Metallica and Philosophy: A Crash Course in Brain Surgery edited by William Irwin

"...metal up your ass!" - I kid you not, that's a quote from a purportedly serious philosophical work (ref. above). It is exemplary of a trend contemplated here: Are the Efforts to Fuse Philosophy and Pop Culture Superficial?

Briefly, there is an apparent trend to disseminate philosophical works to the broad public, often with reference to "pop culture" media, movies, music, etc. https://andphilosophy.com/

Are there any meta philosophical analyses looking at this in terms of, for example: desirability, social impact, veracity, etc.

Bonus questions: Is this indicative of the "commercialization of Philosophy"?
Are there (can there be) ethical considerations neglected by this practice?

  • Socionomists study pop culture to try to holistically identify trend changes due to social mood. I don't know if they have studied this aspect of pop culture. socionomics.net Commented Oct 29, 2018 at 11:34
  • @FrankHubeny Socionomics - looks suspiciously like a collective subconscious in the process of gaining self awareness. If we postulate a "collective consciousness", then the subject of my question would be merely a step in the process toward a "collective rationality", a "collective philosophy" of some sort. This is a fascinating connection Frank.
    – christo183
    Commented Oct 29, 2018 at 12:35
  • Perhaps someone could write an answer about ordinary language philosophy? Commented Nov 22, 2018 at 7:04
  • This is odd. The question is featured and a note says it needs more responses, yet it does not appear on the main question page. It seems to be featured but invisible. Am I missing something?
    – user20253
    Commented Nov 26, 2018 at 13:44

4 Answers 4


Interesting comment you make about the collective mind-set and I hope you're right.

If you check out a professional site called 'dailynous' you'll see a lot of discussion of how to sell philosophy to the general public and there are people about with a serious interest in doing so. If you trawl back a bit you'll find people who write about this stuff and references to texts. The profession is under great pressure to justify its prominence in academia and is struggling to do so. Generating interest among the lay population would at least get bums on seats and please the accounts department.

The problem is not the marketing but the product. I have never seen a professional philosopher admit this or even consider it. All the proposed solutions assume the product is great. Thus the marketing never works. Any commercial concern taking this approach would fail. Marketing begins with the product.

There must be many studies of the impact of the study of philosophy on society, culture etc., but they will nearly all be studies of the philosophy taught in our schools. This means they are studies of a certain kind of philosophy and they will not be helpful if our concern is with philosophy as a whole. It would make no sense to study the social impact of the study of philosophy if it examines only university philosophy and its associated professional journals and texts.

As for whether these attempts to disseminate philosophical works to the general public are superficial I'd say so. I think the general public sense this at some level. They are being persuaded to study philosophy by philosophers who tell them there is no hope of ever understanding it and unsurprisingly this generates little enthusiasm. The public is very aware these days of the commercial necessity for enticing new students.

The topic is a hobby-horse for me but difficult to discuss since the issues are so sensitive. My feeling is that were the philosophy department to employ a marketing consultant their report would speak mostly about problems with the product and little about methods of promoting it.

As to your main question I strongly believe philosophy should be made more accessible. At present it is nearly inaccessible, buried under more words than there are atoms in the universe, and is not even accessible to enrolled students. But to make accessible would require being able to explain it in a straightforward way and this is not a problem of public access but of scholarship and learning within the profession.

  • 2
    +1. This is thought-provoking and clearly probes a subject you've reflected on carefully. I have mixed reactions that I can't readily sort out. In the meantime I must upvote an answer that's full of substance.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Commented Nov 20, 2018 at 19:03
  • The academic establishment has evolved over literally thousands of years, i.e. taken a natural developmental path. It should be well adapted. But we've had an unprecedented communication/media revolution recently, and adapting to that, I haven't seen given proper attention. We're in danger of leaving the future (even the 'collective') without a conscience.
    – christo183
    Commented Nov 21, 2018 at 5:20
  • @christo183 - I suspect you're right. Access to information is having a profound affect on philosophical and religious views. What is amazing is that it seems to be beneficial.
    – user20253
    Commented Nov 21, 2018 at 10:49
  • @christo183: Public (especially: popular) media and "culture" (esp. music and books) are without Geist - statements like these pop up since the transition from the Classicist period to Romanticism and are a central theme of critical theory. Interestingly, Frankfurt School (especially Adorno) has an abhorrent style of writing, even taking academic philosophy as a standard. Walter Benjamin was the exception proving the rule here and criticised this pushing for more accessibility of philosophy AFAIR.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Commented Nov 22, 2018 at 7:53
  • @GeoffreyThomas - It seemed rude not to say thanks. I expect we could have a good discussion on this topic.
    – user20253
    Commented Nov 26, 2018 at 13:38

The problem of the inaccessibility of philosophy is not a new issue.

