I’ve always thought philosophy got a bum rap in the cool department. Pipes are cool. So are full beards and hemlock. Heck, having thoughtful ideas about the world is cool. In an article in Philosophy Now, William Irwin makes a case for philosophy’s coolness, or at least for its relevance in regard to American popular culture. Irwin has made a career of “democratizing philosophy,” editing books that examine and contextualize pop culture phenomena, such as Seinfeld, The Simpsons and The Matrix, within the realm of philosophy. Irwin is careful to point out that, by offering up philosophy to the masses, he is not attempting to dumb it down. His is not a postmodernist interpretation of philosophy or culture, where all parts are necessarily equal. Rather, Irwin takes a democratic, accessible approach to exploring philosophy, with a goal of increasing the collective understanding of a notoriously dense area of study.
Alluding to Plato’s allegory of the cave, Irwin writes, “Those who criticize people for being immersed in popular culture but show them no way out and provide no motivation to seek one, are like escaped prisoners who simply sneer at those still stuck in the cave, haranguing and ridiculing them. Why would they listen?”