. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Quine’s essay can also be found online at: http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/On_What_There_Is.

2) Great American Poets: Robert Frost. 1986. Ed. Geoffrey Moore. NY: Clarkson N. Potter, Inc. p34.

On God and the Philosopher (how philosophical thinking can lead to a life of godlessness)

This one is for all of my God-fearing friends who believe that God is all powerful, yet can’t make a rock so heavy he can’t lift it.

 

 

 
I’m out of the closet.

 

SPONGEBOB OUT

 

 

No, not that closet.

I’m out of the other closet. You know the one I’m talking about. I’m talking about that big, dark, sin-filled closet. The one no politician, professional moralizer, or conservative talk show host wants to be seen stepping out of. The closet that once you step inside you’re destined for fire and brimstone and eternal damnation.

The closet with the label written in great big shiny letters “non-believer”.

That closet.

I’m out of the atheist closet.

 

143-Atheists-are-coming-650x365

 

 

I will no longer tell people that I’m an agnostic or “spiritual”.
I will no longer say I am a “skeptic”.
I am an atheist.
I do not believe that God exists.
So far, I have not been struck by lightning.

 

WHAT HAPPENED TO THE LAST GUY I KNEW WHO SAID HE WAS AN ATHEIST

WHAT HAPPENED TO THE LAST GUY I KNEW WHO SAID HE WAS AN ATHEIST

 

I haven’t always been an atheist. I used to believe in God. I went to church (some) Sundays. I believed that Jesus is the reason for the season, voted Republican, and listened to nothing but contemporary Christian music. When people sneezed, I said “God bless you” –
And I meant it.

For a couple of years, this was my favorite song:

 

 
I believed that Jesus Christ was my personal Lord and Savior. I believed that His Father so loved the world that he sent his only Son to die for my sins.

I don’t believe any of that now.

 

 

KEEP CALM AND BELIEVE IN YOURSELF

 

Every atheist has a reason for why he or she doesn’t believe in God. I guess if I had to name exactly what got me out of believing in God, I’d say the reason why I no longer believe in God has something to do with studying philosophy.

I’d tell you that studying philosophy caused me to develop the philosopher’s habit of overthinking.

I’d tell you that I literally thought myself out of believing in God.

My explanation would go something like this: as a philosopher, I was dedicated to a life according to the Socratic Method. That, therefore, invariably led to questioning everything. And in turn, asking questioning everything lead to doubt. And in doubting what you you’re thinking – I stopped believing in God.

Really, it went just like that.

 

atheist logic

 

I can only describe my atheist conversion as nothing short of mystical. I was sitting right there in the church pew when I was suddenly hit by a revelation: God does not exist.

Since that day I’ve had no doubt that I don’t think that God exists.

I know that this all might sound like I’m anti-God. I’m not. I’m not even anti-other people believing in God. But then, I also don’t have problem with anyone not believing in God. And, as I said before, I don’t. I just never saw any reason for believing that God exists. Believing in the existence of an Omnicompetent Creator may be a satisfying answer to all of life’s mysteries for some, but as far as my immortal soul goes, I’m more than quite content with the fact that I’ve chosen to live without daily prayers, knowing that Jesus is the reason for the season, and living without that feeling of paranoia and guilt whenever I’d pass along the offering tray without putting anything into it.

Even though I knew I had exactly 28 dollars in cash in my wallet.

Being an atheist means not being afraid to look a Jehovah’s Witnesses’ face and I tell her that I not only refuse to accept her copies of the Watchtower and/or Awake! (Lord knows I wasn’t going to read them anyway), but that I also find the whole believing-in-God-and-accepting-Jesus-as-my-personal-savior-thing quite unbelievable.

 

thank god it's an aligator

I’ll tell you the truth, though. It’s not easy to tell other people that I don’t believe in God. To come out as a non-believer in a self-proclaimed Christian nation can be a bit of scary thing. I’m not just talking about feeling the fear of falling into that old philosophical trap of confirming the existence of God by denying that God exists.*

It’s scary because once you’ve confessed that you don’t believe in God, your mom, your former alcoholic, born-again, on fire with the LORD uncle – even complete strangers are compelled to inform you that rejecting God means your immortal soul is lost and doomed to burn in hell – forever.

It’s hard sometimes to hear that Jehovah’s Witness say as I’m politely slamming the door in her middle-aged face, “God loves you even though you don’t believe in HIM.”
The funny thing about being an atheist is, is despite my own comfort with my current state of godlessness, sometimes it seems that everyone else out there has a problem with uncloseted nonbelievers like me.

I’m not imagining this.

