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10/23/2007

Jon Stewart as Socrates

Jon Stewart on the Daily Show

Philosophy has a way of coming up during discussions around here (we are talking about ethics, after all) and from the traffic to a recent post about Stephen Colbert we know that more than a few of us are Daily Show fans. So with those two facts in mind, we pass along this article from the Sacramento Bee about Jason Holt’s work on philosophy and the Daily Show. Here’s a clip:

Just as Socrates’ and Diogenes’ reason-over-emotion doctrines served as an antidote to the sophists and rhetoricians of their day, Stewart’s nightly reports combat the dissembling of politicians and the blathering of mainstream media’s so-called “chattering class.” At least, that’s Holt’s thesis.

And then, there’s this: Socrates and Diogenes were as snarky then as Stewart is now.

Diogenes once lived in a bathtub to show citizens the folly of the pursuit of wealth and comfort. And Socrates was known for comically feigning ignorance “I know that I am intelligent, because I know that I know nothing” to dissect an opponent’s argument.

Holt is an assistant professor at Acadia University in Canada and his work on this topic led him to compile the aptly titled book “The Daily Show and Philosophy,” a collection of essays by Holt and a number of contributors.

While there’s definitely a joke here, Holt does seem to think there’s something meaningful, too. Again, from that Bee article:

For his part, Holt says that Stewart can show current philosophers and “public intellectuals,” such as himself, a thing or two.

“Intellectuals in the past used to do a lot more public engagement, reaching out behind the walls of the ivory tower,” Holt says. “Now, many have not taken this challenge up, and they’ve left a gap in the culture. A lot of pundits have taken over.

“What Stewart and ‘The Daily Show’ do is fill that gap, not because it’s intellectual discourse first and foremost, but because they’re doing a better job than academics like me have traditionally done.”

And, of course, if Jon Stewart is Socrates you know what that makes Stephen Colbert? Plato.

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-Greg Dahlmann

screen capture: The Daily Show

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