Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Blog #18 - What's wrong with Americans?

Many have criticized Americans for not being too philosophical, especially when compared to Europeans. In Europe, philosophers can actually make a decent living by writing books and giving lecture tours, but in America, they are university professors (or high school teachers!).

Maybe this dislike for philosophy comes from the super specialized language that we hear in philosophical circles (remember the bottle of tea example from Zizek!). If we can't seem to talk about it or explain it in straight forward language, forget about it!

Also, America tends to have an anti-intellectualism streak to it. If you follow our history, there have been movements that have looked upon scientific advances or theories w/ suspicion and even fear (evolution just being one). This is the same country that revels in Redneck jokes.

But parts of me wants to disagree with this idea that Americans hate philosophy. A popular TV show like LOST is full of philosophical and religious references with some main characters named after dead philosophers. The 1999 movie, The Matrix, is a modern version of Plato's allergory of the cave, how mankind learns (and may learn too much). The movie calls into question simple things that we take for granted - can we trust our senses? If not, what do we trust? The Matrix was hugely popular and spawned two sequels (though not as good).

Plus, do we not need some kind of personal philosophy to guide us along life's journey? A moral compass of some kind to steer us through the tricky waters? Or is that what religion is for?

If we don't philosophy for a moral guide, then what good is it? British philosopher Sir Bertrand Russell said the following:

Philosophy is to be studied, not for the sake of any definite answers to its
questions, since no definite answers can, as a rule, be known to be true, but
rather for the sake of the questions themselves"

Every generation asks the big questions: why am I here? What's the purpose of life? What is good/evil? Is there a god?

And every generation comes up with their own answers. The Matrix and LOST are just a couple examples of those answers.

Your question: From your observations, do you think most Americans really care about philosophy? Why or why not? Use specific examples from your own life.

Minimum, 150 words. Due Friday, Sept. 11.


  1. Though philosophy is nowhere near a young concept, America is.
    European countries have been through the ages that Philosophy has come about and questioned everything that these powerful and ancient societies have built.
    America is young, we have no true root or basis of people because we are all more or less leftovers from other countries, and we are what are left from these old societies.
    So no, I do not think most American’s really take the time to stop an even think about Philosophy, we are so fast paced and concentrated on being the best, the strongest, the brightest, that we never take the time to slow down and maybe look at the life around us.
    Whether Americans care about philosophy or not isn’t really a question that can be answered when we don’t even really look past the surface.
    I have horrible knees to begin with, but one is far worse off from a car accident and I was so concerned with just getting through the physical therapy and being able to use my knee again I never actually stopped to look at what had happened. Never even stopped to think about what really was going on, my knee was bad, my first instinct was to rush through the therapy to fix the stupid thing.
    Philosophy is to question, and to question we have to slow down to take a look, which is a concept that doesn’t really work so well with America.

  2. I personally think that most Americans do care about philosophy. I don’t think that there would be so many science fiction movies if they didn’t. Americans like to know what is beyond and the fact that the Matrix became such a hit shows that they do accept that there could be other things going on and that life may not be as straight forward as it seems.
    Also, to some extent I talk about philosophy with my friends. If me and my friends care there have to be other people who are talking about it. I remember one time me and my friend stayed up all night then went to watch the sunrise on the hill in the park. We talked about space and how there has to be something after it but also that at some point it has to stop. We also tried to think about how the earth was formed and how the materials that made up the earth must have been there before it was created, and if that is the case how did those materials get there?
    Americans do care about philosophy; they just don’t find it to necessarily be a career. Instead of lecturing about it they make movies or right books. That way they can totally blow the general public’s minds in a way that they can make a ton of cash money.

    Lisa M

  3. I think that most Americans do not care about Philosophy. I believe that people want to believe the most straight forward answer there is. In our generation today, people have a fear of actually using their brain to the full extent. This is because all of the technology that we take advantage of does most of our thinking for us. I also feel like Americans have a fear of abstract ideas that they cannot see of touch or understand. When the show lost came out it was a huge hit but after the third season they almost cancelled it. I believe this is because Americans did not understand it and they did not want to actually think and ponder hard about a television show. Another example is how the thoughts of philosophy does not fit into the categories of thoughts that Americans believe. I feel like people live in the now and don’t really pay attention to what might be out there, and that if they do, they might fear the answer.

