What’s the DEAL with Philosophy Majors?

Steve Martin has been getting a bit of attention lately for chipping in and offering funding for non-profit production of his play, Picasso at the Lapin Agile, after the La Grande High School in Oregon banned it for being “obscene.”

I emailed this article to some friends and family and my mom wrote back saying, “What’s obscene about it?” (I directed this play for my senior project, and my brother was a guest star, so it’s safe to say she’s familiar with the content.)

I replied, “And the next thing I know, I’m on my back, not knowing what hit me!” (One young female character’s description of the way she is easily seduced by artists.)

Mom writes back: “What is the world coming to? That is just about the most ridiculous use of the word obscene.”

You might even say it’s an issue of semantics. Perhaps a little random for guy well known for movies like The Jerk and King Tut impersonations, but actually, it makes perfect sense given that Steve Martin was a philosophy major. I’m of the opinion that once you’re a philosophy, you’re always a philosophy major. If you look at Martin’s reasoning for supporting the play, supplied in a letter to La Grande community, you see a well-reasoned argument, that I believe draws significantly on notions of naming, identity, categorization and semantics.

Martin emphasized that the activities portrayed in the play, specifically drinking in bars and talking about sex, are not endorsed by the play, nor are they integral to play’s themes and messages.”

Click for full FD article.

He also stated–and I think this is the real kicker–that he didn’t want the play to acquire the reputation that would come along with a successful censoring. Now, the play will be performed at a local university and the voices, like Mom’s, that don’t think this play be in censored category, will win out and be heard. This argument is kind of exquisite to me, and while Martin is probably best exemplified by other kinds of “philosophical” quotes (“I believe entertainment can aspire to art, and can become art, but if you set out to make art you are an idiot”) I think he shows an interesting line of thinking here.

I also think there are a high proportion of philosophy majors who go into creative fields, and namely, comedy. A few months I reviewed a book called, “Plato and a Platypus Walk into A Bar: Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes.” Not very “good” analytic philosophy, (in my humble, drop-out opinion) but great, GREAT jokes. Greater even because of deliciously tenuous, over-eagerly, over-intellectually construed connection to philosophy.

Recently, I read another book, Much to Your Chagrin: A Memoir of Embarrassment by a young woman, Suzanne Guillette, who goes through life having a great laugh at herself, others, and even the prospect of humiliation. Who on earth could be up to the task of finding life’s grittiest moments completely hilarious? Check her bio, kids. She’s a philosophy major! She proves that philosophy majors either go on to solve the world’s problems with logical solutions or solve the world’s problems by making everyone laugh.

More on Much to Your Chargin: coming soon, here and at Popmatters. Discussion of why philosophers are deeply funny: ongoing.


5 thoughts on “What’s the DEAL with Philosophy Majors?

  1. maybe it’s cause philosophers need an outlet after attempting to shed light on so many difficult and grueling questions?either way, i am thankful for philosophers and their humor. and if it helps make art more prevalent in this world then there is nothing wrong with it.

  2. Fascinating! I never thought of philosophy majors as the funny type. But then, come to think of it, I haven’t known any philosophy majors that I’m aware of. I think I’d enjoy the philosophy 101 course I took in college much more today than I did back then. btw, La Grande is a strange little town. I stayed there one night when I was to audit the local funeral home’s prearranged funeral plans the next morning. (One of my stranger jobs, most definitely!) There’s nothing going on in that place. They could use a little excitement, I swear they could. Obscene or not. Hadn’t heard or read a thing about this in the Oregon press. Thanks for cluing me in.I could get hysterical here right this minute thinking of Steve Martin’s <>The Jerk<>!


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