Here are two critiques from inside philosophy: https://www.unige.ch/lettres/philo/files/6514/2644/4477/mulligan_whatiswrongwithcontemporaryphilosophy.pdf https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/FwiPfF8Woe5JrzqEu/philosophy-a-diseased-discipline

Both are critical of the current dominant Analytic tradition, and trace much of the problems of philosOphy to aspects of it. Analytic philosophy, as practiced, which assumes it CANNOT answer any big questions, will never be popularizable.

Less is Wrong basically calls for revamping philosophy from a reductionist/eliminativist perspective, making it a handmaiden to science and neurology. There are numerous refutations of this "scientism" agenda within philosophical literature, and while LIW likes the agenda, most other philosophers consider it refuted, so the LIW "solution" is unlikely to be viable.

There was a prior revamping effort to make philosophy accessible, called public philosophy, in the 1990s. It had three outgrowths, Cafe Philosophique, Pub Philosophy, and Socrates Cafe. http://www.philosopher.org/Socrates_Cafe.html https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caf%C3%A9_philosophique https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pub_Philosophy The Socrates Cafe branch of this movement is actively hostile to academic philosophy, both continental and analytic. These movements are basically a rejection of analytic philosophy's abandonment of ontology, metaphysics and ethics, and of the continental abandonment of truth, as these are questions that people need to answer in their lives, and philosophy is the way to (possibly) answer them. By eschewing all references, jargon, and all reading requirements, these movements seek to directly re-engage the populace with philosophy, while ignoring academia.

Does this matter? Absolutlely! All political and social movements are based on philosophical presuppositions -- whether their adherents examine them or not. And if current philosophy does not provide answers, that is more of a problem even than accessibility! And yes, there is a lot of literature on the relationship between philosophy and societal consequences: ttps://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=philosophy+creates+social+movements&hl=en&as_sdt=0&as_vis=1&oi=scholart


It can and it should.

Let us start with a bit of history. Have you ever heard of "The oldest System-Programme of German Idealism"? Written by Hegel's hand and probably a product of the three friends Hegel, Schelling, and Hölderlin in 1796, it includes the following lines (arguably they best describe Hölderlin's take, who "changed" to poetry later, e.g. Hyperion):

Finally the idea which unites all, the idea of beauty, the word taken in the higher platonic sense. I am convinced that the highest act of reason, which, in that it comprises all ideas, is an aesthetic act, and that truth and goodness are united like sisters only in beauty — The philosopher must possess just as much aesthetic power as the poet. The people without aesthetic sense are our philosophers of the letter. The philosophy of the spirit is an aesthetic philosophy. One cannot be clever in anything, one cannot even reason cleverly in history— without aesthetic sense. It should now be revealed here what those people who do not understand ideas are actually lacking — and candidly enough admit that everything is obscure to them as soon as one goes beyond charts and indices.

Poetry thereby obtains a higher dignity; it becomes again in the end what it was in the beginning — teacher of (history) the human race because there is no longer any philosophy, any history; poetic art alone will outlive all the rest of the sciences and arts. (emphasis mine)

"Poetry" here is not about poets only, it includes things like Homer's tragedies, i.e. can perfectly well cover what we call "prose" these days.

Now, there were some philosophers deeply impressed by ancient Greek poets. Not only the three just mentioned, but also Nietzsche and Heidegger. While Heidegger ended up in idiosyncratic language, Nietzsche wrote in aphorisms, which is one reason why he is still quite well known and commonly read outside of academic philosophy even if his philosophical coherence lacks at times.

In early classical pragmatism, the complex, overly theoretical and inaccessible writings (and personality) of Peirce resulted in him being financially supported by the much more accessible (and friendly) William James so that he does not have to starve.

Coming to contemporary examples, there is an increasing number of philosophers who feel the need of giving philosophy a more tangible garment. To take just two recent successful examples: Jostein Gaarder and Peter Bieri (a former philosophy professor).

Gaarder's Sophie's World sold millions of times. Intended as a child's (well, probably teen's) book, many adults found interest in this kind of introduction into philosophy. Even if there were many academic criticisms of the inaccuracies regarding the descriptions of the numerous authors treated, it still provides a solid start for critical philosophical thinking.

Bieri's A night train to Lisbon (published under the pseudonym Pascal Mercier) also became an international best-seller and was motivated by the thought that the rigid academic structures confine philosophy inadequately (I personally attended a talk of his with this very topic).

