Yes, I’m A Philosopher (stop laughing, i’m serious)

Do you remember those “I’m a Mormon” videos?

You know, those videos of seemingly normal, average, people proclaiming their faith in the Church of Latter-Day Saints?

People like Brandon Flowers, lead singer of the rock band The Killers.

 

 

The point of the videos is to prove that there’s nothing wrong with being a Mormon.

 

I don’t know if the videos have improved the image of the Mormon Church, but if the ads have, there’s another institution that can benefit from a “we’re just like you” ad campaign.

Those institutions are institutions of higher learning.

 

There’s a lot of university education-bashing going on out there. Especially bashing those college majors that are usually described using the word “useless”.

English majors know what I’m talking about.

 

english-major

 

Ask around. It won’t take you too long to come up with a short list of “useless” majors. I mean we‘ve all heard the list. There’s English, ethnic studies, women’s studies, liberal arts, art history, communications, creative writing, fine arts…

Any major that has to do with studying or writing about the Renaissance.

 

Given America’s “if it feels good, do it” attitude, the proliferation of so-called “useless” majors on America‘s fine college campuses is not very surprising. I’m certain studying the major works of Conrad Faber von Kreuznach feels good to someone.

However, one major has the dubious reputation of being the most useless college degree of them all: philosophy.

What other profession would generate a meme like this?

 

finds work in ancient greece

 

 

Alright. English, Art … anything in the Humanities would.

 

Well, if you ask me (I know you did, I heard you), I think philosophy’s reputation is undeserved. And not just because I have a degree in philosophy.

 

TOTALLY WORTH TENS OF THOUSANDS WORTH OF DEBT THAT I WILL NEVER PAY OFF IN MY LIFETIME

TOTALLY WORTH TENS OF THOUSANDS WORTH OF DEBT THAT I WILL NEVER PAY OFF IN MY LIFETIME

 

 

rick's stuff n' thangs

RICK GRIMES: PHILOSOPHER

 

 

Listen: I know that philosophy has gotten a pretty bad rap. Why wouldn’t it? Philosophers spend their time thinking. About things. And stuff.

 

 

 

 

 

Who isn’t capable of doing that? Is a degree really necessary to think about stuff? Or things?

Or whatnot.

 

Probably not.

But here’s the thing about philosophy. A career in professional philosophy probably won’t get your own reality TV show, but philosophy is not useless. What makes philosophy not useless has nothing to do with the fact that philosophers think about stuff and things. Philosophy is not useless because of what philosophers think about. Philosophers think about stuff and things like existence, reality, morality, and knowledge. Philosophers devote their time to asking life’s big questions.

You know, those big questions most people don’t think about until they’re either drunk, flat broke, or just had a near-death experience.

 

Or if you’re lucky, all three.

 

AS SOON AS THIS GUY IS FINISHED EMPTYING THE CONTENTS OF HIS UPPER DIGESTIVE TRACT, HE WILL BECOME AS ENLIGHTENED AS THE BUDDHA.

AS SOON AS THIS GUY IS FINISHED EMPTYING THE CONTENTS OF HIS UPPER DIGESTIVE TRACT, HE WILL BECOME AS ENLIGHTENED AS THE BUDDHA.

 

And at least some of the time philosophers come up with an answer or two.

Sometimes those philosophers write what they‘re thinking about.

I did.

 

Mindless_Philosopher_Cover_for_Kindle

 

Philosophers are generous like that.

 

I mean, take a look at this guy, you can tell he’s a giver!

 

I THINK IN GERMAN SCHOPENHAUER MEANS “ONE GENEROUS S.O.B.”. OR MAYBE IT DOESN’T

I THINK IN GERMAN SCHOPENHAUER MEANS “ONE GENEROUS S.O.B.”. OR MAYBE IT DOESN’T

 

Listen: don’t pay attention to what they naysayers say. They’re all STEM field people who wouldn’t know a deep thought if one appeared in front of ’em right alongside the Higgs particle.
We know deep down, despite anything he says, Lawrence Krauss knows philosophy is more than useful – it’s necessary.

 

 
In fact, philosophy is pretty awesome.

To make things easy for everyone, I’ve drawn up a little list of what makes philosophy awesome.
10 Awesome things about philosophy:

 

1. Since philosophy is the parent of several major disciplines (medicine, astronomy, psychology, sociology, political science, physics, theology, to name a few) you’ll know a little bit about everything.