 

OK, I DABBLED INTO SOCIALISM BUT IT HAD NOTHING TO TO WITH BEING AN ATHEIST

OK, I DABBLED INTO SOCIALISM BUT IT HAD NOTHING TO TO WITH BEING AN ATHEIST

 

Americans on whole don’t think very highly of the godless. In a survey conducted by the University of Minnesota, 47.6% of respondents said that they would not approve of their child marrying an atheist, and less than half of Americans (45%) say they would vote for a qualified presidential candidate who does not believe in God. In that same University of Minnesota study 39.5 % said that atheists are the group least likely to believe in the ideals of American society.

This means that according to a significant portion of the American public, more Americans believe that card-carrying communists, anarchists, and Al-Qaeda jihadists are more committed to American principles than people who don’t believe in God.

 

anti god and anti american

 

Although atheists, secularists, and nonbelievers are an estimated 1.1 billion of the world’s seven billion human inhabitants, most Americans surveyed say that they are less likely to vote for an atheist political candidate than to vote for a woman, a minority, a Jewish, Mormon, or even an openly gay political candidate. In a study conducted by the University of British Columbia, researchers found that there is only group the public despises more than atheists.

Care to guess who?

You guessed it: Rapists.

The public trusts people who sexually violate others more than they trust an atheist.

 

ATHEISTS AND SEX OFFENDERS

 

 

I guess if you don’t like God, people don’t like you.

For the record, I find it comforting to see that a majority of Americans are willing to vote for a woman, a minority, or an openly gay candidate.

 

Honestly, one doesn’t need to know the stats on American attitudes towards atheists to know that things are bad out there for the average John Q. Atheist. We know that in the minds of (some) God-fearing folks, not believing in an Omnicompetent deity is un-Americanly bad enough, but there is a worse kind of unbeliever – the COLLEGE EDUCATED ATHEIST.

 

college atheist

 

It seems that as much as people dislike run-of-the-mill atheists, they especially dislike non-believers with a post-secondary education.

 

freshman atheist

 

In my book, Mindless Philosopher: How Philosophy Taught Me Everything I Needed to Know About Popular Culture, I purposefully evaded the topic of religion and philosophy of religion. In that book wrote that if time travel were possible, I would go back in time and tell myself under no circumstances should I take a philosophy of religion class. I wanted to avoid religion not because I’m anti-religious. I think if you have a personal belief in something, that’s fine.

 

We all gotta serve somebody, as Dylan sang.

My reluctance was due, in part, to my belief that: 1) any serious discussion on the topic of religion and/or philosophy of religion would fill a book in itself, b) religion is a topic best discussed by priests, ministers, and theologians – not by academics and philosophers, and, more importantly, 3) I don‘t believe God exists.

 

atheist jesus

 

 

I once said that if I ever experience a spiritual crisis I would more likely turn to my local clergy rather than a philosopher.

Well, unless that philosopher was Cornell West. He’s got a degree in theology.

 

The reason why, I think, is because unlike the average non-believer, who may or may not carry his atheism with a sense of shame, pain, or personal failure, the college-educated atheist has one special ingredient that makes him immune from any sense of humility: a college-educated attitude.

I actually said this to a professor in a philosophy of religion class. He told me I was in no “epistemic position” to make that kind of judgment.

Riiiight.

After years of post-secondary training, the college-educated atheist not only believes is there no God, but he’s delusional enough to believe that he’s right (and has the right) to say there isn’t.

 

philosoraptor atheist

 

I remember when I was a freshman in high school, my English teacher told the class that the college campus is a place where a believing man is doomed to lose his religion. He proclaimed, “If you start college as a Christian, you’ll come out godless.” I think he was trying to be helpful. He told us that college will turn you into a skeptic and that losing ones belief in God, at least so far as college is concerned, is inevitable.

America’s universities were no more than full-blown God-hating atheist factories.

After having gone to college and doing the philosophy thing it’s no surprise then, how I’ve turned out. According to what some folks, including my old freshman English teacher, believe about college-educated people, my atheism is typical of both college grads and philosophers. Most philosophers (including most philosophy professors) don’t believe in God.

It’s estimated that 73% of philosophy professors are atheists or lean towards atheism.

 

PROBABLY AN ATHEIST

PROBABLY AN ATHEIST

 

Looking at my high school English teacher’s prophesy, I’m beginning to think he wasn’t being overly pessimistic about our ability to maintain a belief in God in the face of academia-based anti-religiosity as much as he just plain got it right – many people do stop believing in God on college campuses.

 

Really, it’s true.