    Jason S
    2nd hour

  4. chelsea kozlowski

    In my opinion, I think that most Americans do not actually care about philosophy because everyone has their own way of thinking about life and what happens in it. Americans have different views on almost everything such as religion, school, and sports. People think the way that they want to think and that’s part of the reason why no one really cares about philosophy because they already have an answer to what it is. Americans can argue and debate about the simplest things and the reason why they can do this is because they have an explanation to what something is about. Everyone has different morals and no one’s philosophy about morals will be the same as everyone else’s. We think how we want to think because that’s how the world is. In my life, when I went from a catholic school to a public school I learned about so many more religions then if I were to stay at that catholic school the rest of my middle school; I had never met a Jewish person until 8th grade and I never knew how many different thoughts there were on the subject. Each person who I met who had a different type of religion or way of living then I did had their own thoughts on it. So people are going to continue to think the way they have always thought because they agree with it, and that’s why I don’t think Americans really care about philosophy.

  5. In my opinion, I don’t think it’s exactly true that Americans don’t care about philosophy. Philosophy continues to show up in contemporary pop culture, including our literature and tv shows. The reason why people think that Americans don’t care about philosophy is not because they don’t have philosophical opinions, but simply because they keep them more concealed than people from other countries. The main reason behind America’s philosophical shyness is most probably because of the fact that they are afraid of the possible dangers lurking behind such opinions. Americans like their traditions and their boundaries, and venturing into the unknown land of philosophy seems like a risky procedure. Americans don’t particularly like the controversial aspects of philosophy; or at least they don’t like to show it. For example, I come from a religious Roman Catholic family. In Catholicism, there are many beliefs that conflict with philosophical ideas: such as the origin of the Earth, the creation of people, where one goes in the afterlife, and such elements. Religion is a major obstacle in the workings of philosophy, and the United States as a whole is fairly more religious than other countries; thus accounting for America’s cold shoulder to the workings of philosophy.
    Claire Hayes

  6. I believe that most Americans don’t care for philosophy, because in America there are so many different beliefs and ideas. And for that reason, they don’t like it when other people try to question or ask for an explanation for why they believe the things they believe. For example, if a teenage catholic girl wore a long, skirt every day, and her friends asked her why she does that. She might respond saying that, that’s the way I was taught a young lady should dress. Her friends may not understand why, but to her that’s the way she was raised to dress or act. And this is just a small reason why American people might not care for philosophy, because it challenges them to have to give an answer or defend why they may do certain things. For example, religion, the type of music you listen to, the clothes that you wear, and many other things you may choose to do as an individual.

  7. I think that philosophy isn’t valued in America due to our current lifestyle. America is a country that seems to want to be in control of every single thing. Philosophy takes America out of its element, with questions that seem to ask whether or not humans are in controlled in their lives. Americans ask questions expecting to have definite answers. Philosophy tends to have questions that only spark more questions, and if philosophers can answer the questions than it usually has many interpretations. Philosophy has taken into question a lot of the facts of life, what is our purpose in life? What type of person you are? Due to such open intrepatation it naturally causes doubt any many of life’s situation. This prompts fear in people just looking for one, definite, specific answer to their questions. And even to the few questions that can be easily answered, people will still be fearful of the answers to those deep questions.

    Collin Parson

  8. From my observations, I think that Americans do really care about philosophy, but just do not know it. I think that people use philosophy in everyday life and do not realize it. If a person does realize that they are using philosophy they may or may not like that they are using philosophy and shut down those thoughts before they take them anywhere or can make a conclusion. A lot of people do not like to use philosophy because it can ask you very hard questions. You might not like the conclusion or the answer you think of. For example, you could have concluded that your life has been meaningless. Even worse, you might think of an answer or conclusion and not be able to change it or make it any different either. Another reason why someone might not like philosophy is because they cannot find an answer for what they are looking for. There are always different scenarios and loopholes to twist something, so you might not find one answer.

