Saturday, August 9, 2008

How to Write Philosophy: The Good Christian's Guide to Sounding Authoritative Even When You Don't Have A Clue


After giving the subject much thought and consideration, I have finally stumbled across a method which virtually guarantees that you will be considered a genius by most of the world. How did she come upon this method? you might ask yourself. The answer is simple: by studying the "great minds" of the past, I know how to convince not only your wife and neighbors, but everyone, that you too are a great mind... even if you aren’t.

The very first thing you must do is begin to form a gang; I do not say this in jest. Following in the illustrious footsteps of Ayn Rand, pictured left, you must gather a group of dimwits and convince them that you know best. While some people, such as Joseph Stalin, pictured right, preferred to become the leader of the group after they became famous, in the fast-paced world in which we live today, one can never start to form a gang too early. (I’m sure Jack Kerouac, pictured left, would agree–he managed to form a literary movement by using psychedelic drugs and sleeping around, all the time calling it "Buddhism." For other ideas on incorporating religion into your philosophy, see section 1.) While people such as Jesus managed to gather their gangs on their good looks and charms, however, it might be best for you to join a writing club and start there; compose a fairly lengthy poem in which you use the phrases "darkness of my heart" and "bottomless soul" at least seventeen times each and you will surely impress the other members of the club. Once you seize control of the group, you can banish anyone who dared to call your poetry cliche or mediocre. The tribe has spoken.

Now that you have your gang, the real work will begin–mainly, writing your philosophical theses. You may write either many shorter pieces or one long piece to begin with; it all really depends on the attention span of your gang. If the majority of them have ADHD, try to keep the brilliant novels to a minimum and focus instead on writing essays to explain the world as you know it. You can bundle the essays into one book and call them the "annotated collection" of all of your work, or (as Benjamin, pictured right, did in his Illuminations) simply find a word that you think sounds impressive and paste it on the cover of the three-ring binder you put all of your writing in. Once you become published, you can buy a round of Ritalin for everyone.

It doesn’t matter overly what you write about–just as long as the topic is sufficiently huge enough to require you to continue to write about it for many years. After all, even if you could explain the meaning behind the universe in four hundred and fifty words, for job security it would be best if you didn’t. (Note: Tackling "the meaning behind the universe" as the subject for your first work of brilliance may be a bit foolhardy; start with something a bit smaller but still "interesting" enough for the common man to want to read it. I say "interesting" because it really doesn’t matter whether or not it is interesting–if you pay Larry King, pictured left, enough to let you on his show, you’ll be able to tell America that it is... and most people, whether or not they’ve even read the book, will agree.)

Instead, write many smaller essays on the subject, and then several novels, always referring to the essays you already wrote to ensure more book sales. Immanuel Kant caught onto that idea a bit slowly, deciding belatedly to contradict himself in his third book after he had written everything he had to say in his second book... no use resting on past laurels if you’ve got more great ideas that contradict everything you’ve ever written before, I always say.

There are many such "tricks of the trade," some better-known than others. Included is a brief summary of some of these tricks–this should not be treated as comprehensive, as I plan to publish many more books on the subject and have no interest in exhausting my subject matter too quickly. As I wrote in my essay, "In Pursuit of the Absolute: Sublimity in Longinus and Kant", "Tricking and misleading one’s readers is acceptable as long as one does not get caught." That is as true now as it was then.

1. Identifying Your Target Audience

The first thing you’re going to want to do (after you assemble your gang) is to figure out who you’re aiming for with your philosophical theses. This will be especially important to keep in mind when you actually start writing your essays, because you definitely don’t want to alienate those readers. Instead, you want to make the opinions that they already have sound like they are based on fact and are, indeed, correct, as opposed to all the other fools in the world. (If I were you, I’d aim for white Protestants–that’s where all the money is. I’d call this the Yuppie crowd, but I don’t want to risk offending my reader base.) Anyway, figure out who you’re writing for, and then write for them!

One really good idea to begin with, just in general when writing nonfiction–especially if you’re aiming to publish your work in the United States, where there is no separation between Church and State–is to maneuver Christian ideals and catchphrases into your title. After all, it would surely be a sin not to buy The Good Christian’s Guide to Avoiding Eternal Damnation: God Told Me To Write This And He Wants You to Buy It, Too, while no one will feel guilty for not buying The Meaning of Life: This Is Just What I Think. More words to consider using: The Good Lord, heaven, gospel, savior, Armageddon and, of course, Jesus Christ, pictured right. If you can manage to have yourself sainted, like St. Thomas Aquinas, pictured left, that would be pretty cool, too.