If you’ve never stepped foot on a college campus, here are a few stats you should know:

Individuals with a post-graduate education are more likely to identify themselves as atheists (This group also included self-professed liberals, Democrats, Independents, and people who live on the East coast).
A Pew Center study estimated that 20% of adults 18-25 (aka college age kids) classify themselves as either atheist, agnostic, or nonreligious, and more than one-half of non-religious Millennials (those born after 1981) state that they no longer practice their childhood faith at all.
According to recent data, church membership has steadily declined among younger Americans, with a growing number of young Americans professing no faith or belief in God at all. One fourth of Millennials identify as religiously unaffiliated. However, the number of older Americans who believe in God has remained relatively unchanged.  And college campuses have seen noticeable increase in the number of atheist groups and secular organizations.

 

stats on belief in god

THIS IS A NICE CHART WITH STATISTICS. BUT YOU KNOW WHAT THEY SAY ABOUT STATISTICS

 

Given the rise in the number of Americans getting college degrees and the popularly-held belief that atheists dwell in a godless moral vacuum, it’s no surprise that, in the minds of some believers, the prevalence of atheism among college-educated folks is a source of some concern. After all, how can America be “one nation under God” if we’re a nation of unbelievers? The college-atheism connection even led 2012 Republican presidential candidate, former Pennsylvania senator, Rick Santorum, to say:

It’s no wonder President Obama wants every kid to go to college. The indoctrination that occurs in American universities is one of the keys to the left holding and maintaining power in America … As you know, 62 percent of children who enter college with a faith conviction leave without it.

 

The accuracy of Rick Santorum’s comments and the public’s sentiments towards atheism aside, the belief that colleges are nothing more than atheist indoctrination factories is a real problem – and not just for believers.

 

atheism isn't a religion

 

 

It’s also a problem for philosophers.

Philosophers on whole are a bunch of non-believing people. God could point his finger directly into a philosopher’s face, announce his very existence, and he’d still be an ass about the existence of God. Anyone who has read the anti-theistic philosophy of Ayn Rand, Friedrich Nietzsche or Arthur Schopenhauer knows that it doesn‘t matter if God looks like this guy.

 

GOD

 

 

Or this guy:

 

smiling god

 

Or this guy:

 

sha ka ree

 

 

No matter what it looks like, most philosophers will never admit that HE exists.

73% of them as a matter of fact.

 

Unless you’re Alvin Plantinga.

 

THIS PHILOSOPHER BELIEVES IN GOD

THIS PHILOSOPHER BELIEVES IN GOD

 

 

Or this guy:

 

THIS PHILOSOPHER BELIEVES THAT GOD EXISTS, TOO

THIS PHILOSOPHER BELIEVES THAT GOD EXISTS, TOO

 

Of course this leads to the inevitable question: if the majority of philosophers and philosophy professors don’t believe in the existence of an all-seeing, all-knowing, all-powerful being, and colleges are nothing more than atheist indoctrination camps, why would university-trained folks want to think about, much less conjure up philosophical theories about religion?

That, my friends, is the question, isn’t it? Why would someone – especially a philosopher who doesn’t believe in God – want to know about God?

 

FOR THIS GUY, THE THOUGHT OF ASKING QUESTIONS ABOUT GOD IS THE SAME AS ASKING “X7863HSFI#OF!HOIFC?HIOF**H777 OIC&NK” WITTGENSTEIN SAYS GOD TALK IS ALL GIBBERISH

FOR THIS GUY, THE THOUGHT OF ASKING QUESTIONS ABOUT GOD IS THE SAME AS ASKING “X7863HSFI#OF!HOIFC?HIOF**H777 OIC&NK” — WITTGENSTEIN SAYS GOD TALK IS ALL GIBBERISH

 

Philosophy is defined as the love of wisdom. Philosophers believe that we gain wisdom through rational thought, reason and logical arguments. Religion, on the other hand, relies on faith. For the believer, religious belief and indeed, the beauty of religious experience, is the mysterious, spirituality and the supernatural; the unexplained. Something that can’t be explained or justified through the use of reason. Faith, unlike reason, cannot be mediated by anyone other than by God. One does not need logical proof; one simply believes.

The Danish philosopher and theologian Søren Kierkegaard argues we cannot rest our belief in God solely on reason. Kierkegaard states, if we choose faith we must suspend our reason in order to believe in something higher than reason. Kierkegaard doesn’t say reason is worthless, just that we can’t get to the truth of God’s existence through using reason alone. We require a leap of faith.

 

leap of faith 2

 

 

The problem with philosophy is that wisdom and reason are inextricably linked; one cannot claim to be wise if one’s wisdom is not based on reliable, rational evidence. As a consequence, faith and reason don’t necessarily go together. Religion and philosophy are like oil and water.

It’s often impossible to make them mix.

