Noelle McAfee asks “What Counts as Philosophy?” at Gone Public. She is wondering about professional philosophy, but I like to think about what counts as philosophy in our daily lives. Professional philosophy is just a more rarefied version of something human beings do anyway, and surely this is part of the reason why we believe it makes sense to to teach philosophy to undergraduates. As evidence for this I note the Guardian article of last week which several of the philosophy bloggers that I read were quite happy to report on. Another piece of evidence comes from an interview with Steve Martin that I heard yesterday morning on NPR’s Morning Edition. In the interview, Martin describes how he came to his very different approach to stand up comedy:
Studying philosophy in college at the time, Martin says he learned you can question anything. “So I turned it on my little comedy act, thinking, ‘What could I change, what would be different, what would be original, what would be new?’ And I realized that comedians of the day were operating on jokes and punch lines.”
So philosophy is not simply an academic discipline but the ability to philosophize has practical implications and can even be quite profitable in the right circumstances.
I heard that interview too and was impressed–Martin was clearly influenced by the philosophy he was reading at the time.There’s also a piece in the October 29 New Yorker where he goes into even more detail about the effect of philosophy — and what led him to leave it. I can’t find an on line link to the story, unfortunately.
Thanks John. I had some other thoughts not only on how Martin says he was influenced by philosophy but also how his comedy is philosophical. The idea that you don’t need a punch line parallels the idea that you don’t need an answer to a philosophical question. Which isn’t to say that one might not be interested in the possible answers that can be given to philosophical questions. But then I suppose that there are many philosophers that would disagree with me about this. I’ll look for the New Yorker piece. I am sure it is one of these stacks of papers/magazines and who knows what!
I had not heard that interview but am not surprised he studied philosophy. I mostly study it at my own leisure and have been engaged in philosphic contemplation since my early childhood. I think everyone philosophizes in some measure, and it’s important to realize the ramifications it posits, for the nature of action follows the nature of thought.