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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Recommendation Two: Now With Pictures

On the lighter (and Leiter) side, you may enjoy this short essay, What Does a Philosopher Look Like?, from Talking Philosophy.  It's a short essay keyed to Steve Pyke's book of photographs of philosophers, called, aptly enough, Philosophers.  Here are two paragraphs chosen completely at random from this enjoyable piece:

What do philosophers actually look like? Rather odd, I’m afraid, or if truth be told, unappetizing – at least if we are to go on this collection of portraits by Steve Pyke. The book includes an interview with Pyke by Jason Stanley, and there the artist explains that, given his own origins among the working classes, he initially approached intellectual heavyweights like A J Ayer feeling intimidated. But now he sees them as more human. The pictures suggest that Pyke also finds philosophers strange. Here we find philosophers, warts and all: wild eyebrows, unkempt beards, lank hair, lantern jaws, crossed eyes, weak chins, bad teeth, weird noses. Smiling philosophers are rare. Among the few who do smile, one appears gleeful (Robin Jeshion) and another maniacal (Hartry Field). Pyke seems to have wandered into the territory of Théodore Géricault who depicted people suffering from “monomanias” in the asylum at Ivry in the 1820s.

* * * 

What should a philosopher look like? In a fascinating but frustrating introduction to the volume (“The Face of Philosophy: Steve Pyke’s Gallery of Minds”), Arthur Danto (who is himself included) says that all of the people shown here look “fiercely smart”. I beg to differ. A few (you will understand my not naming names) look a bit vacant. Judith Thomson looks mischievous, Peter Singer tired, Timothy Williamson meek, and Sydney Morgenbesser sad. Some of them (Ernie LePore, Harry Frankfurt) just look like nice guys to have a beer with at the local pub. Why the “fiercely smart” label, anyway? Philosophers should be smart, sure; but why “fiercely” so? There are other qualities we might wish for from our philosophers, such as that they be judicious, insightful, sceptical, kind, witty, or compassionate. (The face of the Dalai Lama comes to mind.)

Having just been at the AALS conference, I can say I am perfectly happy there is no volume called Law Professors!   

Posted by Paul Horwitz on January 10, 2012 at 08:35 AM in Paul Horwitz | Permalink


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They don't look ugly to me! Whether they look fiercely smart or not, they look like human beings to me, if you can pardon a little Marlo Thomasy note in your morning.

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Jan 10, 2012 9:45:00 AM

Jesus those people are ugly. In all seriousness do not open the first link if you do not want your pleasant and happy mood disturbed by unsettling images.

Posted by: anon | Jan 10, 2012 9:42:11 AM

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