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I'm a beginner. What should I pay attention to?

Anyone encountering a new discipline has to sort out at least five things:

  1. Language. This includes both discipline-specific vocabulary and how people within the discipline view language. (Primarily as a message, or an object of study? Medium, or hindrance?)

  2. Battle-lines. These are the major historical and ongoing problems, along with famous attempted solutions and reformulations.

  3. Origin and sources of the discipline. What happened at the beginning? Why did it get started? What assumptions or structures of life make possible this field of study?

  4. Primary texts. You will need to become familiar with the styles of several crucial contributors.

  5. Appropriate level of precision. What kinds of things are studied? How precisely do those kinds of things admit of explanation and representation? (Rigorous ethics, for example, is different from rigorous mathematics because of the nature of what each studies.)

Philosophy and Pop Poetry

Following Plato's strategy, I like to interrogate contemporary poets in class as ways into philosophical questions and texts. But the contemporary poets that affect most people are pop musicians. So, here's a growing list of provocations.

The basic ethical question:

Ani DiFranco, "School Night"

Natural rights:

Lupe Fiasco, "Little Weapon";

Dave Matthews Band, "Don't Drink the Water (There's Blood in the Water)"

Tragedy and the will:

Bastille, "Pompeii"

Care ethics:

Tupac Shakur, "Dear Mama";

Fiveology, "The Recovering Sexist"



Eminem, "B-Rabbit vs. Papa Doc"

(from 8 Mile)

Republic, Books 2-3:

Black Ice, "Truth Is"

Republic, Books 6-7:

Mumford and Sons, "Lover of the Light" (official music video)

Republic, Book 9:

Black Ice, "The Beast Within"


Passenger, "Let Her Go"


Nicomachean Ethics (NE), Book 1:

The Killers, "Humans";

Twenty One Pilots, "Heathens"

NE, Book 5:

Lupe Fiasco, "American Terrorist"

(series of 3)

NE, Books 8-9 (many; here are a few):

Eminem and Rihanna, "Love the Way You Lie" (2 parts)

Lupe Fiasco, "Battle Scars"

Marshmello ft. Bastille: "Happier"

NE, Book 10:

Kid Cudi, "Pursuit of Happiness"



City of God, Book 19:

Metallica, "One"

Thomas Aquinas

Summa Theologiae I-II, Question 5:

The Strumbellas, "Spirits" (wait for it)


Genealogy of Morals, First Essay:

Rammstein, "Asche zu Asche"

Dragonforce, "Cry Thunder"

(contrast two aesthetic visions)

Genealogy of Morals, Essay 3:

Dusty Springfield, "Son of a Preacher Man"

Hannah Arendt

The Human Condition, "The Public and the Private Realm":

P.O.D., "Outkast"

"Labor, Work, Action":

Les Miserables Soundtrack, "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables";

Eminem, "Stan"

I'm not a Philosophy major! What am I doing here?

Whether or not you pursue philosophy further as a field of study, you can gain from your classes in it a thoughtful way of reading and arguing, one which helps you to disagree productively rather than simply arriving at a stand-off. Work on learning how to attend carefully to the argument being made (i.e., to listen and read charitably), how to look for presuppositions and hidden premises (to listen and read carefully), and how to proceed when you think your discussion partner is wrong but in a complicated and interesting way (rather than just factually incorrect). Furthermore, try to learn how to ask good, helpful, and critical questions of various kinds.

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