Recently, the question: Are the Efforts to Fuse Philosophy and Pop Culture Superficial?

received the following answer:

I'm not sure if philosophy is often used as a conduit for pop culture, but I can think of multiple examples where pop culture is used as a conduit for philosophy. While most pop culture is obviously pulp, you can find ample philosophical gems among the piles of pulp, if only you look hard enough.

As an illustration, here-below are some of my favorite movie quotes. The first is a quote from Waking Life, which - in my opinion - is more profound than any book on philosophy I've ever read. The movie's cast includes Louis Mackey, Robert Solomon, David Sosa and several other philosophers.

There are two kinds of sufferers in this world: those who suffer from a lack of life and those who suffer from an overabundance of life. I've always found myself in the second category. When you come to think of it, almost all human behavior and activity is not essentially any different from animal behavior. The most advanced technologies and craftsmanship bring us, at best, up to the super-chimpanzee level. Actually, the gap between, say, Plato or Nietzsche and the average human is greater than the gap between that chimpanzee and the average human. The realm of the real spirit, the true artist, the saint, the philosopher, is rarely achieved.

Why so few? Why is world history and evolution not stories of progress but rather this endless and futile addition of zeroes. No greater values have developed. Hell, the Greeks 3,000 years ago were just as advanced as we are. So what are these barriers that keep people from reaching anywhere near their real potential? The answer to that can be found in another question, and that's this: Which is the most universal human characteristic - fear or laziness?

Waking Life

What happens when we fall in love?

As a result of certain stimuli, the hypothalamus releases the powerful discharge of endorphins…but why exactly that woman or that man?

Is there a release of odorless pheromones…that correspond to our complimentary genetic signal? Or is it physical features that we recognize? A mother’s eyes? A smell that stimulates a happy memory?

Is love…part of a plan? A vast war plan between two modes of reproduction. Bacteria and viruses are asexual organisms. With each cell division, each multiplication, they mutate and perfect themselves much more quickly than we do.

Against this, we respond with the most fiercing weapon: Sex. Two individuals, by mixing their genes, shuffle the cards and create an individual who resist viruses better. The more dissimilar he or she is. Now, are we unknowing participants in a war between two modes of reproduction?

Mr Nobody

There is something about yourself that you don't know. Something that you will deny even exists until it's too late to do anything about it. It's the only reason you get up in the morning, the only reason you suffer the shitty boss, the blood, the sweat and the tears. This is because you want people to know how good, attractive, generous, funny, wild and clever you really are. "Fear or revere me, but please think I'm special."

We share an addiction. We're approval junkies. We're all in it for the slap on the back and the gold watch. The "hip, hip, hoo-fucking-rah." Look at the clever boy with the badge, polishing his trophy. Shine on, you crazy diamond. Cos we're just monkeys wrapped in suits, begging for the approval of others.


Man, I see in fight club the strongest and smartest men who've ever lived. I see all this potential, and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars.

Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need. We're the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression.

Our Great War's a spiritual war... our Great Depression is our lives. We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won't. And we're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed off.

Fight Club

S : What would've happened if you hadn't saved him?

D : Yes. The sun would not have risen.

S : Then what would've happened?

D : A mere ball of flaming gas would have illuminated the world.

S : Alright, I'm not stupid. You're saying that humans need fantasies to make life bearable.

D : No. Humans need fantasy to be human. To be the place where the falling angel meets the rising ape.

S : With tooth fairies, Hogfathers... Yes.

D : As practice, you have to start out learning to believe the little lies.

S : So we can believe the big ones?

D : Yes. Justice, mercy, duty, that sort of thing.

S : But they're not the same at all.

D : You think so? Then, take the universe and grind it down to the finest powder and sieve it through the finest sieve, and then show me one atom of justice, one molecule of mercy. And yet, you try to act as if there is some ideal order in the world, as if there is some... some rightness in the universe by which it may be judged.

S : But people have got to believe that, or what's the point?

D : You need to believe in things that aren't true. How else can they become?


Engaged via comments, we had the following discussion:

I'm not really seeing how this answers the question which seems to be about the attempts by philosophers to engage the culture -- not a request for a list of where movies wax philosophical... – virmaior♦ 1 hour ago

@virmaior : I believe these examples illustrate perfectly that several attempts have been made to provide great philosophical depth in pop culture... and of the various examples I mentioned, one includes the cooperation of at least two philosophy professors (who play themselves in the movie). – John Slegers 1 hour ago

@virmaior : I modified my answer to clarify the point I'm trying to get across. – John Slegers 1 hour ago

In that case, it seems like your answer would fit better with SE standards if you ditched the lengthy quotations and then just said what you mentioned in the comment with perhaps a little more detail and then links to further text for the inclined. – virmaior♦ 48 mins ago

@virmaior : To illustrate that pop culture is used as a conduit for philosophy, it is essential to provide examples. Neither shorter quotes nor links would allow me to illustrate my point the way I'm able to do it now... – John Slegers 21 mins ago

Err, I'm telling you that this answer doesn't meet guidelines for answering on an SE and telling you how to change it. So do you want to change so you have an answer here or ... ??? – virmaior♦ 14 mins ago

Maybe to word that another way, either you're right or you're wrong that "it is essential" to make your point that you include all of these quotes. If you're right, then you're answer doesn't fit the SE format (conclusion: SE is not the right format for finding philosophical answers. in which case, please delete). OR it's not essential and you can make your point within the SE framework (in which case please edit). – virmaior♦ 10 mins ago

@virmaior : Which of the rules / guidelines is my answer supposed to be incompatible with? Also, how can I improve my answer WITHOUT making it LESS comprehensible? – John Slegers 9 mins ago

