Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Objections to Epicurus on Death

  1.  It is argued by Epicureans that death is necessary and inevitable and once one sees this one will realize fear of death is irrational.  (Jeffrie R. Murphy.  "Rationality and the Fear of Death."  The Monist 59 1976 187-203.  I will refer to the version in Fischer.  The Metaphysics of Death.)    I think that fear of death is irrational.  However this argument, by itself, is not sufficient.  (See my other recent posts on death.)
  2.  I started thinking about death when I was eleven.   I was horrified to realize that I would die.  I came to philosophy by this path.  What is death?  Why do we die?  Religion did not seem to offer a solution to the problem of death.  I do not remember much about my thoughts then, just that I was obsessed with death.  When my grandmother died, about that time, I did not feel grief.  I am not sure why.  But I did think that grief was irrational.  Since then I have felt my fair share of grief.  But the problem of death remains a living thing for me.  Now, at 72, I am surely much closer to my own death than I was at 11.  But, then, anything can happen, and surely I could not know when 11 that i would live to at least 72.  I was was once walking across campus and a tree fell on me (probably when I was sixty).  People usually die when that happens.  I didn't.  But the experience led me to think again about death.
  3. Fear of death is pointless because it cannot help us to avoid death.  (Murphy 52)  This seems true.  It is part of the Epicurean argument.
  4. Mary Mothersill "Death is the deadline of all of my assignments."    
  5.  "a prudent fear of death is perfectly rational.  By a prudent fear of death I mean simply (a) one that provokes people into maintaining a reasonable (though not neurotically compulsive) diligence with respect to living the kind of life they regard as proper or meaningful....and (b) one that is kept in its proper place (i.e., does not sour all the good things in one's life"  Murphy 56.  Murphy says this while affirming the truth of Spinoza's claim. Seems reasonable to me.
  6. "Fear of death is irrational and properly extinguished, then, when it can serve no legitimate purpose in our lives - when it cannot aid us in avoiding bad a way that is consistent with the successful and satisfying integration and functioning of our person."  Murphy 56.   But we have those who oppose the Epicurean/Spinozistic approach to death.
  7. Nagel is one.  "life is all we have and the loss of it is the greatest loss we sustain"  Nagel  61.  There is a lot of confusion here.  Life is the condition of having things.  It is not really something we "have."  Or perhaps there is a different sense of "have" operative here.  Is the loss of one's life the greatest loss?  Does every life end in the greatest of all possible losses?  The answer is not obviously yes. I am not sure you can even lose your life, although we say that.  You just die. 
  8.    First you are not dead.  Then you are dead.  Is it the same "you" that is featured in each of these sentences?
  9.    "death is an evil because it brings to an end all the goods that life contains."  Nagel 62.  Really?  Is there an "end" to these goods?  Could we define that end?  
  10.   "it is good simply to be alive."  Nagel 62    That seems obviously true.  Is it implied that it is therefore evil to simply be dead?
  11.   "life is worth living even when the bad elements of experience are plentiful..."  62  This might be a good argument against suicide.
  12.   "If we are to make sense of the view that to die is bad, it must be on the grounds that life is good and death is the corresponding deprivation or loss, but not because of any positive features but because of the desirability of what it removes." 64
  13.   Most of Nagel's argument assumes that death is an unfortunate state or condition.  But the Epicurean claim is that it is not a state at all.  Nagel hypothesizes that, like an adult who has somehow become infant-like, a dead person "does not mind his condition."  (66)  But a dead person is not in the position to mind anything.  A dead person is dead.  
  14.   Most important though is that although Nagel makes some true claims, they do not refute Epicurus.  For example, he says, truly:  "There are goods and evils that are irrevocably relational; they are features of the relations between a person, with spatial and temporal boundaries of the usual sort, and circumstances that may not coincide with him either in space or in time.  A man's life includes much that does not take place within the boundaries of his life.  These boundaries are commonly crossed by the misfortunes of being deceived, or despised, or betrayed."  (66)
  15.   Nagel's argument comes down to, of the dead man, "if he had not died, he would have continued to live...and to possess whatever good there is in living" (67) and therefore death is a great harm to a person.  Let's assume that it is possible to be harmed after you die.  This does not mean that there is someone who is actually harmed and therefore is harmed by being in the condition of being dead which is the condition of having lost all of the goods of life.  
  16. Nagel writes:  "Observed from without, human beings obviously have a natural lifespan and cannot live much longer than a hundred years. A man's sense of his own experience, on the other hand, does not embody this idea of a natural limit. His existence defines for him an essentially open-ended possible future, containing the usual mixture of goods and evils that he has found so tolerable in the past. Having been gratuitously introduced to the world by a collection of natural, historical, and social accidents, he finds himself the subject of a life, with an indeterminate and not essentially limited future. Viewed in this way, death, no matter how inevitable, is an abrupt cancellation of indefinitely extensive possible goods."  (69)  Perhaps this shows the source of Nagel's mistake.  A human's sense of their own life DOES include the fact that we are going to die.  We all know this, or at least all after a certain age.  This is not not just from the outside.  We KNOW that our lives are not essentially open-ended.   There is no "indeterminate and not essentially limited future."  We KNOW that our future is essentially limited.  So it is absurd to think of death as "an abrupt cancellation of indefinitely extensive possible goods."  
  17.  Williams  notes that for Lucretius "for oneself at least, it is all the same whenever one dies, that a long life is no better than a short one.  That is to say, death is never an evil in the sense not merely that there is no one for whom dying is an evil, but that there is no time at which dying is an evil - sooner or later, it is all the same."  (75)  Williams seems to think this implies "one might aw well die earlier as later."  This is actually inconsistent with the first position.   I also think this second issue is handled by Murphy.  But is there something irrational about Lucretius' overall position.  
  18.  For Williams more life is, per se, better than less life. (81)  Therefore death cannot be nothing to us since we always want more life.  
  19.  For Williams, it is "not necessarily the prospect of pleasant times that creates the motive against dying, but the existence of categorical desire" (92)  of the sort that is described by Unamuno when he says "I do not want to die ...I want to live for ever and ever and ever.  I want this 'I' to live - this poor 'I' that I am and that I feel myself to be here and now...."  (91)
  20.  "we are naturally inclined to feel sorrow for the very person who has died, to continue to talk about him (or her), and to continue to adopt attitudes such as love and honor towards him."  Yourgrau.  138  These things are true, although when I feel sorrow for the loss of a friend I do not feel sorrow for his loss since I do not really think he has lost anything (although conventionally we say he lost his life, he dis not lose his life...he had his life.)  
  21.  How can one say that Socrates is dead?  (138)
  22.  How can one continue to love Socrates after he died"  (138)  I can continue to love Socrates since Socrates continues as an entity although not as an agent.  Socrates still has being, but has no experiences and no ability to act.  I love all the things Socrates was.  I love Socrates.  But he is dead.  I would still love Socrates even if it turned out he was a fiction of Plato.
  23.  "Death is an evil, a misfortune, and one that befalls the nonexistent themselves."  Yourgrau 138.  This I think is false.
  24.   "death is not a misfortune because it gives rise to so many unhappy grievers"  Yourgrau 140  That seems quite obviously false to me.
  25.  Dead people simply do not exist.  Yourgrau 141.  Socrates does not exist.  "Socrates" continues to exist.  Socrates continues in avatar form.  But he has no agency.  He cannot change or become.  But "Socrates" although he has no agency, can change or become.  As can any concept.  I can love "Socrates" as I can also love any fictional character.  "Socrates" cannot love me back.
  26.   "We should distinguish ...between being something, being an object...and being an existing object.  Existence is that property, delicate as an eyelid, which separates the living from the dead."  (142)   He agrees with Wittgenstein that Socrates death is not an event in his life.  So do I.  It is a genuine even but it does not befall Socrates.  So we can discuss Socrates even though he is dead.  "If the bad news is that you are going to die, the good news is that you will not 'disappear' -- i.e., become nothing."  (143)

