Three Minute Philosophy
July 10, 2010 7:26 AM   Subscribe

At three minutes per philosopher, you can finally spare the time to learn what Descartes, Hume, Aristotle, Locke, Galileo, Pythagoras, Aquinas, and Kant had to say. Or at least you can be entertained learning what Cracked.com contributor S. Peter Davis thinks you should know about them. (MLYT & NSFW (language))
posted by Obscure Reference (27 comments total) 59 users marked this as a favorite

 
History of Western Philosophy in 90 seconds
posted by The Whelk at 7:40 AM on July 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


Cool. Good for a quick memory jog when someone at work uses the phrase "Kantian notion of..." and I'm thinking "Kant... wasn't he the one Wayne quoted to try and impress Cassandra?".
posted by variella at 7:52 AM on July 10, 2010


No, that was Kierkegaard, or possibly Dick Van Patten.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:24 AM on July 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


I think you can learn a thing or two from Monty Python's philosophers' football as well.
posted by bjrn at 8:24 AM on July 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


Am I the only one who finds the style of these really obnoxious?

Also, they might be a little more useful if the guy didn't spend half of the three minutes trying to be funny by saying "fuck" a lot.
posted by resiny at 8:24 AM on July 10, 2010


Kant most notable for ethics? Bye bye, first critique!

Also he's misusing the term "maxim".
posted by kenko at 8:31 AM on July 10, 2010


Kant on the right to lie.
posted by kenko at 8:34 AM on July 10, 2010


Another in an increasingly long line of guys who should be paying royalties to Ben "Yahtzee" Crenshaw.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:35 AM on July 10, 2010


Trade... then to value... then to economics... then to Reaganomics.

Heh.
posted by jjray at 8:38 AM on July 10, 2010


Another in an increasingly long line of guys who should be paying royalties to Ben "Yahtzee" Crenshaw.

What school of philosophy do you have to subscribe to so that you attribute malicious plagiarism to individuals using mspaint.exe out of necessity?
posted by Threeway Handshake at 8:49 AM on July 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Another in an increasingly long line of guys who should be paying royalties to Ben "Yahtzee" Crenshaw.

I imagine that'll happen shortly after all the YouTube vloggers pay back ze frank for the show.
posted by stilist at 8:50 AM on July 10, 2010


All you need is the Philosophers Drinking Song:
Immanuel Kant was a real piss-ant who was very rarely stable.
Heideggar, Heideggar was a boozy beggar who could think you under the table.
David Hume could out-consume Wilhelm Freidrich Hegel.
And Whittgenstein was a beery swine who was just as sloshed as Schlegel.
There's nothing Nieizsche couldn't teach 'ya 'bout the raising of the wrist.
Socrates, himself, was permanently pissed.
John Stewart Mill, of his own free will, after half a pint of shanty was particularly ill.
Plato, they say, could stick it away, half a crate of whiskey every day!
Aristotle, Aristotle was a bugger for the bottle,
And Hobbes was fond of his Dram.
And Rene Descartes was a drunken fart:
"I drink, therefore I am."
Yes, Socrates himself is particularly missed;
A lovely little thinker, but a bugger when he's pissed.
posted by adamvasco at 8:57 AM on July 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


love it! great post!
posted by rebent at 9:46 AM on July 10, 2010


David Hume could out-consume Wilhelm Freidrich Hegel.

David Hume could out-consume Schopenhauer and Hegel.
posted by maxwelton at 9:47 AM on July 10, 2010


Another in an increasingly long line of guys who should be paying royalties to Ben "Yahtzee" Crenshaw.

What school of philosophy do you have to subscribe to so that you attribute malicious plagiarism to individuals using mspaint.exe out of necessity?


Threeway, Navelgazer's referring to the way the guy talks and the way the drawings are used, not the art style. Yahtzee's Zero Punctuation.
posted by straight at 9:55 AM on July 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Kant was a nineteenth century philosopher..." Well no, actually, that's off by a century. But no problem. A century here, a century there. It seems rather meaningless.
posted by uraniumwilly at 10:03 AM on July 10, 2010




David Hume could out-consume Wilhelm Freidrich Hegel.

David Hume could out-consume Schopenhauer and Hegel.


Both are correct--there are two versions!
posted by tetralix at 10:08 AM on July 10, 2010


Oh man, I was embarrassed that I was going to correct the third line of lyrics in the Philosophers' Drinking Song, but I see that maxwelton beat me to it, so I am not alone in noticing and that makes me feel a little better.

Also, it's called "The Bruces' Philosophers Song."
posted by LooseFilter at 10:16 AM on July 10, 2010


Both are correct--there are two versions!

Nope, the version that I still recall from when I memorized this as a teenager 20 or so years ago is the definitive version. Just so you know. Mistakes and all.
posted by LooseFilter at 10:18 AM on July 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Quoth Wikipedia:
There is some debate over whether the sixth line is officially supposed to be "Schopenhauer and Hegel" or just "Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel". The reason for the confusion is that existing live recordings of the song (included in the Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl film and on the albums Live at Drury Lane and Live at City Center) have the "Schopenhauer and Hegel" version, while the studio recording on Matching Tie and Handkerchief features the "Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel" version. However, the publication of the lyrics with the release of Monty Python Sings suggests that the "Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel" version is the official one.
posted by lumensimus at 10:23 AM on July 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


In the summer after my second year of university, I thought it would be a good idea to go out and steal as many "Dummy's Guide to __" books on philosophers as I could from the university bookstore. In my first year I had studied sociology, history and other social sciences, and when I started studying philosophy in my second year, I felt uneducated compared to a lot of my fellow students who seemed to have read all the big thinkers (I had also in part jumped straight into upper-year courses). So I thought, "I'll read all these 90-page books with three sentences/page and illustrations real quick, and by the time classes start in third year I'll at least be conversant in all of these names that last year I didn't know the first thing about." So I read the Dummy's or Idiot's or whatever guides to Walter Benjamin, Nietzsche, Sartre, Heidegger, Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Hegel, Foucault, inter alia.

