Life & Style
Philosophy Bro Speaks!
By Susie Kopecky
Sep 21, 2012 - 12:40:27 PM
BEVERLY HILLS—For philosophy connoisseurs and those also looking for a down-to-earth and approachable realm of philosophy, the Philosophy Bro blog is a popular resource. I first came across this blog while researching for a theory and philosophy class and wanted to better understand an obscure philosophical reference. One of the first searches I conducted came up with this blog. I was hooked immediately, and for good reason: the mysterious author of the Philosophy Bro blog (who shall be referred to hereafter as Philosophy Bro) is clearly a learned student of philosophy who writes in a style attractive to the very crowd which philosophy too often intimidates: youth.
Plato, one of Philosophy Bro's philosophic forebros.
At-times risque and with somewhat crude language, Philosophy Bro is able to engage readers, and make seminal philosophy texts, which are a cornerstone of our Western heritage, come alive and become relevant once more. Philosophy Bro graciously agreed to conduct an exclusive interview with Canyon News. (The following interview does contain some explicit language which has not been censored, as this is the unique voice and writing style of the individual upon whom the spotlight shines. Reader discretion is advised.)
Q: How did you first come up with the idea for Philosophy Bro?
A: Philosophy Bro actually began because of a particular Reddit thread that got bestof'd: Philosophy Bro is born.
And then I started the blog and my Allegory of the Cave post went to the front fucking page: Philosophy Bro grows up.
So the idea was kinda foist upon me, and I ran with it. R/philosophy has always been super-cool about my links. Sometimes when I get linked to a new, popular blog whose readership has never before seen me, r/philosophy has to deal with a bunch of new links to my blog, karma-whores trying to find the perfect place for Philosophy Bro to get upvoted. I always worry they've had enough of me, but the discussion on my posts is always straight-forwardly about the writing instead of the merits of my style. I'm super-glad that community has been awesome to me.
Q: When did you first start writing under this nom de plume?
A: Dec 26th, 2010.
Q: Do you have an educational background in Philosophy or are you an autodidact?
A: I have an educational background in philosophy, but even before that I was reading philosophical texts. I can't remember a time when I wasn't interested in philosophy. One of the coolest parts of this project for me personally has been how much it has stretched my horizons - my formal exposure before this was very traditionally analytic, and this has given me a reason to read and really, really wrestle with other texts.
Q: Are you a full-time philosopher-writer? If not, would you like to be?
A: That's probably the best term for me, actually - philosopher-writer.
Q: How do you choose what works of philosophy you will write on? (Does it depend on requests or more on what you happen to be reading at the time?)
A: I don't really have a system - sometimes something gets requested so much I just can't ignore it, which is what happened with Godel's Incompleteness Theorems - I avoided them for as long as possible because they're highly technical and often misinterpreted, but there was no way around it. Other times I notice a deficit, like philosophy of science, and I try to correct it. Sometimes I read something and I'm just like, "Welp, this would be perfect." That's what happened with The Apology.
Q: Your blog does a very important thing: you bring the gems of Western thought straight to the masses. Knowledge is power and in a way, you empower readers by showing them them history of their intellectual tradition. This is a rather awesome undertaking. Is empowerment one of your goals? Are you focusing on the larger goal of bringing the Western tradition to a larger audience? Is one of your goals to make philosophy relevant to everyday life?
A: Empowerment is absolutely one of my goals. The whole project started with a response to a request for help, and so from the very beginning I've had a sense that people benefit from what I'm doing. I'm filling a gap that has always been there, and the requests that I get waaaay outstrip my production. I've never had to wonder what my audience wants from me, ever. So it has been really easy to empower people, and sometimes I get emails from people who feel empowered by my writing that just blow me away. I can't believe how high my empowerment/dick joke ratio is. Too high, really.
Some philosophy is already relevant to every day situations; for example, moral and political philosophy in particular have a lot to say about how we interact with others on a very basic level. One of my goals is to make that easier to understand, to show how it can be used to think through some really ordinary and hilarious situations that we encounter.
As for the other stuff, the not-obviously-relevant stuff, I think that bringing philosophy to everyday life isn't always useful - plenty of people seem to get along pretty well day-to-day without it, and I think it's a really arrogant, ivory tower attitude that everyday life needs more philosophy. That's how you end up asking people how they know anything at all when dude, they're just trying to buy a gallon of milk, or else correcting someone on some metaphysical point when all they're really saying is that was a good movie. Sometimes, philosophy is jarringly out of place in everyday life, and attempts to make it relevant do a real injustice to both sides of the equation. Some people don't give a fuck about metaphysics, and waving it in their faces in everyday life terms is like dragging them, kicking and screaming, to philosophy. It's really condescending. But some people do wish they knew more about metaphysics or ethics or any of the broad range of questions we've tackled, and one of my goals is to make that accessible to them. They've already decided philosophy is relevant to their everyday lives as something they want to engage in, and my job is to help them do that. I see it more as bridging a gap than as being an arbiter of relevance or something. I don't feel a need to apologize for philosophy to those who think it's irrelevant or to make it something it isn't for the sake of relevance.