Death is Nothing to Us: Drawing on Epicurus and Parmenides

Death is Nothing to Us:  Drawing on Epicurus and Parmenides

Thomas Leddy

San Jose State University


The Epicurean theory of death is that it is nothing to us.  In this paper I adapt and expand on this view of death.  Upon death, one achieves nonexistence.  And yet, one could argue, paradoxically, that no one actually dies since just as you cannot get something from nothing you cannot get nothing from something.  "death is nothing to us" has a double meaning:  first that it involves becoming nothing (or rather, ceasing to become), and second, it is of no concern to us.  Yet the death of a close friend IS something to us, since we grieve his or her loss.  But even here, we cannot get nothing from something.  The dead one does not become nothing.  The dead one is no more.  And yet the dead one continues, and not just in memory.  The dead have being but no longer a being that is a becoming.  In sum, the Epicurean approach to death combined with the insight of Parmenides offers consolation within the context of atheism. 

 “Death is nothing to us; for the body, when it has been resolved into its elements, has no feeling, and that which has no feeling is nothing to us.”  Epicurus.  Principle Doctrines  

Death is nothing to us, for while we exist it is not our concern, and when it comes, we are not.  We cannot experience death.  Yet, to say “I am dead” or “I will be dead” implies that there is an I that is or will be dead.  But when I am dead I no longer exist.  So, there is, then, no “I” who is dead.  It is not that when I die I become nothing.  It is that, after I die, I am not.   After death there is no being to have feeling.  If there is no feeling, no experience, then there is nothing for me to feel.  And so there is nothing for me to fear. Death is nothing to me in that an Epicurean does not care about death.  Death is not a big issue.  There is nothing to worry about after death.  To be sure, projects I was working on will never be finished by me, plans I had never actualized, after I am dead.  Yet since death is inevitable, this too cannot be avoided, and what cannot be avoided is nothing to us.

