Retrograde. Bamboozlement! More Bamboozlement!

About Thinkers, Philosophers, Bulls and Goats

Rodin's The Thinker
The Thinker

I was lonesomer than Crusoe's goat.
- O. Henry

The image of the thinker as a withdrawn figure, wrapped up in himself, is hopelessly out of date. Today, when ideas have to compete in the market place, they have to get out of the books, learn to look bright and inviting, and the person who has thought them up has to make sure that they do not age too soon.
That there is always some pawing, and even mauling, is only to be expected since this is part of the game. The promise of a wider circulation more than compensates for the risk. When the words of a philosopher go singing and screaming into the media, who wants to find out what he really means? Even a cult figure like Sartre often loses track of his own thoughts in the thick of publicity.

This is an entry in my cousin brother’s diary which I stole. Writer unknown.


A philosopher while going on a morning walk saw bulls with bells tied in their necks. Growing curious, he enquired of the farmer walking behind the bulls, “Why do you tie the bells to the necks of the bulls?” The farmer answered, “So that, when they are away from my sight, I couls know their movement by the chiming of the bells”. “And suppose they do not move and just shake their heads while standing still,” the philosopher raised an intelligent query. “Well, they are bulls, not philosophers”, retorted the farmer.

- A joke about Philosophers and Bulls. Another entry from my cousin’s diary.


About that O. Henry quote:
The line is from the book The Hiding of Black Bill
The footnote to that line in the book reads:
Robinson Crusoe is the main character in Daniel Defoes’s novel The Life and Strange Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Marine (1719). In the novel, Crusoe is shipwrecked on a desert island for many years; the island abound in feral goats, which he domesticates and raises for food and milk.



  1. Philosopher and Scarecrow
    Once I said to a scarecrow, "You must be tired of standing in this lonely field."
    And he said, "The joy of scaring is a deep and lasting on, and I never tire of it."
    Said I, after a minute of thought, "It is true; for I too have known that joy."
    Said he, "Only those who are stuffed with straw can know it."
    Then I left him, not knowing whether he had complimented or belittled me.
    A year passed, during which the scarecrow turned philosopher.
    And when I passed by him again I saw two crows building a nest under his hat.

    THE SCARECROW by Khalil Gibran
    --From The Madman His Parables and Poems (1918)

  2. […]I do not know why, but I have never seen a machine that, however perfect in the philosophers' description, is perfect in its mechanical functioning. Whereas a peasant’s billhook, which no philosopher has ever described, always functions as it should […]

    - William of Baskerville in Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose


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