Philosophy and Popular Culture October 18, 2007Posted by Dwight Furrow in Culture, Dwight Furrow's Posts, Philosophy, Science.
Philosophy has a difficult relationship with popular culture. According to Stephen Asma, that is not because of a cultural bias toward old, dead, white guys or an elitist disdain for matters that ordinary people find interesting. Instead, it is because philosophy:
“is in an extremely self-reflexive relationship with its own history, and it requires highly disciplined, systematic, abstract conceptualization, a skill that does not come easily to most people.”
He argues that books such as those in Open Court’s series on popular culture and philosophy (e.g. The Simpsons and Philosophy) do not really enlighten the reader about pop culture, but provide enjoyable access to perennial philosophical issues. Pop culture is in service to philosophy, making the medicine go down easily, rather than philosophy in service to pop culture.
His snarkish (and I think mistaken) comments about Cultural Studies suggest that he thinks there is something superior about philosophers rigorously sticking to core philosophical issues and analysis even when rooting around in the sediments of popular taste.
But why cannot disciplined, systematic philosophical thought help make sense of ordinary life? After all, science requires disciplined, systematic thought but there are lots of examples of bestselling books on science that illuminate some dimension of our lives. Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, Stephen J. Gould’s books on evolution, Chaos by James Glieck, Oliver Saks’ The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat are among the many popular books on science that immediately come to mind.
Why is their no similar list in philosophy? (Harry Frankfurt’s Bullshit is an exception, but the title sells itself.)
I suspect it is because popular science books do not try to get readers to do science–they report and tell stories. Why is there no parallel in philosophy? Is it because philosophers don’t like to report and tell stories?