How can I care if I am dead if there is no “I” when I am dead? There is no “I” to be dead. 

Further, you cannot get nothing from something.  As Parmenides argues, What is is, and cannot not be. But Parmenides also argued that change is not possible, which goes too far since obviously false. 

The interesting thing about death is that it seems that it violates fundamental principle.  It seems that in death a thing has become nothing.  We have to realize that this is an illusion.  You cannot get nothing from something.  Death is nothing to us does not mean that in death one becomes nothing.  In death, one ceases to become.

But how can you combine Parmenides and Epicurus?  This would seem to combine idealism and materialism. 

Further, I fear death even though Parmenides and Epicurus have shown this is irrational.  Why is this?  Evolution has designed me do so.  If you die you do not maximize your genetic heritage either as a parent or as a nurturing elder.  When you die you cease to contribute.  And so nature makes us fear death. Yet reason tells us there is no reason to fear death.  

Epicurus writes, “The body receives as unlimited the limits of pleasure; and to provide it requires unlimited time. But the mind, grasping in thought what the end and limit of the body is, and banishing the terrors of futurity, procures a complete and perfect life, and has no longer any need of unlimited time. Nevertheless it does not shun pleasure, and even in the hour of death, when ushered out of existence by circumstances, the mind does not lack enjoyment of the best life.”  Epicurus.  Principle Doctrines

The first sentence here is difficult to understand.  How can anything received as unlimited have any limits?  What is the body providing?  The point begins to make sense when we get to idea that once we have accepted the Epicurean truth, one we accept that we do not need unlimited time, then we can have a complete and perfect life.  The idea of perfection is difficult here.  

If death is nothing to us, we can banish the terrors of beyond death.  If death is nothing then there is no afterlife, no heaven and no hell.   We no longer need unlimited time to live a good life.  Heaven is not needed by an Epicurean.  Even in the hour of death “the mind does not lack enjoyment of the best life.”   Death is nothing to us since we can have pleasure in life, and pleasure is even available in the last hour, although this is obviously the most difficult of pleasures.  We do say, however, It is not over till it is over. Pleasure can come in the form of a sense of completion, of fulfilment of promise. 

The death of others, however, is not nothing.  The death of my friend causes me great suffering.  So how can I say that death is nothing to me?  Here, Parmenides can help.  My friend cannot become nothing.  He did not become nothing.  He simply ceased to exist.  He ceased to be something that becomes.  Moreover, he has completed something.  His life has become an organic whole.  It now has a beginning, middle and end. 

My suffering is that he is no longer here.  But he is not elsewhere.  He is not gone in the sense of being elsewhere.  He is still here in my mind and my mind.  I read his letters and I cry.  He is present to me in his letters.

Nature compels me to mourn.  So I must mourn.  And yet you cannot get nothing from something.  My friend did not cease to exist. I mourn him because he is still there. He froze in time.  He can no longer do anything.  It is as though he had left the room.  He just won’t come back.  And yet if, per impossible, he did come back we could resume our conversation. And I can imagine that conversation.  When I read dead people it is as as if I were in conversation with them. My friend does not simply exist in my memories.  He exists in my entire world, except as dead.  People believe in religious solutions to this problem because it seems so hard to accept death.  The alternative would be to accept that nothing came from something:  that my friend became nothing.  Yet there is no other case where nothing comes from something. 

Epicurus further writes “It would be impossible to banish fear on matters of the highest importance, if a person did not know the nature of the whole universe, but lived in dread of what the legends tell us. Hence without the study of nature there was no enjoyment of unmixed pleasures.”  “There would be no advantage in providing security against our fellow humans, so long as we were alarmed by occurrences over our heads or beneath the earth or in general by whatever happens in the boundless universe.”

And in a the Letter to Menoeceus:

Take the habit of thinking that death is nothing for us. For all good and evil lie in sensation: but death is deprivation of any sensitivity. Therefore, knowledge of the truth that death is nothing to us, enables us to enjoy this mortal life, not by adding the prospect of infinite duration, but by taking away the desire of the immortality. For there is nothing left to fear in life, who really understood that out of life there is nothing terrible. So pronounced empty words when it is argued that death is feared, not because it is painful being made, but because of the wait is painful. It would indeed be a futile and pointless fear than would be produced by the expectation of something that does not cause any trouble with his presence.

And that of all the evils that gives us more horror, death is nothing to us, since we exist as ourselves, death is not, and when death exists, we are not. So death is neither the living nor the dead, since it has nothing to do with the former and the latter are not.

But the multitude sometimes flees death as the worst of evils, sometimes called as the term of the ills of life. The wise, however, does not ignore life and did not afraid of no longer living, for life he is not dependent, and it does not consider that there the lesser evil not to live “

Death is nothing to us because Epicurean truth “takes away the desire of immortality.”  We don’t need immortality because of completeness.  This factor needs to be considered.  Taking away the desire of immortality allows us to enjoy this mortal life.  That death is nothing to us intensifies our pleasure in life. 

