Will TV Popularity Be the End of German Philosophy?

Will primetime philosophy work on German TV? 

Think of a few public intellectuals (not just the ones you read about on Big Think) but the ones that you actually see on television or read about in popular magazines. If you are an American you probably listed scientists, maybe one or two philosophers snuck onto your list.

However, if you are a German, you probably listed more than a few popular philosophers, and that might not be a great thing.

Media-friendly philosophers like Richard David Precht and Jürgen Habermas are taking German philosophy out of the ivory tower and into living rooms across Germany, both on Precht’s self-titled television program and in the pages of popular books and articles. The popular approach of Precht has led some philosophers to dismissively call him a “philosophy performer, or the Andre Rieu of philosophy.

German philosopher Theodor Adorno warned about the risks of popular consumption of ideas when he defined “The culture industry”, arguing that the popularization of cultural works will inevitably make them marketable rather than profound and serve to pacify rather than inspire a population. Going so far as to say that such films, plays, shows, and books are “so designed that quickness, powers of observation, and experience are undeniably needed to apprehend them at all; yet sustained thought is out of the question”. It is simple to understand the horror of these philosophers at the idea of a pop-philosopher.

Can the often-indecipherable ideas of Immanuel Kant be made popular and not lose their profundity? Martin Heidegger’s work is so difficult to understand that he accused Sartre of fundamentally misunderstanding him—so, the basic question is: can that kind of work be explained between commercial breaks in 20-minute segments? 

As for the current wave of German thinkers, they seem to be popularizing philosophy decently. Markus Gabriel’s work Why the World Does Not Exist, was both a best seller and well written. Enrollment in philosophy programs at German universities is up around 33% over the last few years. And while people might not discuss The World as Will and Representation on the bus to work, the philosophy magazines and television shows are proving popular and informative.

Can philosophy, especially German philosophy, be made popular without losing its distinctly profound edge? While a few popular philosophers think so, others, like Peter Sloterdijk, are not so sure. Will popularity be the end of profundity? Or will it serve to make the typical individual more literate in philosophy? 

Elon Musk's SpaceX approved to launch 7,518 Starlink satellites into orbit

SpaceX plans to launch about 12,000 internet-providing satellites into orbit over the next six years.

Technology & Innovation
  • SpaceX plans to launch 1,600 satellites over the next few years, and to complete its full network over the next six.
  • Blanketing the globe with wireless internet-providing satellites could have big implications for financial institutions and people in rural areas.
  • Some are concerned about the proliferation of space debris in Earth's orbit.
Keep reading Show less

How to split the USA into two countries: Red and Blue

Progressive America would be half as big, but twice as populated as its conservative twin.

Image: Dicken Schrader
Strange Maps
  • America's two political tribes have consolidated into 'red' and 'blue' nations, with seemingly irreconcilable differences.
  • Perhaps the best way to stop the infighting is to go for a divorce and give the two nations a country each
  • Based on the UN's partition plan for Israel/Palestine, this proposal provides territorial contiguity and sea access to both 'red' and 'blue' America
Keep reading Show less

How to make a black hole

Here's the science of black holes, from supermassive monsters to ones the size of ping-pong balls.

  • There's more than one way to make a black hole, says NASA's Michelle Thaller. They're not always formed from dead stars. For example, there are teeny tiny black holes all around us, the result of high-energy cosmic rays slamming into our atmosphere with enough force to cram matter together so densely that no light can escape.
  • CERN is trying to create artificial black holes right now, but don't worry, it's not dangerous. Scientists there are attempting to smash two particles together with such intensity that it creates a black hole that would live for just a millionth of a second.
  • Thaller uses a brilliant analogy involving a rubber sheet, a marble, and an elephant to explain why different black holes have varying densities. Watch and learn!
  • Bonus fact: If the Earth became a black hole, it would be crushed to the size of a ping-pong ball.