2. Confidence, Confidence, Confidence

Basically, if you just act like you know what you’re talking about, people will believe you. You can begin your literary legacy by pulling a bunch of stuff out of your ass and throwing it onto the page, and if you can read it out loud without cracking a smile, people will hail you as a genius. If you can translate whatever your great idea is into another language, it’s even better–bonus points for putting it into a dead language like Latin. After all, "Cogito ergo sum."

3. SEX!

There are many ways to get attention aside from going onto Oprah and behaving like a baboon on the host’s couch. (Although, if you get the chance to do that, take it. Paying off Larry King will only get you so far.) For those of you who must resort to grabbing your readers’ attention through your writing, there are some different ways to go about this. For example, using the word SEX as often as possible is definitely a good way to go; people are still talking about Freud, pictured left, even now that we all know his theories are bunk. Why? Because, my friend, Sigmund Freud knew the power of the horizontal hula. By merely invoking the words sex and penis envy, he dipped into the brains of people everywhere–including the people who, if such words were not on the page, wouldn’t have cared to read his books. Of course, your whole book doesn’t have to be about sex–this isn’t erotica, for God’s sake, it’s philosophy. (Besides, once they buy the book, they can’t return it, and you’ve already gotten your five percent.) Violence is also good (if your target audience is men), as are gender relations (if your target audience is women). If you can get both of these in there, it’ll be like a machine gun ripping through couple’s therapy (To read more about metaphors and similes, see section 7).

4. Confusion is Key

One of the keys to writing good philosophy is to confuse your reader. Much like the emperor’s new clothes were hailed as beautiful because no one could see them, your theses will be lauded as brilliant because no one will be able to understand them. However, since you wrote them, you must know what they mean, and if no one else can understand them, you must be smarter than everyone else. If you’re a genius, then your work must be inspirational. It’s cyclical logic, to be sure, but everyone will be so eager to prove that they, too, understand your writing, that they won’t stop to think about that.

There are many different ways to be deliberately confusing. Word choice is incredibly important–why use a simple word when a big word will say almost the same thing? And if it doesn’t quite make sense with the new, four-syllable word, then it must be because your readers are a bit slower than you, right? The bigger the word, the better. It’s also good to use words that sound specific but are, in fact, incredibly vague. Use them in sentences over and over again without ever overtly stating just what you mean by those words, and your readers will be stretching their brains trying to understand what you’re saying. If they can’t understand you, they’ll automatically believe that it’s because the writing is over their heads.

Even better is to use vague words in a very specific manner, defining them to the point of ridiculousness. If you can find two words that seem to mean the same thing, and then use them in completely different ways, kudos to you. For example, Benjamin’s differentiation between "historicism" and "historical materialism"was brilliant–it is aggravating to the brain to try to separate the two ideas, and people automatically believe that the lack is in their own minds. Genius! Not only will they spend a lot of time reading your work, they’ll beat themselves up for not being as smart as you, as well.

It’s also incredibly important to choose the labels that you give to ideas with care. You must choose words that seem like they should be innocuous and either emphasize them to the point of absurdity or capitalize them every time you use them. The confusion this will Cause will be well worth the Effort. Another easy way to accomplish this is to change the part of speech of a word; take a verb or an adjective and change it into a noun, or vice versa. Heidegger pulled this off when he labeled part of his theory "the Open"–notice that he combined this with the misplaced capital letter to double the potency of the confusion. The man was an artist.

Contradict yourself as often as possible. Only by doing this will you completely confuse your reader. After all, contradiction is a worthless practice and no one should ever do it for any reason.

Finally, use modern-day conventions to your advantage. For example, the PC ("politically correct") phase that we are currently suffering through can definitely be put to good use. Instead of being specific when using pronouns, use the asexual "one" very often to muddle the mind. When one reads the book written by someone else, which that one put a lot of Effort into, one finds one’s brains beginning to get as confused as the other one’s, though one can find many examples in any newspaper that is out nowadays, as well.

5. Using the Big Guys

One way to get started on your theses is to flip open a book of some other philosopher who you’ve heard of, run your finger down the page, and carefully read the sentence you’re pointing at. (Don’t bother reading the rest of the book–I think it’s fairly easy to tell that most of the philosophers of the past didn’t know as much as you do now. After all, we as a people have progressed so far, both technologically and morally, that it’s impossible for anyone from two hundred years ago to have an ice-sickle’s chance in hell at actually getting anything right.) Depending on what the sentence you’re pointing at says, you can use it one of three ways:
(1) You can cite it as a source to back up whatever it is you’re saying. If you’re using the right philosopher (preferably one who uses a lot of big words), everyone will just believe you that the quote supports what you’re trying to say beCause it’s too much work for their brain to translate it into understandable English.