The rule stackoverflow.com/help/referencing specifically Do not copy the complete text of external sources; instead, use their words and ideas to support your own. With the obvious inference, being answers should mostly be written by you -- not written by the quotes. – virmaior♦ 4 mins ago

In terms of how to "improve your answer," again, we need to divide that into two halves. One half is how to make a better answer in terms of fitting the SE, guideline above. The other half is what you think is a better answer, which again forces to the constructive dilemma above. SE is far from perfect and far from able to do everything for everything. E.g., I don't publish philosophical papers via SE – virmaior♦ 2 mins ago

@virmaior : Do not copy the complete text of external sources; instead, use their words and ideas to support your own. -> That's EXACTLY what I'm doing here : I'm quoting only relevant excerpts of larger texts to illustrate a point I'm making in the paragraphs above! – John Slegers 2 mins ago

I don't think any of the quotes are necessary personally. Let's move this discussion to meta. – virmaior♦

Purpose here on META

Should this answer be allowed?

In my view it's in clear violation of the referencing guidelines for SE.


So, first off... it seems that the question itself isn't great based on the answers we got. Are the efforts superficial...? Well, how superficial qualifies? What makes such an effort superficial? How does one go about proving the negative, that there all efforts are superficial? Clearly, anything in the culture expresses something about philosophy on some level.

To the answer itself:

Any paper, article, or any other philosophical writing that was 80% naked quotes necessary lacks exposition to say what the point of the quote is. For example: as entertaining a movie as Fight Club is, Philosophy by Fight Club is dubious. Should one conclude from this answer: here are some of the most profound "philosophy movies," and Fight Club made the list, so they're still pretty philosophically shallow? Without some kind of exposition, it's hard to know what the point of the quote is.

To take the reference to Waking Life (which I am not familiar with, I'll admit): many of the aspects of the quote provided could be taken from many other works of philosophy, so the claim that it is more profound than any written works of philosophy is "non-trivial."

It clearly was an attempt to answer the question. And, it did provide references, which is more than can be said for many answers on this site. It does leave something wanting though.


I believe this author basically never follows our rules, is defensive, combative and refuses to question himself under any circumstance. This is the fourth or fifth time he is just being obnoxious. So I think we should not waste much time questioning ourselves on his behalf.

Someone with a long history here pointed out that he was coloring outside the lines and he pointedly refused to edit to comply. Period. It goes.

(If in the course of an 'argument' you question someone's position based upon the quality of the schools in the country in which they were educated, you have pushed the edge of racism. The gloves should come off.)


I think the delete was a bit over zealous, but I don't see a great deal of direct content regarding an answer to the question.

Are the efforts to use philosophy as a conduit for pop culture a positive or negative development and what does this mean for philosophy as an enterprise? Does this expand or deflate the capability and quality of our philosophizing?

I am also unsure how the quotes are "philosophy". Link to Web Dictionary Definition.

If I could recommend, it may be helpful and even more compelling if you stated the philosophical concepts you are extracting from these scenes.

I understand that they may contribute to ones own "personal philosophy", however that doesn't quite make it a philosophical idea. It only presents a perspective on society. This is most closely related to definitions five and six.

Philosophy (capital "P") as used in the original question is more focused on definitions one through four. This Philosophy has to do with identifying principles that lead one towards a deeper understanding and access to the truth of something.

I see the possibility to do this with your quotes, but they need to be explained and put into context to have a clearer meaning. For example, you could connect Heiddegar to the "Fight Club" quote.

  • 1
    The entire movie "Waking Life" is philosophical of nature, exploring the very nature of both existence and non-existence in great depth. It addresses anything from the nature of love and death to the paradox of free will, starring three philosophy professors (Louis Mackey, Robert Solomon & David Sosa) and several other philosophers (Eamonn Healy, Aklilu Gebrewold, Caveh Zahedi, Timothy "Speed" Levitch, ...). It doesn't get any more philosophical than that -> theguardian.com/film/2002/apr/19/1 – John Slegers May 24 '16 at 8:58
  • Thats the article you should share. Not a quote. Awesome. – PV22 May 24 '16 at 13:03

I believe that quotes (which may or may not be lengthy) are as useful and often as essential on a StackExchange community focused on philosophy as code examples are on StackOverflow.

In this particular case, I don't see any way whatsoever to illustrate the position I'm taking without at least one of those quotes. While I did re-post my answer without the quotes following virmaior's removal of the original version, I do believe essential information (in the form of examples) is lost and I consider this modified answer as a mutilation of the original answer.

  • 2
    You can't be serious comparing code examples and movie quotes. Code examples are things you can run and see if they do what you want, etc. In this sense they can serve as clear cut answers to SE questions. On the other hand, while movie quotes can certainly express some deep ideas, they're too broad (based on the above examples) and not always a good fit to specific questions. This is a common misconception, but philosophy can be precise, even if very deep questions are dealt with. That's why it is taught. – Eliran May 29 '16 at 19:47
  • @EliranH : What makes those quotes too broad in your opinion? And how are the quotes not the perfect way to illustrate that pop culture and profound thoughts can and do go hand in hand sometimes?! – John Slegers May 30 '16 at 8:04

I think there is a case to say that there is such a thing as the novel of ideas, or a film of ideas; but for sure they are distinct from philosophy proper. I'm not sure it is helpful to merge the two without losing the focus of the latter. There's such a thing as serious cultural critique, and I think there is a place for that in any kind of intellectual life - but thats a different ball-game, more akin to literary criticism. I'm not sure that this site is it.

To be honest, I find the quotations flat as prose, and tiresome as philosophy.

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