 

 

 ALTHOUGH SOMETIMES WHEN YOU MIX OIL AND WATER YOU MAKE A YUMMY VINAIGRETTE

ALTHOUGH SOMETIMES WHEN YOU MIX OIL AND WATER YOU MAKE A YUMMY VINAIGRETTE

 

 

Philosophical inquiry is understanding why people believe as they do. If we look at what people believe, what they think, how they act, we see that one of the sources of ethics and metaphysics is God. God influences us and our behavior; our metaphysics, what we believe is true. God’s word gives informs us the meaning of life. So does philosophy.
That means we can’t discuss philosophy without at least considering the role of religion.

No matter how any atheist, college educated or not, feels about religion or God, the majority of the Earth’s population, whether they bow to Jehovah or Allah; whether their God is Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Jain, Hindu, Invisible Pink Unicorn or Pastafarian, believe in the existence of an all-powerful being.

 

IS IT A GOD OR ONE OF THE AQUA TEEN HUNGER FORCE?

IS IT A GOD OR ONE OF THE AQUA TEEN HUNGER FORCE?

 

 

So it’s probably not a good idea that philosophers should totally ignore the influence of religious belief on philosophical thought.

 

Wait a minute. I’m an atheist. I don’t want to say that.

I need to rethink this.

 

 

 

* The “old trap” , for those who haven’t stepped into it, goes a little like this: by naming an object (in this case God), I am asserting that there is some object in the real world to which the name “God” corresponds. If I say that “God” does not exist, I am saying that that named object to which an object in the real world corresponds (God) does not exist, thus I am contradicting myself. So to avoid such contradiction, I will not name an object but state that I lack a belief in the existence of a being that is described as an all-knowing, all-seeing, omnipotent, perfectly good being (I shall steal a word from a former professor and use the word “Omnicompetent”). If you want to know what I just did to avoid the trap, read up on Bertrand Russell and definite descriptions… or not.

 

 

SOURCES:

1) http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/story?id=1786422&page=1
2) http://life.nationalpost.com/2011/11/30/religious-people-do-not-believe-in-atheists-study/
3) http://jezebel.com/5864303/people-think-atheists-are-just-as-bad-as-rapists-christ
4) http://cnsnews.com/news/article/gallup-liberals-democrats-grad-students-easterners-more-likely-be-atheists
5) Pew Center stat: Joanna Sharpless. “Faithlessness On the Rise?” 11/07/07. http://www.secularstudents.org/node/1848
6) The number of Americans with a four-year degree as of 2011, is 28%. http://chronicle.com/article/Census-Data-Reveal-Rise-in/126026/
7) Stats on Millennials: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/05/more-millennials-losing-their-religion_n_1571366.html?ncid=edlinkusaolp00000009
8) http://www.pbs.org/wnet/need-to-know/video/video-are-colleges-encouraging-atheism/13078/comment-page-1/
9) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion
10) http://dudeism.com
11) http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/philosophy-religion/

 

Everyone’s A Critic (Or, 10 Good Reasons To Hate Philosophy)

I remember when I was a kid, Mr. Blackwell would put out a list of the year’s best and worst dressed celebrities.

Although the more positive thing to do would have been to talk about the best dressed list, the media seemed to anticipate the announcement of Mr. Blackwell’s worst dressed list. They treated Mr. Blackwell’s announcement like a little kid flips his lid opening up his presents on Christmas.

You’d think that Santa Claus had delivered the list.

I don’t remember too much about Mr. Blackwell’s critiques other than his proclamations  were announced in rhyming couplets.

This is Mr. Blackwell

mr blackwell

 

Mr. Blackwell is dead now.

That was Mr. Blackwell.

I guess Joan Rivers does his job these days. I don’t think she uses rhyming couplets, though.

It’d be pretty cool if Kelly Osbourne did.

 

Whether it’s cars, movies, electronic equipment, summer reads, fashion icons, or reality television shows, everyone from the editors of Entertainment Weekly to any guy or gal with a blog has got a top ten list of something. If you spend any significant amount of time doing  or paying attention to anything, you’re bound to think up a list of things about that thing you do or don’t like. You don’t have to read very many lists to see that for some things, the lists are pretty much the same.

I’ve read more than twenty  top ten lists that name Breaking Bad as the best TV show.

Nearly every list of the best music groups say that The Beatles are the greatest band ever*.

If you’re wondering who the greatest president of the United States was, eleven out of ten political scientists will tell you that America’s greatest president was Abraham Lincoln even before he was a vampire hunter.

 

But, just as everyone has a list of music groups, books, or movies, that you love, everyone also has a list of everything and anyone we just cannot stand. Everybody has a list. A THAT list. Although I have yet to hear anyone say it, I know that every philosopher, philosophy fan, and philosophy student has that list of philosophers that they feel less than a positive affinity towards. A philosophy shit list.