This story doesn't have a big dramatic "moment I embarrassingly found out in public that they taught me the wrong thing" or anything like that. I learned a little bit about the conclusions each of those thinkers came to well enough, just like these videos will teach you (which I know are humorous not meant to stand in for real education etc). The thing is though: for the most part, for most people: the value of reading philosophers is not in their conclusions. With metaphysics this can be seen most clearly. Does it matter how any one philosopher, especially one who lived before science really took off, thought "reality" was ultimately structured? Does it matter that Sartre thought "existence precedes essence" or that Heidegger thought that "being" is always bound up in "time"? Does it matter that Fichte thought consciousness resided in the meeting of the "I" and the "not-I"?

The propositional content of these conclusions, when divorced from their context, are almost meaningless. You can create a sort of fictional historical conversation in which you pretend that all these thinkers were talking about the same thing, that they were debating each other using shared terms and concepts, and that one conclusion is more "right" than the other. But I don't think it's useful to read these writers this way. The value of reading metaphysics, for me at least, is that, underneath all the insane jargon these writers picked up from the past and used to try to force their thoughts into self-consistency, there are genuine psychological insights and, in the best writers, there is a spirit and drive that can't be subdued even at their most obsessively punctilious. "Existence precedes essence" is a cri de coeur that expresses the irrational and total denial of the weight of external circumstances on one's life and self. It's completely anti-logical but when you see how much Sartre wants it to be true it makes you feel something and you recognize how you want it to be true too. (Sartre had non-crazy ideas too: the idea that it only makes sense to interpret someone's life after they're dead, because maybe on the day they die they'll cure cancer and in retrospect everything they've done will be interpreted as leading up to that--another hopeful idea.) Similarly, "Being is always bound up in time" is a useless proposition on its own but when you see Heidegger struggling to differentiate like seven different useful senses of the verb "to be", you get a certain feeling about the importance of self-examination. On the other hand, when you read the actual arguments of Fichte, it all kind of falls flat and you don't care what he's saying, because he doesn't care what he's saying, not in the way these other writers do. This is because he's mostly just tinkering with a system that Kant built, he's not creating in a radical way.

Ethics, critiques of history and society, and other non-metaphysical areas of philosophy are a bit different. Their conclusions do tend to make sense without context. But with the most radical/profound/original thinkers, like Nietzsche, or Wittgenstein, or Foucault, or Edward Said, or Susan Sontag, their value also isn't really in their conclusions. It's in the way they demonstrate the explanatory power of their conclusions in example after example, situation after situation, book after book. The value in reading them is not to acknowledge their conclusions as true in passing and move on with your life, but to be sucked into a way of thinking and have your mind and life changed permanently. In my opinion the best works of fiction work in the same way: it's not about the conclusion (the end) but about the process, the texture, the patterns, the writing. Two great examples of this are Thackeray's Vanity Fair and Heller's Catch-22. Both are basically just a million pages of the same proposition--"Look how ridiculous and self-interested people all are!"--expressed in joke form. I would argue that War and Peace and Infinite Jest are method novels in the same way, with slightly more complex messages. But you can still sort of open them to a page at random and get what they're trying to say.

The value of a good work of philosophy, like a good work of fiction, cannot be reduced to its propositional content nor separated from its style.
posted by skwt at 11:19 AM on July 10, 2010 [26 favorites]


"Locke's philosophy is often understood in opposition to his contemporary Thomas Hobbes, who believed that all men were created dicks."

You may think this guy's glib and profane, but he does hit the mark splendidly sometimes.
posted by kittyprecious at 11:29 AM on July 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


I didn't make the cut?
posted by wittgenstein at 11:45 AM on July 10, 2010


Also he's misusing the term "maxim".

That may be arguable, but in my experience maxim is widely used in the literature to describe the various formulations of the Categorical Imperative.
posted by palimpsest at 12:01 PM on July 10, 2010


addendum: Two great examples of this are Thackeray's Vanity Fair and Heller's Catch-22. Both are basically just a million pages of the same proposition--"Look how ridiculous and self-interested people all are!"--expressed in joke form. This is a proposition that is almost trivially true, but the impact of these novels is in reading the work of someone who really thought that, who really dove into that perspective, and seeing how the world looks when you bear that proposition in mind seriously and unrelentingly.

also:

From a psychological point of view that what I've said should be true isn't surprising. After all, we aren't truth-validation machines, and we have different forms of knowledge. One form is declarative knowledge, which is thought to deal in something like propositions; however, another form is procedural knowledge, which is knowing “how” as opposed to knowing “that.” Considering that the kind of deep wisdom we think of really good philosophy and fiction as conveying is more about how to live your life than about facts about the world, it makes a lot of sense that the learning is in the telling and not in the conclusions.
posted by skwt at 12:14 PM on July 10, 2010


Most of these aren't bad, but the Aristotle one is criminally wrong. Everybody always thinks that Aristotle believed all sorts of bullshit (falling things move at different rates, there are only five elements, etc) that he didn't believe, mostly because in the 'enlightenment' philosophers spent a few hundred years saying 'look at this Aristotle dude he believes crazy bullshit LOL.'

The 'enlightenment' was dumb. Don't believe the hype. Aristotle didn't believe this bullshit everybody says he did.
posted by koeselitz at 4:42 PM on July 10, 2010


damn you, adamvasco!
posted by Twang at 6:21 PM on July 10, 2010


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