 

smart

 

 

2. Philosophy departments always have the coolest professors.

 

 

garden of earthly delights

YEAH LASCIVIOUSNESS!

3. One word: hedonism.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. You’ll know how to win an argument every time.

 

5. You can spend hours talking about the movie Road House and Keeping Up With the Kardashians, but you can do it all philosophical-like.

 

FUN FACT: BADASS, THROAT-RIPPIN’ COOLER JAMES DALTON (ROAD HOUSE) STUDIED PHILOSOPHY AT NYU

FUN FACT: BADASS, THROAT-RIPPIN’ COOLER JAMES DALTON (ROAD HOUSE) STUDIED PHILOSOPHY AT NYU

 

 

6. You’ll be unemployed but you’ll be really smart doing it.

Philosophy indeed is the most interesting path to poverty. it's a philosopher's life

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7. If you studied philosophy, you’re in the same company as Harrison Ford, Steve Martin, Chris Hardwick, Susan Sarandon, Martin Luther King, Jr., Jay Leno, Wes Anderson, David Foster Wallace, Thomas Jefferson, Phil Jackson, John Elway, Neil Peart, Ethan Coen, Alex Trebek, David Duchovny, Bruce Lee, and Wallace Shawn. They all studied philosophy.

 

YES, THE TALKING DEAD GUY WAS A PHILOSOPHY MAJOR. SEE? PHILOSOPHY DOES HAVE SOME USEFULNESS

YES, THE TALKING DEAD GUY WAS A PHILOSOPHY MAJOR. SEE? PHILOSOPHY DOES HAVE SOME USEFULNESS

 

8. You can do more than paraphrase Nietzsche. You actually quote the text and understand what he means.  Same goes for Ayn Rand.

 

9. You can totally school your family and friends on any movie’s philosophical undertones. You know The Matrix is really about  Descartes’ evil genie and Nozick’s experience machine. You revel in the knowledge that you can find deeper philosophical meaning in just about any movie and/or episode of Star Trek.

 

matrix pic

 

 

10. Last and most importantly, when you study philosophy, you’ll learn how to think. Critical thinking becomes a way of life. You’ll know to never stop asking questions even if you know you’ll never find the answers.

 

And you gotta admit, the toga looks good when you’re pontificating about the meaning of your big toe.

 

john belushi

 

 

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY PHILOSOPHICAL

 

Captain Kirk Makes Scrambled Eggs! (On Star Trek, Nozick’s Experience Machine, and the Worst Star Trek Subplot EVER)

I was watching Star Trek: Generations awhile ago. It’s not a great movie. It pretty much follows the every-other-movie Star Trek rule. That is to say, it’s an odd-numbered Star Trek movie.

The odd-numbered are the ones that suck.

The every-odd-numbered Star Trek movie rule goes like this: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan  (number 2 in the film series) = great movie. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier  (number 5 in the film series) = steaming pile.

The problem with Star Trek: Generations has mainly to do with the plot. It just doesn’t make sense. I haven’t made a formal count, but I’d guess there’s about 89 equally baffling subplots going on in the movie. There are plots involving Data and his emotion chip, the ample-bosomed, Klingon Duras sisters and their plan to destroy the Enterprise, the usually-entertaining Malcolm Mc Dowell and his quest to get back to something called the Nexus, and a not-so-successful meeting of Enterprise captains James T. Kirk and Jean-Luc Picard.

There’s also some mumbo-jumbo about Guinan (played by Whoopi Goldberg) and her relationship with Malcolm Mc Dowell (his character, that is), an opening flashback scene that introduces us to Sulu’s daughter and Kirk’s replacement, the inept Captain Harriman, the crash and explosion of the Enterprise in which the entire Enterprise crew is killed, and some GAWD-AWFUL attempted humor in the holodeck that takes place on the deck of a pirate galleon.

Whoever thought it would be funny to see a Klingon walk the plank was wrong. It’s not.

Now, any honest Star Trek fan will tell you that they’ve not been entirely impressed with every TV show or movie plot line. As much as I was forced to hold back bile while watching the Enterprise crew’s pirate ship shenanigans, if I wanted to be honest, my vote for the worst of the subplots – the worst subplot in any Star Trek movie – has to be the Nexus.

The Nexus is the biggest WTF plot line in Star Trek history.

Although strangely enough, it’s one of the most philosophical.