Although one might assume that finding a list of hate-inducing philosophers would be a challenging task, picking the list is actually quite easy. After all, it’s easy to come up with a list of philosophers we’re supposed to like: Socrates, Descartes, Hume, Kant… But let’s be honest, some philosophers practically scream out to be hated. For every great philosopher, for every great philosophical idea like the problem of induction, Gettier examples, the naturalistic fallacy, or correspondence theory of truth, there’s a Pascal’s wager or transcendental idealism. Or the homunculus.

That bad idea, by the way, was peddled by Aristotle.

 

Some philosophers were not good people. Other philosophers were/are a-holes. And some philosophers invent theories that are so wacky that you have no other reasonable choice but to hate that philosopher and everything they’ve ever written.

I promise I won’t say a thing about logical positivism or Wittgenstein.

Still, sometimes you come to hate other philosophers merely by looking at them.

I mean, it’s easy to hate a guy that looks like this:

 

ischope001p1

 

Really, the more one reads philosophy, the more one finds philosophers (and theories) worthy of a “worst of” list.

So without further ado, I present my top ten worst philosophers (aka 10 good reasons to hate philosophy):

 

1. Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)

no you kant
Perhaps best known for his works Critique of Practical Reason (1788), Critique of Pure Reason (1781), and the Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals (1785), the German Enlightenment philosopher, Immanuel Kant, is considered the greatest philosopher since Aristotle. Kant taught at the University at Konigsberg  (East Prussia) where he was a popular and well-regarded professor. Satisfied with neither the rationalist nor the empiricist theories of knowledge, Kant called for a “Copernican revolution” in philosophy an attempt to provide a satisfactory account for knowledge.

This all makes Kant sound like a swell guy but there’s plenty of reasons to hate him and his philosophy.

For starters, philosophers, until Immanuel Kant, weren’t exclusively academics.

Kant was.

Second, not only are Kant’s Transcendental Idealism and synthetic a priori knowledge incredibly (and annoyingly) confusing concepts, but Kant’s ethical opus, the CATEGORICAL IMPERATIVE, is damned-near impossible to carry out in real life.

In Kant’s first formulation of the Categorical Imperative, Kant instructs that we may never violate any moral rule, no matter what good may come about as a result of violating the rule. So, if your friend comes to your house and says to you that he’s being followed by an axe murderer and he wants to hide in your closet, according to Kant, you’re supposed to tell the axe murderer that your friend is hiding in the closet if the murderer asks you where your friend is hiding.

The reason why you gotta fink out your friend, Kant says, is because it is morally wrong to lie. Kant writes:

Whoever then tells a lie, however good his intentions may be, must answer for the consequences of it… because truthfulness is a duty that must be regarded as the basis of all duties founded on contract, the laws of which would be rendered uncertain and useless if even the least exception to the were admitted.

 

The act of lying undermines our pursuit of truth, Kant says.

You see, Kant says we have an inviolable duty to the axe murderer to tell the truth because if we lie, we are endorsing the act of lying, not just to save lives, but in any situation where the circumstances may work out nicely for ourselves (or anyone else for that matter). What if the axe murderer knows you’re lying, Kant asks. And because he knows you’re lying he sneaks around to the back of your house where your fried is also sneaking out the back way. The murderer kills your friend. Kant says that you’re not only morally on the hook for the lie but for the murder as well.

If you didn’t lie the murderer wouldn’t have doubted you. And if he hadn’t doubted you, he wouldn’t have sneaked around to the back door. If you had pointed to your closet and said “He’s right in there”, sure, you’re violating your friend’s trust and handing him over to a deranged killer, but, at least according to Kant, you did so with a clear moral conscience.

It doesn’t take much contemplation to figure out that this line of thinking is kind of…. wrong.

 

2. Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)

old fred

The 19th century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche is undoubtedly one of the most influential (if not most popular) philosophers ever. Besides Socrates, Friedrich Nietzsche has probably contributed more ideas and catchphrases to the popular culture than any other philosopher (eternal recurrence, the ubermensch, master/slave morality, “God is dead”, “What does not kill me makes me stronger”, “there are no facts, only interpretations”…) Nietzsche is considered one of the forerunners of existentialism and credited with founding the philosophy of nihilism.

And is the patron philosopher saint of goth kids everywhere.

That’s pretty much where the problem with Nietzsche starts.

The philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche is the sole genesis of more philosophical misinterpretation and wrongheaded-ness than any other philosopher in history.  Nietzsche’s misogyny, anti-Semitism, and fervent German nationalism not only inspired the malevolent philosophy of National Socialism, but we can find Nietzsche’s philosophical influence in the Satanic religious teachings of  the late Anton LaVey  to  the mass murderers at Columbine High School.

