Cardella: Being philosophical

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By Tom Cardella

My grandson tells me that as part of his pre-law curriculum he is taking philosophy. That got me wondering how you become a philosopher.

So, Immanuel Kant Jr. is growing up and he wants to follow in his father’s footsteps. He wants to be a philosopher. The first thing he must do is come up with a philosophy. Dad already took care of metaphysics and aesthetics, he thinks. And I better make up my mind that I’m never going to go out in grand style like Socrates and drink a cup of hemlock. I have to come up with my own shtick.

I’ll have to get a good teaching gig at a university, so I’ll have medical coverage. Something Daddy Kant completely ignored when he complained to us about high co-pays. If I meet some hot girl in a bar do I tell her I’m going to be a philosopher? Does that help or hurt how the evening ends? By the way, where are all the female philosophers?

How does a philosopher dress? Togas are out. Is a nice Harris tweed too pretentious? Maybe a faux suede sports coat with elbow patches? Not wild about elbow patches. Sandals are a must. No self-respecting philosopher would be caught wearing wing tips.

Is being a philosopher a 9-to-5 job? How about the hours I’ll need to spend pondering — preferably at a good coffee shop that serves decaf? (You know how caffeine affects my deep thinking.) Pondering is important. There should be a course on how to ponder.

That’s one thing about our president. It’s OK that he is not into philosophy, but he should take the time to ponder before tweeting. We should all ponder more.

How do I apply for a job as a philosopher? I’ve never seen a help wanted ad for a philosopher. Is that because there are no vacancies? I don’t think so. America hasn’t had a decent philosopher since Ralph Waldo Emerson. He must’ve earned a decent living because they named a brand of televisions and radios after him. Most of our famous philosophers have been from Europe, although Confucius would make anyone’s top 5.

In today’s world, I think it’s difficult for a philosopher to become well known. Twitter is not an option to spread one’s philosophy. (I realize that our president can tweet his position vis a vis a nuclear North Korea, but you can’t make a metaphysical point in 140 characters. Incidentally what the hell does vis a vis mean?). I guess you could publish pamphlets like Ben Franklin and Thomas Paine did, but try to find a publisher for philosophy these days. You think a treatise on philosophy would make the New York Times best sellers list? If your philosophy enabled you to lose weight without giving up pizza, it might. In planning to become a philosopher, you must figure in the cost of self-publishing.

How about exploring the possibility of a cable television channel devoted entirely to philosophy? The Philosophy Channel has a nice ring to it. If you can’t imagine a 24-hour philosophy channel, I’m here to tell you that I couldn’t have imagined a 24-hour golf channel either. If we had video of Plato’s speeches, Life would be selling the DVD for a special price of only $99.99.

There are ready-made sponsors for the Philosophy Channel. Besides the usual health products (I’m thinking raw kale chips), a philosopher’s diet book could be a big seller. Think about it. Have you ever seen a fat philosopher? That may be because philosophers ponder so much, they miss a meal here and there. Some cynics might think philosophers are thin because they don’t earn enough money to buy all the food they need. But while I’ve heard of starving artists, I’ve never heard of Locke or Hume having to go on welfare. No, I’m betting it’s because philosophers eat healthy.

Some of you probably think philosophy is a hard sell because it is difficult to understand. There are a couple of ways to handle this. One is by publishing a Understanding Philosophy for Dummies. The other is by keeping it simple. Example: A penny saved is a penny earned. By keeping it simple, Franklin not only thrived (he always had a dozen rolls under each arm), he also had lots of free time for hot Colonial women.

It is true that many students today major in philosophy merely as a cover for not working. Example: Mom and Dad, please send money. I’m enrolling in post-graduate work because no one is hiring philosophers at this time. Think what it would mean if we could create jobs as philosophers and force these freeloaders to actually work.

At the moment, most philosophy majors wind up teaching philosophy. What sense is there in teaching philosophy to students who then wind up teaching philosophy? You think the Trump family would stand for one of their kids teaching philosophy for a living? I can imagine that conversation around the dinner table. Don Jr., Eric, Ivanka and Jared are discussing how to increase profits by building a new Trump Tower in Bhutan, while Immanuel Trump urges them to use Socratic reasoning. But if we make philosophy into a commercial success, we could wind up with more Immanuels in the world and less Don Juniors.

Can we agree that this would be a good thing?