(2)You can rework the quote to suit your own needs. Here’s an example of reworking Aristotle’s Poetics to suit your needs. The actual quote is, "Further, correctness in poetry is not the same thing as correctness in morals, nor yet is it the same as correctness in any other art. Faults that are relevant to the art of poetry itself are of two kinds, one involving its essential nature, and the other incidental.") Now just take that quote, fiddle around with it, and presto! Here’s the new and improved quote to put in your theses: "Further, [...] correctness in morals [...] is [...] incidental." My goodness! Aristotle was arguing that morals are "incidental"? Now just come up with a pithy response (and some way to work this into your book), and you’re all set. Now you’re a better person than Aristotle, who’s long dead and can’t defend himself.

(3) The method of using the big guys that takes the least work is called "appropriation." Essentially, just take an idea that one of the big guys had and make it your own–be sure to change the wording, of course, but now you have a brand new philosophy all set and ready to be published.

The "Big Guys" group includes anyone who you’ve ever heard of, in addition to a lot of people you haven’t. Having trouble getting started? Just look up any of the following and let the "using" begin: Niccolo Machiavelli, pictured right, Friedrich Nietzsche, Thomas Hobbes, Charles Darwin, Jon Stewart, and many more. Stay away from Marx unless you want to be labeled a commie bastard and don’t take pot shots at Freud–that’s beneath you.

6. No One Likes A Smart Ass... Unless He’s a Philosopher

While most people of today read Plato, pictured right, only if they are absolutely forced to, and then only with the Cliff notes within easy reach, it is undeniable that his writings have held on to public interest for thousands of years. Despite the fact that he is basically condoning the old world Brave New World (fascism, controlled "free" love, and infanticide being some of the chief features of this marvelous utopia), The Republic is considered today to be a cornerstone of modern society. (If anyone else is bothered by this idea, please seal a dollar in an envelope and mail it to the "Fighting the ‘Old World Brave New World’ Fund", c/o Lindsay.) How did Plato do it? By making Socrates the biggest smart ass BC Greece had ever seen. The appeal is still undeniable–reading about how stupid everyone who doesn’t agree with someone is, one feels immediately superior oneself... if one agrees with what that someone is saying. (How are you liking this PC craze?) And, as the reader doesn’t want to be part of the stupid group, he or she automatically begins to identify with the speaker, reinforcing the idea that the philosophy is correct.

7. Ways to Sound Cool

So far, we’ve briefly discussed several ways to sound cool (using Latin indiscriminately being one of them), but there are many other forms of coolness available to writers. Here are several:

Depending on your target audience, you can use different types of words. If you’re aiming for Yuppies, talk about "the mortgage of life" or something else they’ll understand. If you’re aiming significantly lower at the high school crowd, talk about the meaningless of existence and sex. If you’re aiming still lower at the college crowd, talk about Starbucks coffee and drinking games and you’ll be all set.

Use metaphors. A lot of them. And never explain them. The more complex and indefinite, the better, beCause people will feel that you are not only a brilliant philosopher, you’re a poet, as well. Sometimes it will even seem to the reader as though there is a hidden message somewhere in the statement. Your writing must be fabric softener–it’s best if poured into a Downy Ball first.

Use examples, both from everyday life and from obscure literary sources that people may have heard about but have never read. It’s like T.S. Eliot, pictured right, wrote in "The Wasteland", "Here is no water but only rock / Rock and no water and the sandy road". It’s even better if the examples don’t make sense. After all, the man who locks himself out of his house had better be wearing pants.


The art of philosophy is a careful balancing of bullshit and sincerity; only if one is capable of managing both (or at least an air of sincerity) will one become a famous philosopher. By following the directions provided in this guide, you’ll be that much closer to becoming published and rich.

Watch for more guides by Lindsay:

How to Write Jewish Philosophy:
The Hebrew Guide to Acting Like You Know What You’re Talking About Even When You Don’t Have A Clue

How to Write Zen Philosophy:
The True Buddhist’s Guide to Acting Like You Know What You’re Talking About Even When You Don’t Have A Clue

How to Write Depressing Philosophy:
The Atheist’s Guide to Acting Like You Know What You’re Talking About Even When You Don’t Have a Clue


Chatty Cathy said...

Don't you also have to get your writings/book published by Peguin Publishing? Anyways, I love this piece you have written, as I love all your literary pieces.

p.s-I Kant deal with this Longinus anymore, it is killing me.

Lindsay-with-an-A said...

Bwa ha ha! Hey, gel, (Hegel) I love it, "Chatty Cathy."

Homero said...

Isn't this a reprint, hmmm?

Lindsay-with-an-A said...

TOTALLY a reprint, but I have a feeling my myspace account will be closed down eventually due to a lack of tender loving care on my part, so I wanted to salvage this while I could.

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