 

 

3. Gottlob Frege (1848-1925)

Gottlob_Frege

Gottlob Frege is credited with revolutionizing the study of logic, which, until Frege, was dominated by Aristotelian logic. His work, Begriffsschrift (1879) set forward a system of formal logic that overthrew Aristotle’s logic. Frege, (along with Bertrand Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein) is credited with creating the groundwork of modern philosophy of language. Frege argued that logic, mathematics, and language have continuity, and that we should view language more logically for clarity and to remove confusion (in language).

Anyone who hated symbolic logic or encountered the phrases Venus is Hesperus or Venus is phosphorus has Frege to blame.

And as many philosophy students has complained, Frege’s formal logic operates too much like mathematics which is precisely the subject that many mathophobic philosophy students aim to avoid.

 

4. Aristotle (384-322 BCE)

aristotle bust

Called “The Philosopher”, the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote on subjects as diverse as politics, economics, psychology, biology, physics, ethics, logic, and auto repair. Scholasticism, the school of theological thought based in part on the philosophy of Aristotle, was the official doctrine of the early Catholic church, and  Aristotle’s logic was the standard logic until Frege. Aristotle’s philosophy (which includes ideas such as the golden mean, eudemonia, and virtue ethics) is still a foundation of philosophical and political thought. Aristotle’s philosophical works are so extensive and he remains one of the world’s most influential philosophers, it’s amazing to think that it’s possible to dislike the man they called “The Philosopher”.

It is possible.

Aristotle proves that the quantity of one’s writing doesn’t necessarily correlate to the fact that everything that someone writes is correct.

A few examples:

On the subject of slavery Aristotle wrote:

… from birth certain things diverge, some towards being ruled, other towards ruling… Accordingly, those who are as different [from other men] as the soul from the body or man from beast and they are in the state if their work is the use of the body, and if this is the best that can come from them are slaves by nature. For them its is better to be ruled with this sort of rule…

 

No, you didn’t read it wrong. Aristotle believed some people are natural slaves.

 

And On the subject of women Aristotle wrote:

Woman is more compassionate than man, more easily moved to tears. At the same time, she is more jealous, more querulous, more apt to scold and to strike. She is, furthermore, more prone to despondency and less hopeful than man, more devoid of shame or self-respect, more false of speech, more deceptive and of more retentive memory.

 

Pretty much speaks for itself.

 

Aristotle also believed:

  • Deformed children should be put to death.
  • If people married young their children would be weak and female (Aristotle probably believed that was redundant).
  • Animals are mere tools to be used however people see fit.
  • Democracy is bad.
  • The Earth is the center of the universe.
  • Heavenly bodies float on eternal invisible spheres.
  • Some people have no souls (and therefore are fit to be used as slaves)
  • And, of course, Aristotle believed a man’s semen contains fully-developed, miniature people.

 

We expect that even the greatest philosopher may miss the mark, but when Aristotle was wrong, he wasn’t just slightly incorrect or a wee bit off track; the guy was wrong.

WRONG.

 

allistair gets slimed

 

Centuries of Aristotle’s wrong-headed philosophy dominating church doctrine not only held back the progress of science (as it was not in one’s best interest to oppose church doctrine), but Aristotle’s  truly messed up notions involving the intellectual aptitude of women and the (in)ability of average citizens to manage government are still prevalent.

If that isn’t enough, Aristotle’s political philosophy influenced neo-conservatism.

‘Nuff said.

 

5. John Rawls (1921-2002)

rawls

Veil of ignorance. Period.

6. Ayn Rand (1905-1982)

ayn rand

Best known as the author of objectivist masterpieces The Fountainhead (1943), Anthem (1938), and Atlas Shrugged (1957), Ayn Rand is only slightly less regarded by philosophers as a philosopher worth taking seriously. Rand is the founder of Objectivism, the philosophical school of thought grounded on the principle of rational self interest. Rand’s rational self interest is defined as follows:

Man every man is an end in himself, not a means to the ends of others; he must live for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself; he must work for his rational self interest, with the achievement of his own happiness as the highest moral purpose of his life.

 

At first glance Rand’s philosophy makes sense. It’s difficult to argue that we shouldn’t place the achievement of our own happiness first and foremost among our life goals.

And we should wan to be happy.

The problem with Rand is that following her philosophy will turn you into a complete dick.