If you’re not acquainted with the Nexus, the Nexus is a kind of alternate world where you can manifest your ideal reality. Once you’ve entered the Nexus, you can spend an eternity in your ideal world. For Captain Jean-Luc Picard, ideal reality looks like a Charles Dickens novel; equipped with English-accented children (never mind that Picard is supposed to be French) in proper period attire. According to Captain Kirk, ideal reality is riding horses, chopping wood, and making eggs for his unseen girlfriend.

 

captain kirk makes eggs

 

I mean, the audience doesn’t get to see Kirk’s girlfriend. But we’re told that she’s in the bedroom upstairs.

We’re told her name is Antonia.

Who TF is Antonia?

As a Star Trek fan, I gotta say that this Antonia thing is upsetting. Not as upsetting as the new Carol Marcus’ British accent, but upsetting. I mean, every Star Trek fan knows that in an ideal world, Kirk would chose to be with his old love Carol Marcus*.

Maybe even chose to be with Edith Keeler.

 

 

THIS IS WHAT CAPTAIN KIRK'S IDEAL REALITY SHOULD LOOK LIKE

THIS IS WHAT CAPTAIN KIRK’S IDEAL REALITY SHOULD LOOK LIKE

 

Or maybe, since Star Trek is supposed to be philosophical, Kirk or Picard might have chosen a world that included having a little chat with Robert Nozick. I don’t know if it was intentional, but I get the feeling that the film’s writers were trying to squeeze in some experience machine talk to the audience. The Nexus is Robert Nozick’s experience machine.

Robert Nozick’s thought experiment was an argument against hedonism.

Hedonism, according to the English philosopher, Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), is the moral theory grounded on the principle that pleasure is the greatest good. Bentham wrote:

“Nature has placed mankind the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure… They govern us in all we do, in all we say, in all we think… By utility is meant that property in any object, good or happiness… to prevent the happening of mischief, pain , evil, or unhappiness…”

Nozick argued that Bentham’s emphasis on pleasure as the greatest good presents us with a problem. Namely, that if we value pleasure for pleasure’s sake, any pleasurable experience will do; we won’t bother to ask if pleasure is what’s really good for us. That is to say, some pleasurable experiences do us more harm than good.

This is precisely what Nozick’s experience machine shows us.

Nozick describes the experience machine as follows:

“Suppose there was an experience machine that would give you any experience you desired… you would think and feel you were writing a great novel, or making a friend, or reading an interesting book. All the time you would be floating in a tank with electrodes attached to your brain.”

If you’re feeling that this is the idea behind The Matrix and/or Total Recall, give yourself five bonus points.

You have seen this one before.

 

I NEVER THOUGHT I'D LIVE TO SEE THE DAY WHEN I'D SAY THE ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER VERSION IS BETTER.

I NEVER THOUGHT I’D LIVE TO SEE THE DAY WHEN I’D SAY THE ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER VERSION IS BETTER.

 

Although Nozick knows that some people would not hesitate to climb into the experience machine, he tells us that the wrong choice would be to climb inside. You see, Nozick says that there is more to life than mere pleasure. We should value the quality of our life experiences, not just the quantity of the pleasurable ones. Nozick argues that only is life worth more than pleasure, Nozick also says that the artificial experiences we live in the experience machine lacks authenticity. Nozick says:

“We want to do certain things, and not just have the experience of doing them… we learn that something matters to us in addition to experience.”

In the movie, Picard realizes that he can’t stay in the Nexus. He feels the urge to leave his ideal world, even though the Nexus’ “reality” is exactly the life that Picard wants. Picard knows that the Nexus isn’t real – that life inside the Nexus is, in reality, a denial of life. Picard eventually convinces Kirk to leave the Nexus (Kirk is also aware that life inside the Nexus isn’t “real”), and the two men rush to save the Enterprise from – well, you see, this is where the plot of the movie gets really convoluted.

 

WHO THOUGHT TWO OLD DUDES FIGHTING WOULD BE ENTERTAINING?

WHO THOUGHT TWO OLD DUDES FIGHTING WOULD BE ENTERTAINING?

 

 

Anyway, long story short. Kirk dies.

But here’s the thing: even though Kirk dies, it was better that he left the Nexus. According to Nozick, Kirk’s life in the Nexus was kind of living death. Since Kirk wasn’t actually chopping wood, riding his horse or making eggs for his girlfriend, he wasn’t really experiencing anything. We’re tempted to say that Kirk’s authentic death outside of the Nexus was qualitatively better than any thing he had experienced inside his artificial reality.

I guess unless you’re Thomas Nagel. You’d probably think Kirk’s death was pretty messed up.