So when we exist “as ourselves” death is not.  Death has “nothing to do with” the living. 

But what if there is a soul that exists after we die?  On this view our body dies, but the soul continues to live.  I do not believe this.  There is no sound evidence that there are souls that survive death.  There is no soul independent of the body.  Death is nothing to us.

There are some contemporary arguments against Epicurus, as we can see in the SEP article on death.  Here is one:  “we are harmed by what makes our lives as wholes worse than they otherwise would be, and benefitted by what makes our lives as wholes better than they otherwise would be” and death makes our lives worse, and therefore our own death is a harm to us….  According to comparativism, when a death is bad for us despite not making us accrue intrinsic evils such as pain, it is bad for us because it precludes our coming to have various intrinsic goods which we would have had if we had not died. We might say that death is bad for us because of the goods it deprives us of, and not, or at least not always, because of any intrinsic evils for which it is responsible….”

The last point in the Principle Doctrines is “40.  Those who were best able to provide themselves with the means of security against their neighbors, being thus in possession of the surest guarantee, passed the most agreeable life in each other's society; and their enjoyment of the fullest intimacy was such that, if one of them died before his time, the survivors did not mourn his death as if it called for sympathy.”  


“Accustom thyself to believe that death is nothing to us, for good and evil imply sentience, and death is the privation of all sentience ; therefore a right understanding that death is nothing to us makes the mortality of life enjoyable, not by adding to life an illimitable time, but by taking away the yearning after immortality. [125] For life has no terrors for him who has thoroughly apprehended that there are no terrors for him in ceasing to live. Foolish, therefore, is the man who says that he fears death, not because it will pain when it comes, but because it pains in the prospect. Whatsoever causes no annoyance when it is present, causes only a groundless pain in the expectation. Death, therefore, the most awful of evils, is nothing to us, seeing that, when we are, death is not come, and, when death is come, we are not. It is nothing, then, either to the living or to the dead, for with the living it is not and the dead exist no longer.133 But in the world, at one time men shun death as the greatest of all evils, and at another time choose it as a respite from the evils in life. [126] The wise man does not deprecate life nor does he fear the cessation of life. The thought of life is no offence to him, nor is the cessation of life regarded as an evil. And even as men choose of food not merely and simply the larger portion, but the more pleasant, so the wise seek to enjoy the time which is most pleasant and not merely that which is longest. And he who admonishes the young to live well and the old to make a good end speaks foolishly, not merely because of the desirableness of life, but because the same exercise at once teaches to live well and to die well. Much worse is he who says that it were good not to be born, but when once one is born to pass with all speed through the gates of Hades.134 [127] For if he truly believes this, why does he not depart from life ? It were easy for him to do so, if once he were firmly convinced. If he speaks only in mockery, his words are foolishness, for those who hear believe him not.”

Note “when we are, death has not come.”  One reason why death is nothing to us is that it is no concern to us now.  We exist.  We are not dead.  When death comes, we no longer are.

But it is thought that “Death is a harm to the person who dies because it deprives him of certain goods- the goods he would have enjoyed if he had not died.”  (Li  2002  44)  Who is being deprived of goods?  When you are dead you are no longer a person.  You cannot be deprived of goods if you are dead.  There seems to be a trick of language in here.  What sense can be made of “deprived of goods he would have enjoyed if he had not died”?  It is true that I have interest in certain things happening and not happening after I die. 



Fischer, John Martin  ed.  The Metaphysics of Death.  Stanford University Press, 1993.  

Konstan, David, "Epicurus", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2018 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>.

Li, Jack. Can Death Be a Harm to the Person Who Dies? Dordrecht ;: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2002.

Luper, Steven, "Death", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2021 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>.

Rosenbaum, Stephen E. “How to Be Dead and Not Care: A Defense of Epicurus.” American Philosophical Quarterly 23, no. 2 (1986): 217–25.

Tim, "Death is nothing to us – Epicurus, February 1, 2022, " in Philosophy & Philosophers, February 1, 2022,

Death and Aesthetics

 Spinoza writes, “A free man, that is to say, a man who lives according to the dictates of reason alone, is not led by fear of death, but directly desires the good, that is to say, desires to act, and to preserve his being in accordance with the principle of seeking his own profit. He thinks, therefore, of nothing less than death, and his wisdom is a meditation upon life.”  Ethics 4 68.

Death is nothing to us, says Epicurus.  For Spinoza, a free man is someone who lives according to reason and does not therefore fear death.  He follows the "principle of seeking his own profit" which seems like a kind of egoism, but really, in the end, is not.  The free man has a wisdom that is "a meditation upon life."  We meditate on the joys of life, on the pleasures of life, on the goods of life.  Many, perhaps most, of those goods are aesthetic.  The Epicurean sees this.  Death is nothing to us means meditate on the goods of life, which is to say the goods of us as sensuous embodied beings.  These goods are, mainly, aesthetic goods.  Death is nothing to us and thus we should follow the philosophy of Pater.  Maximize the moments of aesthetic perfection in life.  