    Lauren Peterson
    2nd hour

  9. Daniel Sherwood
    To be honest I don’t think I can formulate a valid opinion on whether or not Americans care about Philosophy or not, due to the fact that I don’t know about other countries and their interest in Philosophy. However, I find it hard to believe that over the Atlantic resides millions of French, German, and etc. people just moseying around reading books about Philosophy all the time. In America some people put a great emphasis on Philosophy and others don’t, and I think the same could be said about other nations. Judging from the people that I know and the media that I watch/read, America isn’t a very philosophical nation. With Twilight being the New York Times #1 bestseller for what seems like eons (having a 5th grade reading level), Flavor of Love being a huge hit reality T.V. show which led to the spawn of other identical mind-numbing shows, and artists like Lil’ Wayne, Lady Gaga, Flo Rida, and Britney Spears being American icons I have to think that Americans aren’t too keen on sitting down for a good think. However, I don’t think that the whole nation is stupid, there are still plenty of intellectuals left on American soil.

  10. I can only answer this question from observing my own environment and people I have met throughout the country. I don’t really know, because there are many branches of philosophy, like metaphysics, ethics, political philosophy, much more. When it comes to the philosophy of religion, many people definitely care about philosophy. Most of my classmates are all Jewish or Christian and they still are. Some live by their beliefs, while others don’t, however they still participate in religious activities in order to feel like they are living a correct way of life. My family and I am Buddhist, and I know without a doubt that the Buddhist philosophy is the right one for me. So I think many people care about the philosophy but it’s not something most people would like to discuss, because there is a fear of the unknown, they don’t want to be wrong; there are multiple reasons. They may also fear that when going into discussion about it, they may fear conflict or becoming offended. Each and every person’s view of life and the cause and effect processes of it are unique, and its hard for people to engage in dialogue when it is that view of life that guides them or has always guided them.

    John Cassetta
    2nd hour

  11. As Albert Einstein once said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”. I think that this quote is all about Americans not caring about philosophy. If Americans cared, they would try harder to explain it and understand it. I personally think that most Americans do not care about philosophy. I think this because most Americans are lazy and if the answer is no, they won’t fight for yes. Americans seem to stay in their bubble, and not go outside the box. Ever since the first season of Lost has been on, I have been watching it ever since. This show is all about philosophy and what will come next in their adventure. I personally care about philosophy because I think that it is interesting and if we never search for the answers, then we will never find out our future. When I was younger, I attended Hebrew school and one of my teachers always told me about what was going to happen next and got me excited for the future. She used to talk about philosophy and what my religion believes in, and that is why I mostly care about philosophy.


  12. In today’s world, I think that people do not care about philosophy. Everyone is so stuck in their bubble and so caught up in their own little world that most of them don’t even have the time to think about what comes next or think about the belief on how the world works in its natural environment. For example, my uncle works all the time and never has time to just sit down and take a break. He’s always on the run. Even when he is home with his wife he’ll still receive calls from the office. He never has time to just sit back and think about other things except work. He used to do yoga and was so in touch with philosophy and the natural environment, but it seems the older he gets, the more everything he enjoys fades away. It’s kind of sad in a way because being able to be in touch with your philosophy and being able to sit and think about what comes next really is something special because not much people are able to do it in this world.

  13. I think that many Americans really dont care about philosophy because its not really a popular subjest or thought in todays society. To me philososphy is more of inner thoughts and ddeep conversations about a certain things. It take a lot of thinking and deep thought to express your opinion in phlosophy.Most americans have a careless attitude about philosphy and dont think much of it. Example a simple conversation among friends at school is never deep or really thought out its just simple and to the point. Eveybody thinks different and has there own way of expressing there thoughts and when it comes to expressing thoughts phliosophy isnt thought of at all. Americans think how they chose to think but philosohy can be used in everythought.

