Oh, a Bulls&*t Artist!

Dole Office Clerk: Occupation?

Comicus: Stand-up philosopher.

Dole Office Clerk: What?

Comicus: Stand-up philosopher. I coalesce the vapors of human experience into a viable and meaningful comprehension.

Dole Office Clerk: Oh, a *bullshit* artist!
-- History of the World: Part I

Although mathematics presented a problem for establishing the sovereignty of doxa in Western culture, there was an even bigger problem: philosophy. Mathematics, after all, could be roped off as a specialized area that need only concern mathematical geniuses, too difficult for the average person to bother with. But ordinary people, back in the day, used to actually read philosophers. And the problem was that all of the best philosophers, almost without exception, if they paid serious attention metaphysics, wound up arriving at the conclusion that there is some unifying intelligence grounding the universe that we directly perceive. Parmenides, Pythagoras, Plato and Aristotle all arrived at this conclusion despite the fact that their cultural background was hardly monotheistic. Plotinus, Augustine, Aquinas, Maimonides, Averroes, Avicenna, all reached similar conclusions despite their cultural differences. The onset of the Scientific Revolution altered the tone of philosophy, but still, Descartes, Berkeley, Leibniz and Spinoza arrived at an idea of God. Even as atheism became fashionable in intellectual circles, the best metaphysicians... Green, Bergson, Whitehead, Collingwood... were still coming to similar conclusions.

This would hardly do! If there is a supreme intelligence at the foundation of the universe, that might imply that there are, for instance, standards flowing from it against which we must measure our opinions and actions. The solution, arrived at by people like the logical positivists, was stunningly simple: if metaphysicians keep reaching the "wrong" conclusion... well, just ban metaphysics! Create a climate of opinion in which anyone doing metaphysics is viewed as a "bullsh&*t artist," and it will no longer matter what conclusion they reach: no one will be paying attention.


  1. Gene, you might want to add John Foster to that list. He was a contemporary Idealist philosopher whose books - The Immaterial Self, and the Case for Phenomenal Idealism - are still being discussed at the philosophy department here at Texas Tech. Apparently, his books on Idealism are damned good - and some of the best defenses of the view in current times. Unfortunately, it does not seem as though he engages contemporary thought in metaphysics.

    Then again, maybe that is a good thing.

    1. Thanks, Alex: I will look him up!

  2. You might like this layman's video that gives more respect to philosophy.

    What do you think of Nietzsche? I noticed that in this post—which I agree with up until the third paragraph where it becomes kind of crude—and you seem to mention him negatively.