To laugh or cry?

Jun 21st, 2005 | By | Category: Personal Columns

BBC Radio 4 have been running a series on great philosophers, conducting a vote over the internet to see who was regarded as the greatest by those who had listened to the radio programmes. The result is to be announced in July.

It was fascinating to hear that Karl Marx was polling well; perhaps he is regarded as ‘safe’ now that eastern Europe and Russia don’t have to live under the effects of his teaching.

The BBC series is serious, but is also entertaining. Philosophy was fun in university days. There would be graffiti such as, ‘Is Karl Marx’s grave a Communist plot?’

Or, most famously,

To be is to do – Rene Descartes

To do is to be – Jean-Paul Sartre

Do be do be do – Frank Sinatra

Frank Sinatra has lost his place, in more modern times. His words have been replaced by:

Yabba dabba do – Fred Flintstone.

Philosophy was fun, but it was also deadly serious. I remember first year lectures in London in political philosophy. The lectures were from 5.00-6.30 on a Monday evening and the professor was a man not given to humour or light-heartedness. His purpose was to understand the thought processes that underlay the unfolding of the history of Europe and the world, he would not have been impressed by anyone who approached his subject with anything other than discipline and seriousness.

Perhaps a combination of laughter and gravitas is needed in our world. The successful media have plenty of light-heartedness, but nothing of substance to say; the people with something to say often lack the lightness of touch necessary to communicate their message to most people.

Descartes, Sartre, Sinatra and Flintstone – all of them are needed for a world that is happily serious and seriously happy.

Leave Comment