    Jasmine Cain
    2nd Hour

  14. The United States of America was founded upon a philosophy of individualism, leading to a diverse nation where society encourages its members to think for themselves. As a result, our country is filled with a wide selection of varying, and sometimes conflicting, schools of thought. In theory, this would create an ideal petri dish of sorts, a philosophical melting pot. The reason why the majority of Americans are so reluctant to study and appreciate philosophies differing from their own is also what allowed a hypothetically infinite number of philosophies to exist within our borders. The romanticized American concept of rugged individualism gives the average American the mentality that their own personal answers to life’s most persistent questions are the right ones.
    We live in a country that regards political freedom highly enough to tolerate the existence of an American Communist Party since 1922, despite the vast numbers of Americans who strongly oppose the communist ideology. Yet the technical tolerance of a communist party never stopped, and often fueled, two separate eras of persecution against leftist radicals, the rise of McCarthyism, and the Cold War’s atmosphere of constant fear and paranoia. The great American contradiction is that despite our vast diversity, and perhaps because of it, we have had a great xenophobic streak.
    European countries that have, until the past few decades, experienced comparatively little immigration, allowing those countries the luxuries of not having dramatically opposing philosophies brought to their doorstep. By not having to constantly defend their own personal philosophy from others, Europeans have been in a much better environment, in comparison to the United States, to accept and applaud philosophers who challenge to norm of accepted thought through small steps. Though the rise of globalization has begun to make Europe less accepting of philosophies differing from their own, France’s occasional attempts to ban traditional Islamic clothing in public being a strong example, a basic appreciation for philosophy has been ingrained in the culture of Europe since no later than the Renaissance.
    In comparison, the average American appears aloof and, at times, intolerant of philosophy. America’s often ugly attachment towards anti-intellectualism seems to only propel the image of the American who wants nothing to do with the study of philosophy. Though reasonably based around the fear of an intellectual elite seizing control of what is intended to be a democratic nation, anti-intellectualist movements throughout America’s history have not only encouraged the American public to maintain a level of disdain for philosophy, but has encouraged them to take pride in that intolerance.
    Today, anti-intellectualism and disdain for philosophy run rampant in our nation. This summer has been filled with town hall meetings and other venues where those unwilling to accept the legitimacy of any philosophy besides their own have displayed ignorance along with their intolerance. What entertains our country are reality TV shows, action-packed and content-reduced blockbuster movies, and an ongoing frenzy of hilarity-by-stupidity in various internet sensations. Many Americans will tell you when they look for entertainment they don’t want to think; they simply want to turn their brains off and enjoy something on the simplest of levels. These are not the signs of a society that can quote Nietzsche, discuss Thomas Paine, or perhaps even examine their own lives. While there are many educated and intellectual Americans who do all three and then some, evidence indicates that as a whole Americans don’t care for any philosophy other than their own.
    -Alex Aginian

  15. Most American's don't care about philosophy, but I think due to today’s economy, it makes it even harder for them to consider philosophical ideas. People are struggling financially and they have lost their hope and faith. They are living in a realistic world, doing their best to get by. It is a day-to-day struggle just to meet their needs. Philosophy plays a significant role in my lifestyle. There is a saying, “ What comes around, goes around”. I am a true believer in Karma. I believe that what you say to others and how you act towards others will affect you in the long run. I also practice yoga regularly and during those seventy- five minutes, the teacher speaks about their philosophy. It is very interesting learn about the philosophy that they teach to all their classes. She speaks about letting go of all physical attachments you may have (money, clothes, cars, etc) and searching for the true light deep within yourself.

    Casey Harrelson
    Hr 2

  16. Personally, I think that most Americans don’t even think about it. Most ask questions on a day-to-day basis that cannot be answered but don’t even know that what they’ve asked is a philosophical question. My friend asked me the other day, “How do you describe a color?” And we spent about half an hour trying to describe colors but we were just describing the colors with other colors. Or the ever popular “What comes first? The chicken or the egg?” with that question people just go in circles. Americans don’t see that what they say or ask questions about is philosophy so I don’t think that they care about it. The questions they ask are hard questions but after discussing the question they give up and leave it alone, and they don’t think much about it after. Philosophy is just a daily thing that I think Americans don’t think twice about.

    Remy Gijsbers

  17. Americans do care and believe in philosophy, what we necessarly don’t believe is public discussing those opinions. In the past we have seen many philosophers get ridicule for their opinions that might not be too patriotic or the norm for what we had been taught all our life. As far as my religion that is my philosophy on life, I feel I can openly state and express that I am a Christian. I honestly know that my religion being a norm in American society makes it easier for me to speak openly about it. Topics that questions our existence cannot be proven or answered with facts and that could possibly be laughed at with honest opinions are the reason why Americans back away from publicly displaying those ideas. Overall Americans give up this notion that there is an answer to every question. If we as a country open ourselves to not having to go based on facts about everything then we can speak more openly about philosophy.
    Alanna Albritton

