Monty Python Sings “The Philosopher’s Song,” Revealing the Drinking Habits of Great European Thinkers

Did you know, stu­dent of dead white philoso­phers, that Hei­deg­ger was a “boozy beg­gar”? Wittgen­stein a “beery swine” and Descartes a “drunk­en fart”? What about Pla­to, who, “they say, could stick it away; Half a crate of whiskey every day”? Nei­ther did I until I saw mem­bers of Mon­ty Python sing “The Philosopher’s Song,” above, from their 1982 live show at the Hol­ly­wood Bowl. Eric Idle, in what looks like an Aus­tralian bush hat strung with teabags, intro­duces the num­ber, say­ing it’s “a nice intel­lec­tu­al song for those two or three of you in the audi­ence who under­stand these things.” Then Idle, joined by Michael Palin and fre­quent Python col­lab­o­ra­tor Neil Innes, launch­es into a paean to drink­ing that col­or­ful­ly calls the great philoso­phers crazed dip­so­ma­ni­acs. Well, all but John Stu­art Mill, who got “par­tic­u­lar­ly ill” from “half a pint of shandy.”

It’s all non­sense, right? Maybe so, but the Pythons were no strangers to phi­los­o­phy. Hav­ing assem­bled from the august bod­ies of Oxford and Cam­bridge Uni­ver­si­ties, they per­pet­u­al­ly revis­it­ed aca­d­e­m­ic themes, if only to mock them. And yet some philoso­phers take the work of Mon­ty Python very seri­ous­ly. In his Mon­ty Python and Phi­los­o­phy: Nudge, Nudge, Think Think!, Phi­los­o­phy Pro­fes­sor Gary Hard­cas­tle refers to an essay called “Trac­ta­tus Come­dio-Philo­soph­i­cus,” which “wants us to know that the only dif­fer­ence between Mon­ty Python and aca­d­e­m­ic phi­los­o­phy is that phi­los­o­phy isn’t fun­ny.” So there you have it. Skip the years of penury and over­work and go direct­ly to Youtube for your high­er edu­ca­tion in the clas­sics from the Pythons. Then lis­ten to Pro­fes­sor Hardcastle—in Open Court’s “Pop­u­lar Cul­ture and Phi­los­o­phy” pod­cast above—expound at length on the philo­soph­ic virtues of Cleese, Idle, Palin, Gilliam, and Jones. And final­ly, a bonus: below watch Christo­pher Hitchens sing “The Philoso­pher’s Song” from mem­o­ry in a 2009 inter­view.

The song grew out of an ear­li­er Python set­up known as “The Bruce Sketch” (below). The sketch is pret­ty dated—some moments cer­tain­ly come off as more offen­sive than per­haps deemed at the time. (Our Eng­lish read­ers will have to let us know if “pom­my bas­tard” smarts.) Four Aus­tralian phi­los­o­phy pro­fes­sors at the fic­ti­tious Uni­ver­si­ty of Woola­maloo, all of them named Bruce, wel­come a new mem­ber, Michael Bald­win (whom they insist on call­ing “Bruce”). The Bruces seem a nice bunch of chaps until they start in on their rules, reveal­ing a con­temp­tu­ous obses­sion with keep­ing out the “poofters.” It’s per­fect­ly in keep­ing with this assem­bly of ami­able right-wing nation­al­ists: The Bruces inform their Eng­lish col­league that he may teach “the great social­ist thinkers, pro­vid­ed he makes it clear that they were wrong,” and then they get a vis­it from a shuf­fling car­i­ca­ture of an Abo­rig­i­nal ser­vant (whom one must­n’t mis­treat, state the rules, “if there’s any­one watch­ing”). In addi­tion to big­otry, Aus­tralia, pol­i­tics and prayer, the Bruces, their new mem­ber learns, seem most­ly con­cerned with drink­ing rather than phi­los­o­phy. In my per­son­al expe­ri­ence of some aca­d­e­m­ic quar­ters, this is at least one part of the sketch that hasn’t aged at all.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Mon­ty Python’s Best Phi­los­o­phy Sketch­es

Watch Mon­ty Python’s “Sum­ma­rize Proust Com­pe­ti­tion” on the 100th Anniver­sary of Swann’s Way

Mon­ty Python’s Life of Bri­an: Reli­gious Satire, Polit­i­cal Satire, or Blas­phe­my?

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

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