Philosophy and People with PhDs in Philosophy

“There are philosophers who never wrote anything; and there are a lot of writers of philosophy who aren’t philosophers.”—Nassim Nicholas Taleb

IMG_2541-003I was once castigated by a colleague, in a review of Blue Notes, for referring to Nassim Nicholas Taleb as a “philosopher”; he took issue, as well, with my numerous references to popular culture, and with my failure to write the book in a sufficiently academic fashion. As my friend Kaï Matthews quite rightly observed, these three seemingly disparate criticisms are, in fact, all of a piece. At some point in the mid-20th century, people with PhDs in Philosophy decided that “philosophers” were really just people with PhDs in Philosophy. What’s worse, they seem to have concluded, at more or less the same time, that the only truly legitimate form of philosophical writing is the jargon-laden article—written by and for the specialist, and published in an obscure academic journal. Everything else that a philosopher writes is, at best, a clumsy attempt at outreach or a watered-down version of the real thing.

Thinkers who traffic in serious ideas are probably freer now, in the 21st-century West, than ever before. And yet there’s a playfulness in the genre-defying writings of philosophers like Plato, Nietzsche and Rousseau, a playfulness that’s noticeably missing from the intellectual life of our day and age. We love to make fun of Kant for being so unbelievably uptight; but, stylistically speaking, he was far freer than we. Expressing a serious idea in a poem, a song, a dialogue, or an op-ed in the New York Times wouldn’t seem shockingly unorthodox to him, nor would the notion that straightforward, jargon-free prose can communicate profound philosophical truths to curious citizens who know how to read.

—John Faithful Hamer, From Here (2016)

About John Faithful Hamer

John Faithful Hamer is a college professor who still can't swim, drive, or pay his bills on time. His sense of direction is notoriously unreliable, yet he'd love to tell you where to go. His lack of practical skills is astounding, and his inability to fix things is renowned, yet he'd love to tell you what to do. His mismanagement of time is legendary, as is his inability to remember appointments, yet he fancies himself a philosopher and would love to tell you how to live. He wouldn't survive in a state of nature, of that we can be sure; but he's doing quite well in the big city, which has always been a refuge for the ridiculous, a haven for the helpless, and a friend to the frivolous.

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