  18. All though I would prefer not to speak for “most” Americans, I would have to say that average Americans don’t question their existence, knowledge of the tangible world, or values and morals they hold. Instead, Americans are interested in why Brad and Angelina broke up, or who will be America’s next top model, or what Joe the Plummer has to say. After all, America has managed to keep the media thriving. From my observations, most Americans get too caught up in the outside world and the media that we manage to drift off from self maturation and our ethics which define our lives. Many Americans (including myself sometimes) tend to simply “go with the flow” and our priorities get disordered or never get structured to begin with. It happens to me in periods at a time. At certain points in my life, I feel that I have deserted my personal maturity. I tend to blame it on being too busy with sports seasons, or school and homework, or work and chores, but I don’t even know if I’m being true to myself with this excuse. It’s just too easy for us all not to think as philosophers since it can be such a tough job. Many Americans have abandoned their personal pursuit of wisdom by an intellectual means. Most Americans don’t really care about philosophy.

    Nawar Dimitry 2nd Period

  19. Everyone has questions! Not one person in this entire world just sits passively and takes life as it is without wondering at least once, what that actually means. The differences between Americans and other people are that we tend to ask silent questions, not necessarily looking for real answers. There’s a fear that our philosophy won’t be the right philosophy- or the only philosophy, so why even open that can of beans? We give answers in other ways, through religion, morals, and politics but don’t you dare call it philosophy.
    "The study of the unknown", "the study of thought", "getting to the root cause of things by asking questions", these are some of the definitions that we came up with for philosophy. In Americans, and in humans for that matter, there is a palpable fear of these things. What if it’s like Pandora’s Box? We are afraid that if we try to face this directly and strip down the world to what it really is, or what it might be, in the end we’ll wish we didn’t know. Ignorance is bliss.


  20. I’m not sure if I think that Americans care about philosophy or not. Having lived in many different countries, this should be an easy question for me to answer, but it turned out to be a difficult one for me to think about because I have been living away for the majority of my life.
    What I do see in Americans is a lot more variation between people. In Argentina, which is a very European country, most of the teenage kids like the exact same things, and think the exact same ways. In fact there isn’t much variation in anything, especially culturally. For example, at most restaurants and cafes the exact same kinds of food are served. It’s hard to find a place that serves Mexican food, or Indian food, or even Chinese food. The Argentine culture almost isolates itself from the rest of the world. Now take the US, I have noticed that common clique “everybody is different” actually is true in the case of Americans. I know people here who I can have conversations about life with, and conversations about self examination that go further than “I hate my legs”. However, there are the people who don’t care about philosophy, or culture, or what else is out there. The point I’m trying to make is that I think there is too much variation between Americans for me to say whether they care or not, because some do and some don’t.


  21. I believe Americans do care about philosophy, only in a more individualistic attitude. We all ask ourselves debating questions that we will probably never know the answer to in our own lifetime. These follow the lines of “what is god” and “do we have a purpose”. Less Americans philophisize about issues that are applicable in our day-to-day lives. Even fewer people converse their thoughts on these subjects with others. Why is that? When did asking questions and analyzing ideas become such a controversial behavior? It is because we Americans like to live our lives with knowing that our ideas are best. And how can we believe that our ideas are best if they are in question? This makes us uneasy, so it is why we do not question what we already know along with what we live with. But if the American ideas are so right, then should we not be afraid of them being questioned? Adam Sadler

  22. From the environment I live in, I think majority of Americans don’t really even care for what philosophy because each and everyone us has our own beliefs and thoughts. For example, my 8th grade Religion teacher, I went to a Catholic middle school, would always say “What Would Jesus Do?” And when my teacher asked the class that question, it was really hard to think of an answer. Nobody could really answer it because they didn’t know what to say. American’s don’t like to be asked hard questions because we don’t like to second guess ourselves on the information that we already believe in. Americans aren’t as philosophical as Europeans are because philosophy has been around, in that area, for a very, very long time. But, in one way or another, American’s do use philosophy, without even realizing it. Children, for example, always ask the question, “Why is the sky blue?”, and parents don’t really know what to say because they don’t even know or they have different beliefs. Questions like that, in my opinion, are the hardest to answer.


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