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Philosophical Humor?

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Dec 29, 2009

I’m not sure why I’m writing this, but for the first time I’ve taken a close look at a mug decorated with Shakespearian insults which was, I think, given to my wife (an English teacher) some years ago. I just happened to notice that the mug was created and sold by The Unemployed Philosophers Guild, a merchandising operation started by two highly-educated brothers who couldn’t get jobs in the academic world.

I know how hard it is to be employed as a philosopher. My oldest son, Chris, is a philosophy professor at the University of Dallas, and I don’t think he’d say he came by his position easily. I also doubt he ever considered starting a company to produce silly mugs, mints, stationery, puppets, T-shirts and magnetic dress-up stickers. But in defense of the two brothers, these items are all loosely related to their intellectual interests in that they feature a variety of famous people, with considerable emphasis on the world’s great thinkers and artists. So if you want to dress up Obama with a cowboy hat on your fridge, well, now you can.

Or maybe you need an Andy Warhol puppet? The Unemployed Philosophers are here to serve: “Although we still contemplate truth and justice, it is our enduring goal to fulfill the materialistic desires of the funny and sophisticated everywhere!” In general, their offerings are neither funny nor sophisticated—unless, of course, you think sophomoric humor is sophisticated and funny when it comes with a picture of somebody famous. On the other hand, while the merchandise is sometimes irreverent, it is always unspeakably silly, so you never know. You might be able to burst a sophisticated bubble or two with the right purchases.

Anyway, in washing our Shakespearian insult mug in preparation for a cup of tea today (very sophisticated, is tea), I happened to turn the mug over. That’s when I noticed the name and URL of The Unemployed Philosophers Guild, which I couldn’t quite resist pulling up online. That probably doesn’t matter really, but I also noticed a vital instructional warning printed clearly on the bottom of the mug: “For best results, use other side.”

I did. This is not an endorsement, but it worked.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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