Anyone who has endured a soon-to-be-former-friend’s Rand-soaked rants about “moochers”, “the virtue of selfishness” or “going Galt”, knows that the mere sight of The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged on a friend or prospective mate’s bookshelf spells certain doom for any relationship. The trouble with Ayn Rand is that fans of Rand often espouse Rand’s anti-helping-one’s-fellow-man sentiments, while also failing to realize, like Rand, that helping the less fortunate actually benefits society.  You see, Rand’s fans often fail to see that she wrote fiction.

That’s probably why if you ask any philosopher if he takes Ayn Rand seriously, you’ll be laughed out of the room.

Rand not only calls philosophical god Immanuel Kant “evil”, but Rand proclaimed that the Christian ethic of altruism is dangerous and harmful to society.

Which is pretty odd considering some of Rand’s biggest fans are Christian politicians.

Ayn Rand’s philosophy is such a bag of mixed-up ideas that Rand’s influence can be found behind the personal philosophies of former Republican 2012 Vice-Presidential nominee, Paul Ryan, who insisted all his staffers read Atlas Shrugged, and Anton LaVey, the late founder of the Church of Satan.

Rand herself decried social assistance to the poor (because it takes from the rich, who, according to Rand had all earned their money, so no poor person has a right to be helped by it) while receiving social security a social assistance program.

That’s not only mixed up. That’s being a total Dick.

 

7. Ayn Rand

Rand proves that it is possible to so despise a philosopher she’s worth mentioning twice.

 

8. Sir Bertrand Russell (1873-1970)

bertrand russell

 

Regarded by many as the greatest philosopher of the 20th century and (perhaps) the greatest philosopher ever, Sir Bertrand Russell (along with Gottlob Frege and Ludwig Wittgenstein) played a major role in the development of analytic philosophy. Russell’s works includes writings on logic, philosophy of language, philosophy of mathematics, epistemology, metaphysics, moral philosophy, politics, economics, religion, and Russell, with Alfred North Whitehead, wrote Principia Mathematica (1910-13), which established the logical foundations of mathematics.

Ok. I know, I know, Bertrand Russell is the greatest philosopher of the 20th century, quite possibly the greatest philosopher ever. Blah blah blah.

It’s absolutely correct that every philosophy student should know the philosophical importance of Bertrand Russell. But here’s my problem:

First: Russell’s Paradox.

Second: Unlike Leo Strauss, whose approach to writing was to be intentionally obscure, Bertrand Russell is damn-near un-understandable. I have no clue what Russell is writing about.  Read this:

The unity of the sentence is particularly obvious in the case of asymmetrical relations: ‘x precedes y’ and ‘y precedes x’ consist of the same words, arranged by the same relation of temporal succession; there is nothing whatever in their ingredients to distinguish the one from the other. The sentences differ as wholes, but not in their parts, it is this that I mean when I speak of a sentence as a unity.

 

Now, either Bertrand Russell is that brilliant or I’m that dumb.

Because I have no idea what that meant.

That’s why I hate Bertrand Russell.

9. Leo Strauss (1899-1973)

leo strauss

Known as the father of neo-conservatism, the political philosophy of  the late German-American philosopher, Leo Strauss, has created more animus between liberals and conservatives than the epic “tastes great/less filling” debate. In fact, Leo Strauss is probably the most influential modern philosopher no one has ever heard of.

Have you ever heard the name Paul Wolfowitz?

If you haven’t, I’m guessing you’re not an American.

If you are an American and you haven‘t, God help you.

What’s important to know about Paul Wolfowitz is that he was a student of Leo Strauss.  AND he was a Deputy Secretary of Defense in the George W. Bush administration. That means Paul Wolfowitz had the ear of the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld.

No big deal, right?

Well, that would be no big deal if Leo Strauss hadn’t spent his entire philosophical career lamenting modern political theory and what he saw as modernity’s liberal, relativistic values, and “the corroding effects of mass culture.” Strauss writes:

Many people today hold the view that the standard in question is in the best case nothing but the ideal adopted by our society or our “civilization” and embodied in its way of life or its institutions. But, according to the same view, all societies have their ideals, cannibal societies no less than civilized ones. If principles are sufficiently justified by the fact that they are accepted by a society, the principles of cannibalism are as defensible or sound as those of civilized life.

 

Strauss explains that moral relativism and “the uninhibited cultivation of individuality” is “bound to lead to disastrous consequences” and nihilism.

It would be no big deal if Strauss hadn’t taught at the University of Chicago from 1949 to 1968,  allowing Strauss to influence a generation of students (they’re called “Straussians”). And it wouldn’t be a big deal that Leo Strauss taught guys like Paul Wolfowitz and influenced a generation of Straussians if Strauss hadn’t believed and taught his students that philosophy should be esoteric, and not understood by everybody, and that knowledge is something that is hidden to most people and only understood by a few individuals (namely Strauss and his students).