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

The Philosophy of Andy Warhol and Everyday Aesthetics

 An important event in the life of Andy Warhol was when he was shot.  In The Philosophy of Andy Warhol, he imagines how a close friend (called “B”) might describe this event to him.  However we need to understand that whatever a B says (an B stands for any close friend) throughout this work it is just as likely an expression of Warhol’s own views (Warhol uses A for himself): 

"The founder of the Society for Cutting Up Men [the shooter] wanted you to produce a script she'd written and you weren't interested and she just came up to your work studio one afternoon. There were a lot of people there and you were talking on the telephone. You didn't know her too well and she just walked in off the elevator and started shooting. Your mother was really upset. You thought she'd die of it. Your brother was really fabulous, the one who's a priest. He came up to your room and showed you how to do needlepoint. I'd taught him how in the lobby!"

As with many of his vignettes this one is quite funny.  The first four sentences are straightforward.  But, as with Nietzsche’s aphorisms, the twist comes at the end.  The next two sentences make sense since Warhol was close to his mother, although they are written in a deadpan way.  The last two sentences are more philosophically interesting.  His brother is typecast…he is a priest.  But he is not “fabulous” in the way priests are supposed to be.  Instead, he shows Andy how to do needlepoint, an everyday life skill used as a hobby more often by women than men in our society. The priest does the opposite of what he is supposed to do qua priest, i.e. directing Andy to God, especially at this moment when, according to his mother, he might die.  He learns this skill from B just before coming up to Andy’s room.  Divine salvation is rejected in favor of everyday life.

In this paper I will interpret The Philosophy of Andy Warhol as an important contribution to the aesthetics of everyday life, and, more broadly, to "life aesthetics" in general. (I have been influenced by several contemporary Chinese aestheticians in stressing the latter.)  But first we must deal with a possible confusion.  When most philosophers hear the name "Andy Warhol" in relation to aesthetics they immediately think of Arthur Danto.  Throughout his life, Danto frequently referred to the moment he walked into the Stable Gallery in New York City and saw Warhol’s Brillo Boxes as the moment in which he discovered the essence of art.  He first wrote about this in in his famous "The Artworld" in 1964.  But in 1975 Warhol writes this book which, I shall argue, basically refutes Danto’s entire philosophy of art.  Danto’s point was that Warhol provided him with an insight that gave him his definition of art.  That definition changed over the years, but basically, as in 1964, it was that something is art if it can be seen as art by someone with appropriate art historical knowledge.  In being seen as art it has the “is” of artistic identification.  Danto had asked what makes the Brillo Boxes art and their indiscernible counterparts in a warehouse owned by the Brillo Corporation not art. The answer is that because Warhol’s boxes are in an art gallery at a particular time in art history they are appropriately seen as art, i.e. appropriately seen under the artist’s interpretation, i.e. under Warhol's interpretation.  Brillo Boxes had been “transfigured” into the world of art.  

Danto shows himself to be essentially a dualist in that he holds that there are two realms:  the realm of art and the realm of “mere things.”  Of course this does not make him a dualist in the classical sense, for he does not hold that the realm of art is a realm of souls or a spiritual realm.  But his use of the term “transfiguration” should be taken seriously.  Just as Jesus is transfigured into the realm of heaven, so too the boxes are transfigured into the realm of art.   As Danto says later, the Brillo Boxes in the gallery have “aboutness” whereas brillo boxes, as "mere things," do not.  Thus even if we assumed that Danto did not literally believe in anything supernatural we can also assume that the structure of his theory is dualist.  

As a result, it would make no sense to Danto for us to talk about the aesthetics of everyday life.  Aesthetics has been reduced to the Philosophy of Art, and Philosophy of Art to Danto's own definition of art.  Moreover, for Danto, aesthetics isn’t important anyway since Brillo Boxes and the brillo boxes on the factory floor have the same look and hence the same “aesthetics.”  What distinguishes them is something the eye cannot descry!  The art work is a physical object plus its interpretation.  It is its interpretation that makes it art, just as, for a Christian, a person is a body plus a soul, and it is the soul that makes a person a person.

Warhol, writing nine years later, pretty much refutes Danto, and retroactively, since what Warhol really meant had nothing ever to do with the apotheosis of objects into the art world or the creation of art as a two-sided thing, mere material object as body, and meaning as soul.  This idea, which Danto, none-too-originally, shared with earlier writers such as R. G. Collingwood, is deconstructed by Warhol's book.  The point of Warhol, even back in 1964, was deconstruction the world/artworld dichotomy, NOT setting up a wall between the two or a situation in which one is privileged and the other is only "mere."   

