Why one eminent thinker believes philosophy belongs in the pub — and kitchen

Lewis Gordon is an academic. But he argues that confining thinking to the academy has resulted in people forgetting that philosophy “has something important to say.” He helps remedy the situation with this warm, funny talk, recorded in a historic pub in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

'The action in philosophy is the communication, the thinking through the ideas,' says philosopher Lewis Gordon

Lewis Gordon is Afro-Jewish. He has long dreadlocks and in this photo he is wearing a blue shirt and his elbows are on a table with his arms up and hands near his face. You can see his watch and gold bracelets.
Philosophy has a reputation as a formal, academic endeavour. But thinker and author Lewis Gordon believes it can be discussed on a walk, in bed, or just about anywhere. When Memorial University invited him to speak at a historic pub in St. John's, Nfld., he agreed, saying ‘that’s my jam.’ (Hady Ba)

Philosopher Lewis Gordon loves to travel — geographically and intellectually.

"We — 2023 humanity — live on a tiny planet. And as I go around it many times, what I've learned is how small it is. It's really bizarre that people are always fighting and creating all kinds of nonsense when it's like, yo, if this lifeboat flips over, we're gone." 

Gordon is Afro-Jewish, Caribbean-born, and New York-raised. He teaches now at the University of Connecticut. Steeped in the deep history of Black thought, as well as that of the ancient Greeks, he thinks as much about contemporary political issues as he does about existentialism and phenomenology. 

"We're in a world where there is such suppression of the life, the humanity, in thought — that people are forgetting why many disciplines, including philosophy, have something important to say." 

That's what brought the thinker and musician to the Ship's Inn, a well-known pub in St. John's, Newfoundland, on a blustery island night last March. Gordon took off his shoes, greeted the crowd from the bar's music stage, and invited them to join him in thinking about philosophical ideas relevant to life, from the transformative nature of love, to the fight for freedom. 

"Most of the time when I mentor students or colleagues, they come and I'm cooking and we go for hours. Sometimes we don't make it to the dining room because the ideas are just so rich. So much philosophy came out of the kitchen."

Birdseye view of a table full of food and people around it enjoying it
Gordon is a world philosopher, a political thinker and a musician who loves to cook in his big kitchen. He says 'most philosophy is done when you're cooking and you're talking in kitchens.' (Shutterstock)

The first half of the talk addressed the first half of its title, From the Kitchen and the Pub. Gordon argued for the everyday relevance of thinking, and reflected on the vital place of food, drink, and conversation in the making of thought. 

The second half of the talk explored its subtitle, Four Africana Philosophical Themes for our Times. This thought, from Africa and the Global South, shifts perspective on discussions of reality, and of freedom, and makes plain the damage of colonialism, racism, and sexism. 

"If some extraterrestrials were to come here and enslave this entire bar, this entire pub — getting the hell out of that would be on your mind. So if you're going to make an age dominated by colonialism, enslavement, exploitation, etc., then liberation and freedom is on the mind of people."

Lewis Gordon gave this talk on March 19, 2023. It was part of the St. John's Public Lecture Series in Philosophy, presented by Memorial University of Newfoundland, and recorded by Shannon Hoff.

Guests in this episode:

Lewis Gordon is a professor and head of the philosophy department at the University of Connecticut. He's the author of Fear of Black Consciousness (2022). 

Antoine Gillett is a master's student in philosophy at Memorial University, and co- founder of the group Philosophy from the Margins.

Shannon Hoff is an associate professor of philosophy at Memorial University. 

*This episode was produced by Lisa Godfrey.


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