It wouldn’t be a problem that Strauss taught guys like Paul Wolfowitz if Strauss hadn’t taught his students that society should be structured so that the wisest should rise to the top (mind you, Strauss believed that he and his students were the wisest) and that it’s perfectly within a government’s power to lie to and ignore the will of the people.

It wouldn’t be a big deal if Straussians hadn’t been affecting American domestic and foreign policy for the last 12 years*.

It wouldn’t be a problem if Strauss’ followers didn’t go into politics and influence and entire administration to follow Strauss’ wacked-out ideas.

 

10. Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)

ischope001p1
The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (of course he was German!) is best known for his work The World As Will (1818). Schopenhauer, along with (fellow Germans) Georg Hegel and Nietzsche introduced the concept of the will as a force in the world that makes things happen. The world, according to Schopenhauer (and later Nietzsche) is an expression of the will.

Schopenhauer believed that the Eastern philosophical tradition was better at dealing with our philosophical crises than the established European philosophy. Schopenhauer also believed that animals should be treated humanely. He even objected to animals being used for scientific research.

That makes Schopenhauer seem like a pretty cool guy, right?

Well, if you thought that you’d be wrong.

You could say Schopenhauer was the Debbie Downer of philosophy.

Schopenhauer believed that there is no such thing as friendship or happiness and since the will wants its way, we will always be subject to suffering caused by our unfulfilled desires. According to Schopenhauer’s philosophy, even if we get what we want we can never be truly satisfied. Schopenhauer says that ultimately nothing we do matters because death will eventually claim us, thus rendering all of our efforts at anything futile. Schopenhauer writes:

we blow out a soap bubble as long and as large as possible, although we know perfectly well that it will burst.

 

You don’t have to be a philosopher to know it’s kind of hard to like people like this.

Ok, you say, pessimism is forgivable. Many philosophers display more than an inkling of the dourness. But if Schopenhauer’s sunny attitude isn’t enough to turn you off, Arthur Schopenhauer was also a pretty rotten guy.

For starters, his attitude towards women sucked.

Schopenhauer’s attitude towards relationships with women was no different from his view on friendship and happiness. Schopenhauer had many romantic relationships but no permanent.   Worse yet, not only did Schopenhauer write that women are “mental myopic” with “weaker reasoning powers”, he pushed an elderly neighbor down a flight of stairs. When the woman died, Schopenhauer rejoiced that the woman’s death relieved him of his obligation to pay compensation for the injuries she sustained in the fall.

That alone places Schopenhauer second only to Ayn Rand on the dickness scale.

 

philosophy is magic

 

Alright. I know that my list sounds like I’m just bitching about philosophers without any real, substantive criticism of any philosopher of his or her philosophy. If that’s what you’re thinking, that would be an entirely correct assumption. Just as one my dislike The Beatles because of John Lennon’s nasally vocals, our reasons for disliking (or even hating) a particular philosopher, philosophical theory, or philosophical school of thought, may come down to something as trivial as the fact that that particular philosopher invented symbolic logic.

It may be un-philosophical to say so, but it’s ok if you don’t like everything. It’s even ok to really despise a philosopher or two.

As any philosopher will tell you, everybody’s got an opinion, and

haters-gonna-hate-2

 

* Although the critics are nearly unanimous in their praise of The Beatles, I think that it’s highly unlikely that the Beatles would appear at the number on spot on every best musical artists lists. To my knowledge, The Beatles have never occupied the top spot on a list of the 10 greatest hip hop artists. But then, I haven’t seen every top ten hip hop artists list, either.

 

* It’s clear that the Bush Administration’s policies have continued into the Obama Administration. The U.S. is still involved in Iraq, and U.S. troops are still active in Afghanistan. Bush era economic policies, government surveillance, and rendition of “enemy combatants” have also continued into the Obama Administration.

 

 

 

 

Sources:

1) Aristotle. The Politics. 1984. Trans. Carnes Lord. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 40-1.

2) Aristotle. “The Inequality of Women”. 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. 525.

3) Bertrand Russell. “Sentence, Syntax, and Parts of Speech”. The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell. 1961. Eds. Robert Egner and Lester E. Denonn. NY: Touchstone. p. 122.

4) “Reader’s Guide to the Writings and Philosophy of Ayn Rand”. From The Fountainhead. 1952 [orig. published 1943]. NY: Signet.

5) Immanuel Kant. “On A Supposed Right to Lie From Benevolent Motives”. 1797. http://oll.libertyfund.org/?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.php?title=360&chap

6) Leo Strauss. Liberalism Ancient and Modern. 1968. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p.5

7) Leo Strauss. Natural Right and History. 1950, 1953. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.  pp.3, 5.