One cannot read TPAW as a normal book.  It is more like an aphoristic work by Nietzsche.  What readers have not generally recognized however is that it has a complexity of structure, and considerable depth.  It consists of fifteen chapters:  Love (Puberty), Love (Prime), Love (Senility), Beauty, Fame, Work, Time, Death, Economics, Atmosphere, Success, Art, Titles, The Tingle, Underwear Power.  The chapters most relevant to the concerns of aestheticians are Beauty, Atmosphere, and the last four.  The Tingle is worth an article on everyday aesthetics of its own since it is an obsessive dialogue between B and A about cleaning one’s apartment where it can be seen that cleaning can transcend mere cleaning and can take on an aura of its own, perhaps even of the sublime.  Underwear Power does something similar in relation to the activity of shopping.  However I will focus here on the early chapters and their relation to the aesthetics of everyday life and more broadly the aesthetics of life.

I say “life aesthetics” or "aesthetics of life" since in part I want to forestall those who would say that the art and work of Andy Warhol is as far from “the everyday” as one can get.  He seemed the apostle of fame and glamour.  Although he was fascinated by fame and glamour he was equally fascinated with the everyday.  One could say that he devoted his life to making the extraordinary seem ordinary and the ordinary seem extraordinary. 


It is significant that Warhol said “I believed in bluejeans too” in the context of talking about the value of uniforms.  Jeans were treated as uniforms in the early 1970s.  They were essential to everyday life.  Everyone wore them as a symbol of solidarity with the cultural left (the hippie movement) and the political left.  But Warhol treats them as objects of aesthetic delight. 

"The ones made by Levi Strauss are the best-cut, best-looking pair of pants that have ever been designed by anybody. Nobody will ever top the original bluejeans. They can't be bought old, they have to be bought new and they have to be worn in by the person. To get that look. And they can't be phoney bleached or phoney anything. You know that little pocket? It's so crazy to have that little little pocket, like for a twenty-dollar gold piece."

Bluejeans are not aesthetically simple.  There are levels of quality, for example Levi Strauss being at the top for a variety of reasons, including cut.  One aspect of their aesthetic excellence is that they are the originals.  However, there are those who intrude a phoney aesthetic onto jeans, where they think that the jeans have to look worn and that this is best effected inauthentically by various means that do not actually involve the owner wearing them for a long time.  Authentic beauty in jeans requires that something about the history of the jeans must obtain.  Another example of the phoneyness is the  bleaching of the jeans.  But an example of charming authenticity is the little pocket, which was more likely there for a small watch then for a gold piece.  

We realize that Warhol must have done thorough research on them, say in an encyclopedia, since the information and the set of aesthetic issues are essentially the same as those found in the wikipedia article.

he dialogue continues, when B says "French bluejeans?" and A replies "No, American are the best. Levi Strauss. With the little copper buttons. Studded for evening wear." "How do you keep them clean, B?" "You wash them." "Do you iron them?"

As observed in the anonymous Wikipedia article, the little copper buttons, which were put in for structural support, also had a secondary aesthetic function.  Thus, having the buttons which look  nonfunctional, yet are not, is enhancing.  

The talk about American being the best again has to do with authenticity, in this case cultural authenticity, even though that authenticity has its own inauthenticity in that one might think that jeans arose in cultural consciousness because of construction workers or cowboys, but it was really movie stars, westerns, and youth rebellion, all distinctly American that gave jeans their meaning.  Another sign of inauthenticity would be ironing:   "No, I put fabric softener. The only person who irons them is Geraldo Rivera." Ironing them would be inauthentic in the very way that Geraldo Rivera, with his fake hair and manner, was notoriously inauthentic, possibly the paradigm of inauthenticity.

A says "This talk of bluejeans was making me very jealous. Of Levi and Strauss. I wish I could invent something like bluejeans. Something to be remembered for. Something mass." It may strike one as odd that Andy Warhol envied anyone, and yet from his perspective, having this kind of impact on the aesthetics of everyday life would be massive, hence the reference to “mass.”  Of course he is remembered by us for his art.  It would be inventing jeans or something like that in the way Levi and Strauss did, something both tasteful and nearly universal, that he would consider truly memorable.  

On the Aesthetic Republic under a Warhol Presidency

"Oh, A," B said impulsively, "you should be President! If you were President, you would have somebody else be President for you, right?" This riff on being President is related to the idea of cultural importance.  Warhol would make a good President because he would delegate responsibility in a radically democratic way.

B says:  "You'd be just right for the Presidency. You would videotape everything. You would have a nightly talk show—your own talk show as President. You'd have somebody else come on, the other President that's the President for you, and he would talk your diary out to the people, every night for half an hour. And that would come before the news, What the President Did Today. So there would be no flack about the President does nothing or the President just sits around. Every day he'd have to tell us what he did, if he had sex with his wife . . . You'd have to say you played with your dog Archie—it's the perfect name for the President's pet—and what bills you had to sign and why you didn't want to sign them, who was rotten to you in Congress . . . You'd have to say how many long-distance phone calls you made that day. You'd have to tell what you ate in the private dining room, and you'd show on the television screen the receipts you paid for private food for yourself. For your Cabinet you would have people who were not politicians. Robert Scull would be head of Economics because he would know how to buy early and sell big. You wouldn't have any politicians around at all. You'd take all the trips and tape them. You'd play back all the tapes with foreign people on TV. And when you wrote a letter to anyone in Congress you would have it Xeroxed and sent to every paper."

