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Top 40 Philosophy: Green Day, “When I Come Around”

Posted in Friendly Philosophy, Music, and Top 40 Philosophy

Green Day’s “When I Come Around” went #1 on the Billboard Alternative Songs chart, the first week of January, 1995. It stayed there for seven weeks.

They were so young! And so angsty! Also, Mike Dirnt’s bass work on that song is excellent.

Let’s talk about the second verse, shall we?

Oh I heard it all before
So don’t knock down my door
I’m a loser and the user
So I don’t need no accuser
To try and **** me down because I know you’re right

It’s a peculiar fact about humans that we can know that something is wrong, and yet do it anyway. Well, Socrates actually didn’t think this was a fact about human nature. Socrates thought that if you really knew something was wrong, you wouldn’t be able to do it. So if you do something wrong, it must be because you didn’t actually know it was wrong. Maybe you thought it was wrong, but it was just an opinion, not real knowledge.

The fancy philosophy term for “knowing something is wrong but doing it anyway” is “weakness of will” (akrasia in Greek). Socrates — as I just said — thought there was no such thing. Aristotle, however, thought there totally was.

When you know something is wrong, but do it anyway, Aristotle thought you were drunk. Or sort of drunk. You know the thing is wrong, but only “in a drunken way.” Your knowledge is hazy, and doesn’t quite “kick in.” It’s there, alright, but it’s just not active or effective. (On the debate between Aristotle and Socrates, see Nicomachean Ethics VII.2.)

St. Paul attributes weakness of will to a war between two parts of ourselves, and offers no solution to the problem other than the exclamation, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” So, evidently Jesus is the answer, but I’ve never really understood what that means.

So, how do we solve weakness of will? (I’ve got some extra weight I need to lose after the holidays.)

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The Hidden Track

Q: What kind of philosophy were we doing today?

A: Ethics (or Philosophy of Human Nature).

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