The Funniest Philosophers (and the really unfunny ones)
We know that some philosophers can be a bit funny. But they can be very different kinds of funny. Some use humour in their writing to make it less dry and therefore actually increase clarity. Others are funny in a more eccentric way.
Slavoj Žižek, 1949–Present
Some would consider Slavoj Žižek to be a pop-philosopher. He has released and appeared in several films, has had three very successful and attractive wives including a fashion model and has a heavy Yugoslavian accent. He has a rapid, academic or overly-academic style of speaking because English is clearly the language of his academic career more than upbringing. He also has frantic mannerisms and tics that enliven everything that he says. All this, along with the heavy Marxist slant of his philosophy has made him into somewhat of a meme.
This is an excerpt from his film The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology:
The top comment on the YouTube is: “Now I want to see his commercial for the other coke”.
Those are the kinds of jokes that this guy gets. The frequent nose-touching and frantic speech make him seem like he is always on cocaine, but his official statement is that he has nervous tics when orating. It may be some kind of condition like Tourettes Syndrome or chronic tic disorder. It would be very ironic if it was cocaine because that is probably the single most capitalist commodity in the world.
Here are some quite good Žižek memes:
It makes sense that Žižek is a meme, being the most famous philosopher alive in the present day. Does it mean that his work is not serious? No, but in all honesty, he has never been groundbreaking. He tends to rehash the same ideas over and over, building in only very small increments with each work, and never straying too far from his Marxist and existential predecessors. He is funny though.
Harry Frankfurt, 1929–Present
Frankfurt’s On Bullshit is an essay that finds itself into philosophy of logic courses at university. He defines bullshit as speech that intends to persuade rather than to tell the truth. It is different from lying, which is intentionally trying to hide the truth; it is a disregard for the truth.
Frankfurt is a serious philosopher who doesn’t take himself too seriously, and this is part of the reason for the widespread success of this essay, appearing on The New York Times Best Seller list for 27 weeks.
Voltaire is a French Enlightenment writer and philosopher who was famous for his wit. His novela Candide, ou l’Optimisme is a satire that follows the life of a young man who was raised with a sheltered upbringing and optimist views, but then who is suddenly thrust into the real world and undergoes painful realisations
The novel criticises Leibnizian optimism—that this is the optimal of all possible worlds, and that all its perfections are actually means to the end of its perfections. The innumerable evils of Candide are a massive affront to this way of thinking.
Fretrich Nietzsche, 1844–1900
Nietzsche was both kinds of funny. He once hugged a horse being whipped by a cabman, so ran up and embraced it, began weeping and collapsed on the street. It was not long after this that he descended fully into madness.
His actual philosophy was known for its German-language wordplay and humour. Here are some translations that hopefully do him justice:
“In Heaven all the interesting people are missing.”
“Many a man fails as an original thinker simply because his memory is too good.”
“We have art in order not to die of the truth.”
Nietzsche’s poetic style of his philosophic works is legendary. There is nothing dry about his manner of writing in most of his works, and this is why he continues to captivate ordinary people to this day.
Arthur Schopenhauer, 1788–1860
Schopenhauer is a pessimist with such extremity and depth that he is actually very funny. He is best known for the phrase: “It’s bad today, and it will daily become worse – until the worst of all happens.”
He published “The Art Of Always Being Right” which explained in somewhat tongue-in-cheek terms how to win an argument by any means necessary, even those that circumvent the truth or flout ethics. Then he went on to publish some even more lovely books like “On the Suffering of the World” which decides that “We shall then see that whoever attaches a lot of value to the opinions of others pays them too much honour.” Argument itself is futile because people are too narrow-minded, stupid and ignorant.
Here’s another nice thought from Schopenhauer to end this segment:
“If we were not all so interested in ourselves, life would be so uninteresting that none of us would be able to endure it.” (Source)
The Not Funny List
The following philosophers are very serious and not funny. This is not to say they aren’t serious philosophers they are just really not funny:
- Martin Heidegger
- Immanuel Kant
- Ayn Rand (except for filling a train with caricatured straw-men and driving it into a mountain that explodes in Atlas Shrugged)
I actually really enjoy these philosophers (except one of them), but…. not funny.