Professor Benjamin Shaeffer is kind of a big deal

Professor Benjamin Shaeffer is kind of a big deal and he doesnt wanna get a real job.

 the philosophy professor sat down with Symposium Says’ very own ex-stuffed animal collector to answer some questions…

Benjamin, tell me, how does it feel to be kind of a big deal?

[laughs] It feels pretty big.

What’s your sign?


haha. No seriously, tell me what your sign is so I know whether or not we are going to get along during this interview..

Okay. Taurus.

aaahhh. Trent Reznor is also a Taurus. 


Singer of Nine Inch Nails.

aaahhh. Not really a fan.

Well he’s talented at least, with the whole making music thing.

Ya, well, he’s kind of a lesser deal.

Gonna pretend you did not say that. Im sort of ‘fragile.’ Anyway, so were you fortunate enough to get your teaching job right after you finished your PhD?

I actually got the teaching job at Humboldt before I started writing my dissertation.

Getting job before PhD…nice! Definitely foreshadowing future big dealdom.      

B-Shae, arms crossed, center. Gonna get our Party on at the 2010 American Philosophical Association in San Fran. An event for kind of big deals only.

So, youve been  a professor of philosophy for over 15 years. I once asked you why you decided to become a philosophy instructor. You replied with, “because I didn’t wanna get a Real Job.” Now, let’s say being a philosophy professor was no longer a viable job. Which Real Job would you pursue?

 Id be a mycologist and study mushrooms…or maybe study squids and their ilk.  Or maybe be a paleontologist…or a conceptual artist. I heard about a woman who lived like a dog for a week, walking around on all fours, peeing on carpets, etc. Sounds kind of fun…

Peeing on carpets for the sake of Art. Another reason contemporary art surpasses all those old boring oil paintings of Jesus Christ on the cross. Seriously.

Ok. So, youve mentioned to me how you despise movies that are explicitly philosophical or “preachy” about philosophy. Movies such as The Matrix, Waking Life, Mindwalk, Pretty Woman, Home Alone, etc. Now, what particular “philosophical” film do you enjoy that doesn’t shout out “hey we are talking about Descartes and really DEEP SHIT here!”? That is, if you were to do a Philosophy and Film course, what would be some movies youd like to discuss?

Being There. Total Recall. Blade Runner. The 7th seal. Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors.

Alright. Woody Allen. Discuss.


statue of Woody fantasizing about Scarlett


Love him. Genius. Manhattan, Annie Hall, Hannah And Her Sisters, Crimes And Misdemeanors…

Yeah, Woody is definitely kind of a big deal. Speaking of Woody Allen, did you celebrate Cinco de Mayo in any way? Are you more lime margarita or strawberry?

I ate a burrito on Cinco de Mayo. And strawberry blended for sure. On the rocks is for squares.

Speaking of Mexico, what’s up with Arizona getting all racist toward Mexicans? If you were touring with My Morning Jacket, would you want to boycott Arizona and not play a show there?

Revulsion. It’s nothing new for Arizona. It took Arizona forever to honor Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Ugh, serious issues. Let’s move on…

Years ago, the HSU Philosophy Department once contacted UC Berkeley philosopher John Searle in hopes of having him come up to Humboldt and wax philosophical with fellow Deep Thinkers. But I heard he was all about the Benjamins and wanted a private jet or some shit. So, is John Searle kind of a big deal? Or is his book ‘Speech Acts’ so three decades ago?

He’s a minor big deal. That whole thing happened before I was teaching at HSU. But yeah, I heard he wanted a lot of money. However, Im trying to get AC Grayling from the University of London to come to HSU for a conference on religion and science.

Brits4lyfe, just sayin. Now, Ive attended a few of your lectures where youd bring the classroom outside with the whiteboard and lecture out on the grass, in the sun, with the birds and the creepy crawlers. Do you think the Greeks had it best with “doing philosophy” outside, sittin on rocks? Or is a Parisian Café the most optimal location for “doing philosophy”?

The café would be best. Outside is distracting…plus you can get a latte at the cafe.

I think the Greeks and the Cafeians are both missing out. Contemporary Americans get to “do philosophy” at Jack in the Box! Id like some 99 cent tacos to go with my animal ethics, please. Extra hot sauce.

Speaking of that boooring topic of ethics/rightandwrong stuff, there’s that train example commonly used in Intro To Ethics courses… Someone is controlling a train and must choose to pull the lever that will put him on track to kill one person or to pull the lever that will put him on track to kill five people. It’s supposed to make you think deeply on moral decisions and Life. So, would you choose to kill the one person or the five? And do you think Greyhound should use the Train Dilemma as advertisement for why we should travel by bus instead of train?

[laughs] Yes, Greyhound should use the train dilemma for advertisement. If there are only two choices, sorry to the one person.

A friend of mine says I once told him you told me that The Dark Knight was just “kids stuff” to you. I honestly don’t remember you telling me this. But is it true? And if so, Why So Serious?

[laughs] Why so serial? I cant say I don’t feel that way. The guy is still dressed up as a bat.

Bruce Wayne wondering if dressing up as a bat is kind of gay, but realizing that dressing up as a bat is the only possible disguise when fighting crime


But dude, The Dark Knight is from Christopher Nolan, who is also kind of a big deal and directed Memento.

I wasnt really impressed by Memento. It didnt really do it for me.

Memento kicks any Woody Allen neurosis any day. Remember that, Benjamin.

Lastly, I hear the instructor who normally teaches 19th century philosophy at HSU is retiring. What are your thoughts on possibly Teaching Hegel?

Uuuuuhhh I tried. It ended in tears of frustration. When I first started teaching, I was young and brash and figured “oh Ill just teach it.” I would understand it a bit better if I taught Hegel now…but I wont be teaching it because John Powell probably will. 

Powell would teach Hegel. He’s such a good samaritan.

Benjamin Shaeffer, thanks for sitting down with me and thank YOU for being kind of a big deal. KIT yo.

Benjamin Shaeffer teaches philosophy at Humboldt State University in Arcata, CA. Some of his favorite courses to teach are 17th Century Rationalism, Pre-Socratics Through Aristotle, Political Theory and Epistemology And Metaphysics. When he isnt getting his philosophy on, he works as the sports announcer for the Arcata Crabs baseball team. His favorite words of wisdom is in the form of a question: WWKD? (What Would Captain Kirk Do?)

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