But then, Nagel said any death is pretty messed up.

Ok, we get it. Nozick wants us to value authenticity over pleasure and we shouldn’t want to hook up to the experience machine. Nozick’s argument works fine if all we want to do inside the experience machine is to avoid the real world or to fulfill our desire to get tag-teamed by Megan Fox and Mila Kunis.

Or if you’re Kirk, shagging a couple of Orion slave girls.

But, if the quality of our experiences matters in the real world, why wouldn’t the quality of our artificial experiences matter as well?

If we choose to take private philosophy lessons from Socrates or to sit on a meeting of the Vienna Circle or choose to spend our time in the experience machine in deep philosophical contemplation, would we say that we wasted our lives away doing nothing of real value? If the circumstances of our lives prevent us from doing what we want to do, why should we reject an offer to spend time in the experience machine?

Would Nozick say that a person who is physically incapacitated shouldn’t want to experience climbing a mountain or taking a long walk along a beach? Would it be wrong if a woman living in a nation that oppresses women uses an experience machine to have a kind of life she is not permitted to have at home?

Is there ever a circumstance when good, albeit simulated, experiences are preferable to one’s shitty, all-too real existence?

I don’t know what Nozick would say about that, but I wouldn’t fault anyone for jumping into the experience machine if it meant you didn’t have to watch Star Trek V.

 

 

 

 
* It would also seem correct that Kirk’s ideal world would have included, along with Carol Marcus, Kirk and Marcus’ son David. Kirk did not meet his son until David was an adult (in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan). Unfortunately, David Marcus was murdered by Klingons in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. It seems quite reasonable that a man would want to spend an ideal eternity with his long-lost son.

 

 

 
Sources:

Robert Nozick. Anarchy, State, and Utopia. 1974. NY: Basic Books.

Jeremy Bentham. “The Utilitarian Calculus”. Ethical Theory: Classical and Contemporary Readings. 2007. 5th edition. Ed. Louis J. Poijman. Belmont CA: Wadsworth. p. 143.

Don’t think too hard, you’ll miss the big reveal

Sometimes philosophers frustrate me. Especially when it comes to movies.

Philosophers are only supposed to watch philosophically approved movies made by philosophically approved filmmakers.

Go ahead. Ask a philosopher who his favorite film director is. No, wait. You don’t need to ask. I’ll tell you right now. It’s Woody Allen.

If you ask any philosopher, his favorite film director is Woody Allen. He’s required by law to tell you that Woody Allen is his favorite film director and his favorite movie is Crimes and Misdemeanors.

Swear on a stack of Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling this is true.

Even if the philosopher hates Woody Allen’s movies he has to tell you he’s a Woody Allen fan.

It’s either Woody Allen or they take away his philosophy degree and he‘ll be dismissed from the ranks of professionally certified thinkers.

And that’s worse than being a logical positivist.

You see, if you’re a philosopher, you’re preference in cinema is supposed to be all highbrow. A philosopher is allowed only to watch movies that make you think. I’d like to watch That’s My Boy or Step Up Revolution. But I can’t. I am a philosopher.

Only the highbrow stuff.

But I’m saying this right now:

I’m not a fan of Woody Allen.

And I didn’t like Bergman’s The Seventh Seal.

 

This is the game with Death I'm supposed to like

This is the game with Death I’m supposed to like

 

 

This is the game with Death I actually like

This is the game with Death I actually like

I’ll admit: I like silly movies. I like stupid movies. I like the kind of movies philosophers would walk right out of the movie theater and declare them positively un-philosophic.

I’m not going to call any of these philosophers foolish, but they’re really missing out.

The truth is every movie is philosophical. A movie doesn’t need to be written by Jim Jarmusch or directed by the Coen brothers to be about something. If a character tells another character what he believes, we can talk about that character’s epistemological point of view. If at least one character in a movie is or claims to be God, or the main character is a woman who abandons her stale job and husband to screw other men  find herself,  then the movie we’re watching deals in metaphysics. And if, in any movie, any character does anything, we’re likely to find some kind of ethical dilemma or two.

So, if your movie tastes don’t lean towards Truffaut or you can’t bear to sit through Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Lord knows I can’t), don’t feel bad. Anything you’re watching is philosophical enough to get your mind thinking about philosophy stuff.

Trust me; once you start looking for philosophy in movies you won’t be able to stop.

You’ll find it, I swear.

And you’ll like it.

Unless you’re watching The Matrix. Then you’ll wish some filmmakers had never opened a philosophy book.