Famous Philosophers Imagined as Action Figures: Plunderous Plato, Dangerous Descartes & More


Amer­i­cans do not live in a cul­ture that val­ues phi­los­o­phy. I could go on about the deep veins of anti-intel­lec­tu­al­ism that run under the coun­try like fault lines or nat­ur­al gas deposits, but I won’t. Let’s just say that we favor more obvi­ous dis­plays of prowess: feats of strength, agili­ty, and phys­i­cal vio­lence, for exam­ple, of the super­hero vari­ety. With this fact in mind, first-year grad­u­ate stu­dent Ian Van­de­walk­er decid­ed he “want­ed to do some­thing that would bring a dis­ci­pline that is often seen as dif­fi­cult, eso­teric, and even irrel­e­vant, into new light—especially in the eyes of young peo­ple.” Remem­ber­ing a poster he once saw of “an action fig­ure of Adam Smith with Invis­i­ble Hand action,” Van­de­walk­er decid­ed he would com­bine his own love of toys and phi­los­o­phy into a philoso­pher action fig­ure series he called “Philo­soph­i­cal Pow­ers!” Here are just a few of Vandewalker’s cre­ations, designed some­what like pro­fes­sion­al wrestlers, with their var­i­ous leagues and range of epi­thets.

He begins at the tra­di­tion­al begin­ning, with fig­ures of “Plun­der­ous Pla­to” and “Arro­gant Aris­to­tle” (above), “The Angry Ancients.” Aris­to­tle, known as the “peri­patet­ic” philoso­pher, has only one pow­er: “walk­ing.” His qual­i­ty is attest­ed by a rather cir­cu­lar syl­lo­gism: “All Philo­soph­i­cal Pow­ers fig­ures are total­ly awe­some. This toy is a Philo­soph­i­cal Pow­ers fig­ure. There­fore, this toy is total­ly awe­some.” Like much of Aristotle’s deduc­tive rea­son­ing, the argu­ment is air­tight, pro­vid­ed one accept the truth of its premis­es.


In the cat­e­go­ry of “Con­tu­me­lious Con­ti­nen­tal Ratio­nal­ists,” who began the revolt against those Aris­totelian “Mer­ci­less Medievals,” we have “Dan­ger­ous Descartes.” René Decartes may have claimed to doubt everything—every prin­ci­ple that Aris­to­tle took for granted—but he fell prey to his own errors, hence his action figure’s weak­ness, the “Carte­sian cir­cle.” Decartes’ method of doubt pro­duced its own brand of dual­is­tic cer­tain­ty about his own exis­tence as a “think­ing thing,” and the exis­tence of God, hence “cer­tain­ty” is one of his action figure’s strengths.


Skip­ping ahead over a cen­tu­ry, we have the lone fig­ure in “The Abom­inable Absolute Ide­al­ist” series, “Hate­ful Hegel.” Hegel is the ulti­mate sys­tem­atiz­er whose embrace of con­tra­dic­tion can seem mad­den­ing­ly inco­her­ent, unless we believe his meta­physic of “Absolute Spir­it.” Giv­en his dialec­tic of every­thing, Hegel’s pow­er is that “he is infi­nite.” His weak­ness? “He is finite,” of course. Giv­en Hegel’s tele­o­log­i­cal the­o­ry of his­to­ry, peo­ple who pur­chase his action fig­ure “can expect them to become more and more valu­able as time pass­es.”


The most amus­ing of “The Antag­o­nis­tic Ana­lyt­ic Philoso­phers” is Lud­wig Wittgen­stein, who was him­self an amus­ing­ly eccen­tric indi­vid­ual. Known for his ter­ri­ble tem­per, which would often dri­ve him to ver­bal­ly abuse and strike those poor stu­dents who couldn’t grasp his abstruse con­cepts, “Vin­dic­tive Wittgen­stein” has the pow­er of “pok­er wield­ing abil­i­ty.” His weak­ness, nat­u­ral­ly, is his “teach­ing abil­i­ty.” I par­tic­u­lar­ly like the “notes” sec­tion of the fig­ure’s descrip­tion:

Wittgen­stein fig­ures come in two vari­a­tions: the ear­ly mod­el’s record­ed mes­sages include non­sense about lan­guage being a “pic­ture” of the world, while the lat­er mod­el’s mes­sages include non­sense about games and their “fam­i­ly resem­blances” to one anoth­er. It’s fun to com­mu­ni­cate! (Doll does not actu­al­ly com­mu­ni­cate. Chil­dren who claim that Wittgen­stein fig­ures talk to them with their own “pri­vate lan­guage” are mis­tak­en or lying and should be severe­ly beat­en by their teach­ers.)

You can see the whole set at the Philo­soph­i­cal Pow­ers site. It is prob­lem­at­ic that we only get dead white men rep­re­sent­ed, but this is not sole­ly the fault of Van­de­walk­er but also a prob­lem of his­to­ry and the tra­di­tion­al aca­d­e­m­ic his­to­ry of ideas. One would hope that the con­cept is clever enough that it might make phi­los­o­phy appeal­ing to peo­ple who find it dull or unap­proach­able. That may be too lofty a goal, but these fig­ures are sure to amuse the already philo­soph­i­cal­ly-inclined, and per­haps spur them on to learn more.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

10th Graders Draw Pic­tures Imag­in­ing Philoso­phers at Work

The Dai­ly Habits of High­ly Pro­duc­tive Philoso­phers: Niet­zsche, Marx & Immanuel Kant

What Do Most Philoso­phers Believe? A Wide-Rang­ing Sur­vey Project Gives Us Some Idea

Philoso­pher Por­traits: Famous Philoso­phers Paint­ed in the Style of Influ­en­tial Artists

Down­load 90 Free Phi­los­o­phy Cours­es and Start Liv­ing the Exam­ined Life

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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