Life as an Extreme Sport

How Many Philosophers Does it Take?

How many philosophers does it take to change a lightbulb? Here’s Steven Brust’s answers,

Pragmatist: Hey, if holding the bulb while four of your friends turn the chair works for you, then that is the best way to change a lightbulb for you.

Empiricist: We can’t know how to change a lightbulb, but we can make lists of how big it is, the wattage, the thickness of the glass, the composition of the filiment…

Thomist: When we examine the concept of “lightbulb” one requirement is that it light up. Hence, if it does not light up, it is not a lightbulb. If it is not a lightbulb, there is no reason to change it.

Aristotelean: Changing of lightbulbs can be divided into: manipulation of the old bulb, and manipulation of the new bulb. Bulb manipulation, in turn, can be divided into: Turning motion, raising motion, dropping motion. We cannot understand motion.

Kantian: By understanding the lightbulb-in-itself, it becomes, for us, a new lightbulb.

Platonist: The closer our lightbulb gets to the Ideal Lightbulb, the less it requires changing.

Dialectical Materialist: None. The lightbulb changes because of it’s own internal contradictions.

Skeptic: We can’t know if we’re changing the lightbulb. We can’t know if changing the lightbulb is an improvement. In fact, we can’t really know if it’s dark. Especially with the lights out.

Hegelian: When the lightbulb becomes irrational, it ceases to exist. Insofar as a new lightbulb sheds light on the Absolute Idea, it becomes a rational lightbulb, and comes into being as part of our striving for the rational.

Post-structuralist: By rejecting neo-Enlightment notions that privilege “light,” we can conceptualize the relationship between optically-oriented envisioning and those signifiers that address interpretations of post-colonial modernism as an established text within the framework of which, intertextually, we are lead to reject any causal relationship between the operands and the motivators.

Memetics: The speed at which the notion (“a burned out lightbulb should be replaced”) has spread is inexplicable unless one looks at the idea itself.

Existentialist: Why change the lightbulb?

I decided that the list needed help, and added two of my own.

Clinical ethicist: It is a violation of the lightbulb’s autonomy to change it without its explicit informed consent. In the absence of the lightbulb’s advanced directive, we must act in the manner we think the lightbulb most likely to act in if it had full ability to consent to care.

Bioethicist: The changing of the lightbulb comes at the intersection of multiple fields of study, and we must research what ethical, legal and social issues are encountered and how they are handled by society before we act.


  1. A very “enlightening” post.

    Here’s my contribution:

    One bioethicist to question whether lightbulb burnout is “dead enough”; one to discuss the moral imperative of pursuing lightbulb enhancement technologies; and one to voice caution as we seek sources of light beyond the natural world.

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