What better way to start off this new philosophy blog for budding philosophy students than a post outlining why you should not do philosophy. Tony Lynch from the University of New England wrote this paper. Enjoy!
I am sure that most of you here think there are good reasons to
do philosophy. Certainly I can think of five good reasons.
In the first place I am certain that you all think that it is a good
thing to think; and, of course, philosophy just is the science or craft of
In the second place you are all going to go to university soon,
and as you perhaps know, universities are places where you are
supposed to learn to think. Thus it was that the first universities were
the philosophical academies of Plato and Aristotle; and even today a
university that lacks a philosophy department is simply an imposter.
In the third place you might have noticed that thinking lasts.
There is an aspect of the eternal in good thinking. And so it is that so
many of the universally known names of History – not only Plato and
Aristotle, but St Augustine, St Thomas Aquinas, Rene Descartes,
Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, David Hume, Immanuel Kant, George
Hegel, Soren Kierkegaard, Arthur Schopenhauer, Friedrich
Nietzsche, Karl Marx, Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Martin
Heidegger,John Paul Sartre and Simone deBeuvoir – are all
In the fourth place you might just be consumed with curiosity
about the big issues. Is there a God? Are human beings free? Do
they have a mind that is more than the brain? Is anything really,
objectively, right or wrong? What is truth? What is knowledge?
What is Being? And where can these things be found? And so on.
And finally, and because as a philosopher you are a thinker par
excellence, you are very employable; for many employers know that
you don’t have to teach someone trained in philosophy how to think,
analyse, argue or write.
But let’s be careful, and let’s be fair. For there are reasons not
to do philosophy; and I think I ought to present some of them to you
before you make, what is, a momentous decision.
The first reason not to do philosophy is that it can be fatal. This
is no exaggeration, it is just a fact. The person we usually think of as
the founder of the whole shebang, Socrates, was executed by Athens
in 399 BC for practicing philosophy. He was, apparently, “corrupting
the youth” by encouraging them to ask smart arse questions of their
elders which they – as is often the case – found themselves illequipped
to answer. Understandably this upset them. Very much.
And so they took Drastic Action. So I warn you, smart arse questions
can get you into serious trouble.
The second reason not to do philosophy is precisely what led
Socrates to ask his dangerous questions in the first place. It
sensitizes you to bullshit. It gives you a thin skin when it comes to
nonsense, balderdash, blather, bunkum, claptrap, drivel, garbage,
idiocy, piffle, poppycock, rigmarole, rubbish, spin, tomfoolery, trash
and twaddle. And don’t think this is a good thing, or that others will
think it a good thing. After all we are surrounded by bullshit; it is,
probably, our major resource and our major product. Bullshit makes
the world go round; it oils the hinges of life; it enlivens the
conversational world; and it is available to everyone, free of charge.
To be sensitized to it is to be in a pitiable state. It is to be always
hurting, and always finding new ways to be hurt.
The third reason not do philosophy, like the first, concerns your
health. For even if you are not given the ultimate punishment for
asking smart arse questions of bullshit artists, still you will spend a lot
of time sitting, reading, thinking and writing. Your cardio-vascular
fitness will inevitably suffer, your behind will spread, and you will
squint. It can’t be helped. It’s just the way it is. And don’t believe all
that stuff about the sexiness of a beautiful mind. I mean who wants a
beautiful mind in a big bummed, squinting mess of palpitations, leg
swellings and fatigue?
The fourth reason not to do philosophy is aesthetic. Have a
good look at me. You see what I’m saying? Philosophers are not a
pretty bunch. In fact, the collective noun for a group of philosophers
is an ugly of philosophers. Yes, a philosopher may be good, or they
may be bad, but typically they will be ugly. Again this goes back to
the unfortunate Socrates. He had bug eyes, a bulging forehead, wing
nut ears and baboon nostrils. And get this – he liked looking like that!
Well, are you prepared to sign up to the ugly bunch?
The fifth reason not to do philosophy is that it will deform your
character. You will lose any shred of intellectual modesty. No-one
else’s work will ever be as good or as brilliant as yours. There is, in
fact, a unique mental disorder available only to philosophers. It is
that inferiority complex which leads you to think others work might
sometimes be as good as yours. Such a disorder is crippling, and I
hope you are not naïve enough to expect any sympathy for your
sufferings from your fellow philosophers.
The sixth reason not to do philosophy was pointed out by the
Monty Python boys. For some reason – perhaps connected with their
poor physical shape, their offensive looks, their sensitivity to bullshit,
and their lurking death wish – philosophers have a tendency to get
smashed, and – even worse – to take pride in getting smashed. As
by now you might suspect, Socrates lies at the heart of the problem.
In the Symposium he takes great pride in drinking all night and
drinking everyone else under the table. Hegel, of course, never once
approached sobriety; and you couldn’t prize the pint from
Wittgenstein’s hand. So if you value your liver, perhaps economics is
your cup of tea.
The seventh reason not to do philosophy – assuming you need
another, given your poor physical shape, your unfortunate
colleagues, your pitiful social skills and your alcohol problem – is that
you will not actually solve anything. With most jobs you finish
something. You draw up a set of plans, you build a house, you mow
your lawn, you build a better mouse trap – you start something and
you finish it. Then you put your feet up and feel proud of what you
have accomplished. Not in philosophy. In philosophy everything gets
started, but nothing is ever finished. We still don’t know if there is a
God or not; or if human beings are free. We don’t know whether the
mind is more than the brain, or whether there are objective moral
values. We still don’t know what truth, or knowledge or being are, or
where they are to be found.
The eight reason not to do philosophy is a matter of social
decorum. Philosophers are prone to talking to themselves. And not
just talking to themselves, but to arguing and haranguing themselves.
The reason for this is that because philosophy insists that thinking is
allowed, it follows – does it not? – that it is best done aloud. Of
course it is not all downside here. Sure people will eye you strangely
and edge away from you, but some of them will give you money “for a
cup of tea”, or “a bite to eat”. One of my former colleagues once
collected over $100 dollars in two hours in the Sydney mall. All by
sitting down and thinking aloud about the inner contradictions of the
Hegelian dialectic. But for all the upside, there is still the downside.
After all, there you are; a physically repulsive drunk mumbling to
yourself about incomprehensible matters reduced to begging in the
streets. Not so different, come to think of it, from what Socrates was
up to in Ancient Athens. And who can forget how he ended up?
The ninth reason not to do philosophy is that it is a proven
relationsip wrecker. I mean who would want to be in a relationship
with one in the first place? Who could possibly be expected to put up
with that mumbling, drooling, wreck, sitting all day at their desk and
working on a heart problem? Socrates wife, Xanthippe, refused to let
him into their house, on the grounds that not only was he an ugly
drunk, he just wouldn’t shut up. He argued about everything, she
said, and he always had to have the last word. At that moment,
legend has it, she emptied a chamber pot over his head, leading the
Master to remark that “After the thunder there generally falls rain”.
And so to the final, and tenth, reason for not doing philosophy.
It is this. After having brilliantly, and conclusively, stated your mind,
so that, as far as you are concerned, there is nothing more to be said,
you have to say something like this: Any questions?
Posted by Simon Ives