Thursday, March 24, 2016

Louis C. K. and Philosophy, a Book Review, and More

Frontiers of Philosophy in China and Louis C. K. and Philosophy

This week in the mail I received paper copies of the academic journal, Frontiers of Philosophy in China, and the book, Louis C. K. and Philosophy.  Why?  Because I published something in both venues!

My review of the book, Brahman and Dao: Comparative Studies in Indian and Chinese Philosophy and Religion, edited by Ithamar Theodor and Zhihua Yao, appears in a recent issue of the academic journal, Frontiers of Philosophy in China.  You can also find the review on my page.  I was excited to read this book, since I think there's a lot of fruitful work to be done in Indian-Chinese comparative philosophy.

For those with interests more in the direction of popular culture and comedy, Louis C. K. and Philosophy: You Don't Get to be Bored is a new volume in Open Court's ever-expanding Popular Culture and Philosophy series.  The volume is edited by Dr. Mark Ralkowski, a fellow University of New Mexico alumnus.  There are 24 chapters that deal with topics ranging from existentialism to epistemology, from ethics to whether God began to exist in 1983.  I wrote a chapter called, "You're Gonna Die" that looks at Louis's thoughts on death in conjunction with Epicurus and the Buddha.  Drawing on ideas similar to those in my post, "The Doof Warrior and the Value of Subtle Humor," I use the comedy of Louis C. K. to show how death is actually kind of funny.

Neither of these publications will count for much in my academic career (peer-reviewed academic articles and books are the gold standard there).  Still, I always enjoy getting things in the mail that I had a part in creating.  And as much as I love writing this blog and other online endeavors (like the Indian Philosophy Blog), there's nothing quite like seeing something you wrote in real, live print.

Excerpts from "You're Gonna Die"

I hope to someday write a full post on the value of philosophical engagements with popular culture, like this blog and my previous chapters in Stephen Colbert and Philosophy and Philip K. Dick and Philosophy.  Given the trouble that philosophy is in these days, I think engaging with popular culture is an excellent way to demonstrate to a general audience the relevance of philosophy as a discipline and way of thinking.  In particular, it can show how philosophy can help us to appreciate the stuff we enjoy at a more meaningful and more interesting level.

Part of Louis C. K.'s popularity is precisely the philosophical depth of his comedy. He's not just funny, he's saying something interesting; his fans are responding to that.   For that reason, I was really excited to take part in this volume.  Anyway, here are a few excerpts from my chapter.
You’re gonna die. It’s right there in the theme song of Louie (at least in Seasons One through Three). Okay, technically it says that Louie’s gonna die, but unless you’re a vampire or robot, I hate to break it to you: this sobering existential fact applies to you, too. As Louis says in his special Hilarious, “you’re just dead people that didn’t die yet.”
Most people think this is a depressing or fearful situation, but many philosophers, such as the Buddha and Epicurus, suggest different ways of accepting death without fear. Louis C. K. shows us that death can be funny, too. Death is one of his favorite topics. In Hilarious, he tells a story of attempting to comfort his daughter by telling her that they will both be long dead by the time the sun explodes. In Louie, death is discussed frequently, starting with the pilot, in which Louie claims that getting a puppy is simply an invitation to cry when the dog dies in several years. (p. 69)
This part was my favorite to write:
Here we are thrust into a universe we neither completely understand nor control, with no direction and no answers, with a trajectory that leads inexorably to the annihilation of our brief moment of consciousness, a moment most of us, like Louie, waste eating ice cream in front of the TV. When you really stop to think about the human condition, it’s actually pretty funny.  (p. 78)
If you'd like to read the whole chapter and 23 more, Louis C. K. and Philosophy: You Don't Get to Be Bored will be available on April 5.  You might find it at AmazonBarnes & Noble, or best of all, your local independent bookstore.


  1. I've enjoyed quite a few of the ______ and Philosophy series (GoT, Simpson's, and Watchmen come to mind). It's too bad you don't get more academic credit for the "popularizing" stuff, reaching a broad, non-technical audience is a separate and important skill.

    1. I'm glad you like those! I really enjoy writing them! Hopefully I will do more.

      You're preaching to the choir, obviously, but it is too bad the discipline doesn't value popularization more, especially because I think it could really help to address the "crisis of the humanities" more generally. How surprised should we be that nobody cares about philosophy or other humanities areas when most people don't know anything about the humanities?

    2. I teach mathematics, and one term I was about to start on the symbolic logic unit in the Discrete Math course I teach, and I thought I'd mention the tie-in with philosophy. As an opener, I asked "Who was the most important 20th century philosopher?" Seeing puzzled looks, I backed up to "Who can name a 20th century philosopher?"

      Einstein. That was the best I got. Albert Einstein...