Friday, February 6, 2009

6 Famous Philosophy Majors (Who Are Not Philosophy Teachers)

Whenever I would tell someone in college that I was majoring in philosophy, I would invariable get some kind of reaction akin to, "Philosophy, huh?" [He takes a sip from his red plastic cup.] "So whaddaya gonna do with that? Teach?"

Teaching has always been at least a part of my career plans. But now, with the economy shedding jobs like a Bernese Mountain Dog on the French Riviera in July, I figure that it's about time for me to get creative about this job search. And to blog about it. So, for motivation, here are six men who majored in philosophy in college and went on to have successful careers. (Sorry, Philosophy Club is strictly No Girls Allowed!)

Steve Martin

Steve Martin
The eyes of a madman philosopher.

He's the one that got me started on this list, after reading this article about his Top Ten performances on Rotten Tomatoes. Steve Martin majored in philosophy at Long Beach State College. His experiences at LBSC led him to the following conclusions:

It changed what I believe and what I think about everything. I majored in philosophy. Something about non sequiturs appealed to me. In philosophy, I started studying logic, and they were talking about cause and effect, and you start to realize, 'Hey, there is no cause and effect! There is no logic! There is no anything!' Then it gets real easy to write this stuff, because all you have to do is twist everything hard—you twist the punch line, you twist the non sequitur so hard away from the things that set it up, that it's easy . . . and it's thrilling."[9] Martin periodically spoofed his philosophy studies in his 1970s stand-up act, comparing philosophy with studying geology. "If you're studying geology, which is all facts, as soon as you get out of school you forget it all, but philosophy you remember just enough to screw you up for the rest of your life.

I bet that philosophy also made him do this:

and this.

And this:

Ah, yes. The inspirational properties of Western Philosophy. And cocaine.*

Stephen Colbert

Stephen making a subtle point concerning the nature of presentation and representation.

Colbert majored in philosophy at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia. He didn't graduate from there though. After two years, he decided to transfer to Northwestern, where he eventually joined the comedy troupe Second City and met Amy Sedaris, with whom we he would start Strangers with Candy. So the world is probably a better place because he changed majors.

Fortunately, Colbert's philosophical background will soon be back to haunt him, because Open Court Books will be releasing "Stephen Colbert and Philosophy," scheduled to hit book shelves in May, 2009!

Buy it! Daddy needs a new pair of shoes!

Matt Groening.

Just in case... you know... you didn't know...

This one everyone knows already. But I wanted include him just to remind you that (a) he was born in Portland, OR, and that many of the names and references in The Simpsons come from his childhood growing up there, and that (b) he studied at Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA, which he described as, "a hippie college, with no grades or required classes, that drew every weirdo in the Northwest." No shit - Evergreen's list of "notable alumni" on wikipedia includes
and, of course:
Freaks. All of them, freaks.

Also, from Philosopundit:

Do you see a pattern starting to develop here? As in, a pattern of white, middle-class, male, comedians? Well, what about a Jewish, upper-middle-class, male bad-ass?

This image is from If you ask me, Rahm is

White House chief of staff Rahm
Emanuel didn't technically major in philosophy, because he went to Sarah Lawrence College, which doesn't technically have majors. What was that about "hippie" colleges full of "weirdos"? However, according to this article from the New Yorker, Emanuel "loved philosophy, especially the nineteenth-century German thinkers..." and that Rahm's professor "remembered getting into philosophical discussions with his advisee, trying to temper Emanuel’s infatuation with Hegel by showing how much Hegel had actually been influenced by Goethe..."

Apparently Emanuel was obsessed with Hegel for a while in college, which has got me looking at Obama's recent economic policies looking for how they reflect the transcendental dialectic and manifest the ideal spirit of history.

Also, Emanuel - born and raised in Chicago - returned after college to get his master's degree in speech and communication from Northwestern, making him the second Wildcat alum on this list.

Ethan Coen
Joel and Ethan Coen. Photo: EFE
"Get out of my photo!" "No, you get out of my photo!" "I hate you!" "You were an accident!" (P.S. - Ethan is the short one.)

Ethan Coen of "Joel and Ethan Coen" fame, was born and raised in St. Louis Park, outside of Minneapolis. Their parents were both academics; their father taught economics at the University of Minnesota (go Gophers!) and their mother taught art history at St. Cloud State University. (Watch out for those Minnesota Nazis.) Both of the Coen brothers graduate from Simon's Rock in Massachussetts and, while Joel went on to attend the prestigious film program at NYU, Ethan had to settle for studying philosophy at Princeton, where he wrote his thesis, "Two Views of Wittgenstein's Later Philosophy."

So that's why we like "The Big Lebowski."

What's that you say? That all of these guys are pussies, with soft-doughy flesh? That three out of five are still some form of comedians, and that one of the other two became famous for essentially making darkly comic films aimed specificially at undergraduate philosophy majors? Well, try telling that to this guy:


Bruce Lee. That's right. The Dragon. Bruce enrolled in the University of Washington (go Huskies!) shortly after moving to Seattle in 1959 and majored in philosophy. Lee focused on Eastern Philosophy (duh! He's Asian!). He had vast knowledge of Taoism, Buddhism, and the works of 20th century Indian philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti. He also incorporated aspects of these teachings into his fighting styles, and even wrote a manifesto explaining his own personal philosophy, The Tao of Jeet Kune Do.

So, yeah. Martial arts expert/ film star. That's my fall-back plan in case this whole "philosophy professor" thing doesn't work out.

* It's a little known fact that Kant wrote the entirety of the First and Second Critiques on one wild, coke-fueled weekend in 1791. His original title was going to be "Fear and Loathing in Konigsberg."


Anonymous said...

i met that kid burke with the facial hair, its quite impressive in person.
-Jesse K

Joel said...

Oh yeah? I'm pretty sure that some of Modest Mouse went to Evergreen, too, but I couldn't find any evidence of it. Still, I was a little surprised about how EG seems to be a breeding ground for the Northwest indie-emo scene... I guess I shouldn't've, though....

Anonymous said...

fuck you re: philosophy club being boys only.

so it goes said...

Very cool post. I also studied philosophy and only wish I had gone to a hippie college.