By jake goldman

Certainly, there is much to be gained by laboring over the complexities that pervade most philosophical writing. However, the act of reading such texts is almost always accompanied by head clutching and eye rubbing. It’s a daunting task to dive headfirst into Descartes or Nietzsche hoping to find some sort of answer to why the hell we’re all here. The sentences are often back-breaking; I actually felt physical pain, both in my head and gut during grad school while attempting close readings of Derrida and Foucault. The divot in my living room wall comes thanks to Of Grammatology, which I hurled angrily from my futon at least three times in a single restless night before mid-terms.

For me, there’s also a certain amount of guilt that accompanies understanding the great philosophers. I should have already gotten it all by now — or, at the very least, I should be able to butt into conversations at social gatherings with gems like, “Well, you know what Kant says …”, then walk away like a smug asshole.

So, in an effort to become such a person, I’ve distilled several philosophers’ ideas into single sentences apiece. (I fully expect lengthy hate mail from philosophy Ph.D.s.)

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1. Soren Kierkegaard

We’re all really afraid to die but we’re also terrified of living forever, and those two things work together to create a whole lot of despair, anxiety and boredom, for which there is no real remedy unless you are super tight with God.

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2. Aristotle

Virtuousness (having a strong personal and moral constitution, and exercising moderation in both action and thought) is the master key that unlocks happiness, opening the door to let in only our most basic needs, leaving unnecessary wants locked out in the cold.

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3. Karl Marx

Capitalism doesn’t work because profit depends almost solely on the exploitation of the working class, and furthermore, mass production and consumption devalues artisanship (an essential, soul-nourishing aspect of living a fulfilling life) by privileging quantity over quality and by removing ownership over the means of production from the artisan’s hands — but don’t you worry, because soon enough all workers will rise up and the revolution will rear its head.

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4. Socrates

Look: If you’ve got a problem you can’t solve, just start asking a bunch of questions about that shit and something cool will eventually happen — and when that cool thing does happen, maybe write it down and have it notarized so people don’t go around writing speculative plays about you after you die. (Assholes.)

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5. Immanuel Kant

Good decision-making is based on understanding the universal moral impact of your choices, and if you don’t consider this, you are likely a selfish jerk or possibly Ayn Rand.


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6. Friedrich Nietzsche

The following things are total bullshit and/or dead: objective reality, utilitarianism, the Platonic ideal, God, traditional notions of morality and syphilis — but science, art, metaphor and Schopenhauer are pretty sweet.

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7. Confucius

Here’s one way to avoid being a total dick: seek knowledge constantly and from all walks of life, and hopefully through gaining such knowledge, you’ll have a better, firmer grasp on humanity and what it means to be truly empathetic to the people that surround you.

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8. John Locke

We are born into blankness, devoid of innate knowledge, and our individual consciousness is built by sensory experiences and the pursuit of freedom of mind, body and spirit, which is achievable by practicing tolerance, making reasoned moral choices and having the ability to be both self-aware and self-reflective.

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9. Rene Descartes

Human beings are comprised of two distinct substances: that of the mind and that of the body, and these two components exist on separate planes but work together when it comes to the acquisition of worldly knowledge through deduction (the mind) and sensory perception (the body).

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10. Plato

Poetry is deceptive, god-awful artifice that is totally perverted and completely skews our sense of reality — and while we’re at it, democracy is total bullshit and should be overthrown by philosopher kings who will lord over cities with their big, pulsating brains full of knowledge and righteousness forever. (Shout-out to Socrates: Miss you, bro.)

Jake Goldman is a writer and adjunct professor. He lives in New Haven, Connecticut. More of his work can be found at Goo Goo Doll Stories and Jake Goldman Will Throw You into a Volcano.