Steve Martin Reenacts The Death of Socrates

Steve Martin, a former philosophy major, has a great bit on how the death of Socrates really went down. It’s a bit different from Plato’s take in the Phaedo in which Socrates is quite okay with dying. But there are one or two jokes that get Socrates’s philosophy (or at least Plato’s) correct in a great way.

Wikipedia has a few great quotes from Martin about his philosophy studies, including how they helped inform his innovative approach to comedy:

Inspired by his philosophy classes, Martin considered becoming a professor instead of an actor-comedian. His time at college changed his life. “It changed what I believe and what I think about everything. I majored in philosophy. Something about non-sequiturs appealed to me. In philosophy, I started studying logic, and they were talking about cause and effect, and you start to realize, ‘Hey, there is no cause and effect! There is no logic! There is no anything!’ Then it gets real easy to write this stuff, because all you have to do is twist everything hard—you twist the punch line, you twist the non sequitur so hard away from the things that set it up”.[17] Martin recalls wondering in a psychology class “What if there were no punch lines? What if there were no indicators? What if I created tension and never released it? What if I headed for a climax, but all I delivered was an anticlimax? What would the audience do with all that tension? Theoretically, it would have to come out sometime. But if I kept denying them the formality of a punch line, the audience would eventually pick their own place to laugh, essentially out of desperation.”[18] Martin periodically spoofed his philosophy studies in his 1970s stand-up act, comparing philosophy with studying geology. “If you’re studying geology, which is all facts, as soon as you get out of school you forget it all, but philosophy you remember just enough to screw you up for the rest of your life.”[19]

Many thanks to Raising Hellions for link to the video. Check out his blog. His latest post is a live performance from The Tallest Man on Earth, who along with Laura Marling, is one of the very best things to happen to folk music in this century.

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.


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