At this time in his life Warhol was obsessed with a tape recorder he had.  He took it with him everywhere and taped every conversation he could.  He referred to the tape recorder ironically as his wife.  

Warhol realizes, as we found with Trump, that the Presidency is the ultimate platform for popularity and fame.  Unlike Trump, who was, after all, not a talk show host but a Reality TV host (a very different, less intellectual thing) Warhol would make his Presidency a nightly talk show, thus raising the level of intellectual discourse on a daily basis for the entire country.

My philosophy of everyday aesthetics has to do not just with description but also with serious thinking about the ideals of everyday life, as for example was engaged in by such thinkers as William Morris and Le Corbusier.   

Note that Warhol as President would not consume a great deal of time and space:  his show would be half an hour every night, and it would involve talking out his diary, which would be the same sort of stuff we are getting in this book, that is, reflections on the aesthetics of everyday life.  That is why it would come before the News.  News, in an important way, is NOT about everyday life, or ordinary things.  It is about murder and wars and other such things.  If it were everyday stuff it would not be “news.”  So although we may see the news every day, and although that is part, then, of our everyday experience, the news itself is precisely NOT a window onto anyone’s everyday world qua everyday. 

What is everyday includes such mundane, but probably immensely important, stuff as having sex with your wife or playing with your dog, and the work of actually signing bill, and the worries over moments of disrespect from colleagues, and what and where you age, including how you financed that eating.  So Warhol as President would be a hero of returning to the everyday.  The rest of the aphorism, if I may call it that, is influenced by Plato probably.  We are talking here about an ideal aesthetic republic here.  So instead of politicians Warhol would hire experts to, for example, buy and sell properly. And unlike Nixon or Trump or multiple other politicians, Warhol would tape but never hide his tapes.  So too with letters.  Total transparency.  Of course he would not agree with Plato’s idea of the noble lie.  So his politics would combine expertise and democratic openness in a way much more conducive to harmony, which was after all Plato’s own goal, then Plato’s own Republic.

B says:  "You'd be a nice President. You wouldn't take up too much space, you'd have a tiny office like you have now. You'd change the law so you could keep anything anybody gave you while you were in office, because you're a Collector. And you'd be the first nonmarried President. And in the end you'd be famous because you'd write a book: 'How I Ran the Country Without Even Trying.' Or if that sounded wrong, 'How I Ran the Country with Your Help.' That might sell better. Just think, if you were President right now, there'd be no more First Lady. Only a First Man."

 This relates not only to politics but also to ethics, one based on aesthetics.  So niceness is more important than duty since niceness demands empathy and sympathy, which require imagination, which is the aesthetic faculty.  This faculty would compel him to be an aesthetic minimalist President in his tiny office.  He would not take up airs.  He would not let ego take over.  Also, along an aesthetic dimension, Warhol allows for primacy given to collecting of loveable objects.  And of course he is a Taoist, trying to achieve goodness in the state through action through non-action, i.e. through aesthetic simplicity.   The Taoist says you can run the country best when you follow the Way and do not even try.  You do not make being the ruler a matter of power and glory but a matter of elegant action that achieves harmony as in the work of a master craftsman.  And then it is no surprise that the alternative version of his book entails a great democratic modesty, more appropriate to the true spirit of America.  So, the title of “First” is moved from the pathetic secondary position of the first lady to the primary position of a man of excellence who follows the Tao and actualizes will to power in an authentic way, to paraphrase Nietzsche. 

 “You'd have no live-in maid at the White House. A B would come in a little early to clean up. And then the other Bs would file down to Washington to see you just like they file in to see you at the Factory. It would be just like the Factory, all bulletproof. Visitors would have to get past your hairdressers. And you'd take your extra-private hairdresser with you. Can't you see her in her inflatable jacket, ready for war at any moment? Do you realize there's no reason you couldn't be President of the United States? You know all the bigwigs who could get you in, all of society, all the rich people, and that's all anyone's ever needed to get to be President. I don't know why you don't declare yourself in the running right away. Then people would know you weren't just a big joke. I want you to say every time you look at yourself in the mirror, 'Politics: Washington, D.C.' I mean, quit fooling around with the Rothschilds. Forget about those long trips to Montauk in the Rollses. Think about a little helicopter to Camp David. What a camp it would be. You'd have such a camp. Do you realize the opportunity of the White House? A, you've been into Politics since the day I met you. You do everything in a political way. Politics can mean doing a poster that has Nixon's face on it, and says 'Vote Mc-Govern.'"