Both examples have the dialogical structure in common with Plato, who obviously thought the dialogue to be the best format for philosophy.

Thus, there is a case to be made (which has been made by prolific philosophers) that philosophy should - if it was to retain any practical impact - take more accessible forms and rid itself from the academic writing style, may it be per dialogical prose, aphorisms, or poetry.


The examples mentioned (esp. Peirce/James, Gaarder, Bieri) are the exception to the rule. Most of the times, rigid academic writing is simply a matter of material reproduction: Schopenhauer is quite a good read, but Hegel was the successful one of the two in Berlin, Nietzsche would have died in poverty without support from others, Hölderlin did. And Bieri had enough academic reputation to go back into academia if he had not found the success he did.

Writing accessible philosophy depends on a wager: Will there be a publisher that promotes it well enough? Will there be enough readers interested? How exactly to mediate between accessibility and accurateness? As soon as you have a permanent tenure position at a university, you are probably safe regarding material needs. At the same time, you are probably too deep into academic language and dictus to take the steps back needed.

Thus, the commercialisation of universities in general and the humanities departments in particular indeed results in philosophers increasingly becoming subdued by uniformist material reproduction. Not having a secured financial situation as a researcher for decades with any experiment having the potential to cost you any opportunity for furthering an academic career, you think twice (and thrice) before breaking with academic habits of writing.

In other words: While the universities used to be a place of free philosophy and research, we now face more and more "philosophers of the letter" trying to fit standards so that they become eligible for scholarships, fellowships, tenure, and other research funding. Humanities suffer under a lack of financial support more than more tangible sciences that can raise fundings of companies interested in their research. Geist is subdued by matter.

((According to my experience, the Geist is most tangible in philosophical seminars, conferences, and discussions in bars and restaurants ensuing after the institutionalised events. This is where philosophy proper becomes tangible, accessible. Things you cannot frame in necessarily reductional language))

  • The unexpected (by me) conclusion here that, 'commercialization' can move writers toward more (academically) conformant publication as well as compel them to appeal to a more populist audience. The monetizing of academic endeavor has created a watershed, dividing authors into diametrical approaches to the subject of this question.
    – christo183
    Commented Nov 22, 2018 at 11:32
  • 2
    @christo183: Well, this is really not something exclusive to philosophy: How many pop artists have said that "their music" is not what they would actually like to do? How many painters follow uniform "schools" and "styles" to make a living since true originality rarely "pays off"? How many writers start with one original book/series and then are pushed into more or less uniform replications of the stories and figures instead of doing something completely different? Originality bears the risk of not meeting the taste of the masses, failing to serve material reproduction (i.e. capitalise).
    – Philip Klöcking
    Commented Nov 22, 2018 at 14:26

Can Philosophy (sic) be made more 'accessible'?

Of course. Wherever there is respect, and wherever there is a capacity to obtain knowledge, then love of wisdom is accessible.

There is, however, no need to capitalize the term, "philosophy" unless it is at the beginning of a sentence. Philosophy is made less accessible by superfluous honorific, and with the common mis-use of the term to mean weltanschauung, "a way of looking at things", or "my opinion".

Should philosophy be made more 'accessible'?

While despite Hume's Guillotine, it may be possible to derive an "ought" from an "is", this is not a question addressed by respect for obtaining knowledge, i.e. philosophy.

The question solicits opinion - a matter of agreement or disagreement, not the confirmation of hypothesis, nor the means to advance knowledge claim. Philosophy contends with heuristic and rationally assessing truth value, not hermeneutical speculation regarding imponderables.

there is an apparent trend to disseminate philosophical works

The history of philosophy is not philosophy.

Is this indicative of the "commercialization of Philosophy (sic)"?

For the history of commercializing respect for obtaining knowledge, see sophistry.

  • When used as a verb there is no need, but when speaking of the thing, and not philosophizing, same as Sport or Religion, it is proper to capitalize. But I take your point. And agree the "world view" thing are a double edged, being a point of engagement for many, yet muddling discourse and focus of the subject. For the rest it seems you've missed the focus of the question, look at the bold part and maybe the links.
    – christo183
    Commented Nov 22, 2018 at 5:34
  • @christo183 re-read your question - I have directly addressed the bold part.
    – MmmHmm
    Commented Nov 22, 2018 at 15:49
  • Don't get what Hume has to do with this, or history, or sophistry. There is no matter of opinion here, this thing where philosophical works are targeted at the less educated, it is happening. What I asked for is meta-philosophical works on this trend. There is a "reference-request" tag after all.
    – christo183
    Commented Nov 23, 2018 at 5:46

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