Why one eminent thinker believes philosophy belongs in the pub — and kitchen
'The action in philosophy is the communication, the thinking through the ideas,' says philosopher Lewis Gordon
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."
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:
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.
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.