Warhol recognizes the inevitable hypocrisy of everyday life when one hires maids.  In our household we learned this I think per necessity during the pandemic.  Previously we had cleaners who came in once every two weeks.  We prided ourselves in our democratic treatment of them.  But that was false in a way.  After he had to lay them off because we were in partial quarantine, we had to clean everything as the same level of perfection once per week.  We achieved this, and by doing so we avoided the hypocrisy of false smug appeals to democratic sentiments.  We also became much more mindful, along the lines of Thich Nhat Hanh of the minutiae of dirt and grime, and ofthe subtle joys of cleanliness. 

His Factory and His Business

It is wonderful the way Warhol conceived his own studio workplace as something everyday by calling it a factory and treating it as such.  We are just a business, he implied.  We on the outside always saw the setup as one of glamour.  But it was quite the opposite, just as it was the opposite of Danto’s idea of an isolated Artworld.  To repeat my introduction, Warhol was the non-Danto.  So, instead of the Presidential world being like Plato’s world of Forms or Kant’s transcendent or transcendental domain, Warhol’s Presidency would not involve a President-World (Danto being himself just another Platonist with dualist assumptions and thin surface of anti-dualism) or an Artworld, but just another factory making things for the people.


Warhol insists “I've never met a person I couldn't call a beauty.” (61)  He sees beauty everywhere.  This makes him like one of my ideals in the aesthetics of everyday life:  Plato’s Diotima, who speaks of the ladder of love in which the rung next to the top is one in which we see a vast sea of beauty.  As Warhol puts it, “Every person has beauty at some point in their lifetime.” (61)  He does not share the common belief that personal beauty is stable and exclusive.  As he says, “Sometimes they have the looks when they're a baby and they don't have it when they're grown up, but then they could get it back again when they're older. Or they might be fat but have a beautiful face. Or have bow-legs but a beautiful body.”  (61)  Neither beauty nor ugliness is permanently attached to any person.  I know a woman who is obese, and yet she spends a couple hours day attending to her face.  She is perhaps beautiful in that one area.   

Experience of personal beauty and evaluation of it is part of the aesthetics of everyday life.  Like an ordinary language philosopher, Warhol thinks about what we say when we use the word “beauty”: 

“I always hear myself saying, "She's a beauty!" or "He's a beauty!" or "What a beauty!" but I never know what I'm talking about. I honestly don't know what beauty is, not to speak of what "a" beauty is. So that leaves me in a strange position, because I'm noted for how much I talk about "this one's a beauty" and "that one's a beauty." For a year once it was in all the magazines that my next movie was going to be The Beauties. The publicity for it was great, but then I could never decide who should be in it. If everybody's not a beauty, then nobody is, so I didn't want to imply that the kids in The Beauties were beauties but the kids in my other movies weren't so I had to back out on the basis of the title. It was all wrong.”

In short, everybody is a beauty.  Warhol is quite aware that he is doing philosophy.  He even pins down the difference between beauty and “a beauty.”  He can judge it, but cannot define it.  He further says: “I really don't care that much about "Beauties." What I really like are Talkers. To me, good talkers are beautiful because good talk is what I love.”

This could be straight out of the Symposium.  Diotima places love of the soul of the interlocutor at a higher stage of the ladder of love than mere physical beauty.

Unlike Plato, however, Warhol prioritizes fun.  He just thinks it more fun to be with talkers, and generally, with people who are doing things, than with beauties, who are just being something.  “Fun,” we might also observe, is a primary category in the aesthetics of everyday life.

Warhol’s Platonism extends to his handling of portraiture. He observes that, “[w]hen I did my self-portrait, I left all the pimples out because you always should. Pimples are a temporary condition and they don't have anything to do with what you really look like. Always omit the blemishes—they're not part of the good picture you want.” This must have been how the idealistic Greek sculptors saw it too.

Returning to the question of relativism, Warhol says “When a person is the beauty of their day, and their looks are really in style, and then the times change and tastes change, and ten years go by, if they keep exactly their same look and don't change anything and if they take care of themselves, they'll still be a beauty.”  This seems to imply there can be a kind of permanence even in a world dominated by fashion.

For Warhol, there are certain looks and styles that are eternal in a way in that they are right as long as authentic: “Schrafft's restaurants were the beauties of their day, and then they tried to keep up with the times and they modified and modified until they lost all their charm and were bought by a big company. But if they could just have kept their same look and style, and held on through the lean years when they weren't in style, today they'd be the best thing around. You have to hang on in periods when your style isn't popular, because if it's good, it'll come back, and you'll be a recognized beauty once again.”

Warhol spends considerable time thinking about what does and does not make one a beauty.  It might be a matter of lighting, as good lighting can make all the difference.  He makes a big difference between a temporary beauty problem and a permanent one.  "Being clean is so important. Well-groomed people are the real beauties. It doesn't matter what they're wearing or who they're with or how much their jewelry costs or how much their clothes cost or how perfect their makeup is: if they're not clean, they're not beautiful. The most plain or unfashionable person in the world can still be beautiful if they're very well-groomed."  Previously I had written about cleanliness, but in fact it is very important to beauty.