Q: Your blog is a wonderful mix of serious thought, sarcasm, wit, and some most excellent vulgarization of very dense texts. (I mean 'vulgar' in the best sense: humor that some more dogmatic practitioners might see as 'base' such as the use of cuss words, but which I think makes the blog so fabulous.)
A: Aw shucks. I'm just this bro who likes philosophy, you know?
Q: You take philosophical writings that many people may not want to approach or which many people are easily lost in, and you make them not only accessible, but relevant and fun. What is your 'process' as you select a text and then compose a blog entry on it?
A: Usually I read the text, produce a very rough outline of the main ideas, because those are what I'm really going for, and then I just start hammering on the fucking keyboard. I'm definitely a 'jump in and swim' kind of writer, rather than a very organized writer. Typically I visualize the frattiest fucking guy I know asking me to explain a text to him, and that helps me get the language going, find the right tone. But yeah, once I have a very rough roadmap, I just start writing.
Q: What are some of your all-time favorite philosophy writings?
A: Probably the worst-kept secret of my identity is what a huge fucking Wittgenstein fanboy I am. I love Philosophical Investigations.
I also love the Euthyphro. Ideas per word, that might be the densest text in philosophy, in part because there are so many ways to interpret it. You could just read the entire Euthyphro and discuss a completely new interpretation once a week for an entire semester, and you'd have an incredible class.
Q: Aristotle vs. Plato: whose team are you on? (But really, do you prefer the writings of one over the other or feel one contributed to our intellectual tradition more constructively than the other?)
A: It's actually really remarkable how little overlap there is between the two. Like, for being one dude and his best student, they covered a fuckload of ground without a whole lot of repeat. There are philosophical problems to this day that we still think of in Platonic vs. Aristotelian terms.
Q: What advice would you give to individuals who may be interested in reading philosophy but feel intimidated?
A: I think that's a real problem. Philosophy can be super frustrating to get started in. Aside from finding a good introductory text like the Pig that Wants to be Eaten, there isn't really a shortcut to getting involved in philosophy; you just have to start thinking.
You should start with questions or subjects that really are interesting to you, or else you'll just never read past a first chapter. You should find accessible resources to accompany primary texts and you should go slow and really think through the problems you're encountering. It is way better to read a single passage of a giant volume, and then think about it for as long as you want, puzzle through it, explore issues that you come up with, than to slog through a whole chapter that fucking kicks your ass. You won't benefit from that. You should also feel free to pick and choose when you're just starting out.
Like, who gives a shit if it takes you three years to read one book? If you're reading philosophy for the prestige of being able to say you finished Thus Spake Zarathustra or because you want to be told how things are outright, or so you can find ways to bludgeon other people over the head with ideas, you're doing it wrong. The best philosophers love to think way more than they love to read, and they treat reading mostly as an opportunity to find new shit to think about. As you get into primary texts, ask someone who knows better than you to recommend readings on subjects that you're interested in. r/philosophy and r/askphilosophy are great places to get recommendations about your interests, as long as you're respectful of those communities' rules. I've worked a bit with The Partially Examined Life Podcast, and they do great discussions of primary texts in an accessible way. If they have an episode on a topic you're interested in, that's a great place to find primary texts and to get new perspectives.
So, the short version is: start slow, with things that are interesting to you, and focus your efforts on thinking about things more clearly, not on reading faster or more dense texts. If you get stuck, ask around for an answer. The most important thing is just to not get discouraged. A lot of people who get into philosophy very young do so because they spend a lot of time wrestling with particular questions they want answers to, rather than wrestling with a really difficult text in its entirety.
Q: Your blog is huge! People like it very much and there are many references to it on the Internet. What do you think is the key to how successful it has been?
A: Obviously I'm hilarious, and no one is mad about that.
But people want to know, man; they want to think. it takes a special kind of idiot to not be curious at all about the world, and when you make it easy for people to explore new avenues of thought, the audience pretty much takes care of itself.
Q: Would you consider writing an entry on Plotinus? (It seems like something you could have quite a bit of fun with.)
A: Hell, I'm considering it right now.
Read more philosophical stylings from Philosophy Bro at philosophybro.com.
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