Last time we talked about “Thrift Shop,” by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. This time, we talk about “Wut,” which Le1f claims M&RL ripped off to create “Thrift Shop.” Here’s the video for “Wut,” complete with unfortunate early 90s fashion. The song is pretty good, and is surprising for being so openly gay.
Both “Wut” and “Thrift Shop” belong to the saxophone revival we’ve been considering, and if M&RL copied Le1f & Co., they at least improved on the original. (There’s nothing worse than a ripoff that’s worse than the original.) They should acknowledge their sources, though.
What I want to talk about philosophically today is the chorus of “Wut.”
Wut it is?
Wut is up?
Wut is wut?
You often hear philosophers say that the question, “What is x?” was central to Socrates’ philosophy. In the Euthyphro, Plato has Socrates ask, “What is piety?” In the Republic, the question is, “What is justice?” In the Meno, it’s “What is virtue?” Etc.
The problem is that Socrates always finds his interlocutors incapable of answering the question. They are like Augustine, who said:
What then is time? If no one asks me, I know what it is. If I wish to explain it to him who asks, I do not know. (Confessions, ch. 14)
We are like this on many things. We know what the thing is, but if we ever have to put what it is into words we run into problems. Try defining what a chair is, and then get one of your friends to come up with “counterexamples” of things that are chairs but don’t fit your definition (or of things that aren’t chairs that do fit your definition). You’ll get pretty annoyed, but you’ll see what I’m talking about.
One thing to learn from this might be that you can know something without being able to articulate it using language. That’s what I think is often going on in Socrates-type situations. There’s a difference between “having a feel for something,” or “knowing what something is like” and being able to convey that feel or what-it’s-like to someone else.
Take the color yellow, for example. Just because you can’t explain what it is to a blind person doesn’t mean you don’t know what it is. You know perfectly well what yellow is, and can recognize it whenever you see it.
Another thing to learn from this, however, might be that you can think you know something without actually knowing it. That’s what Socrates thought was going on.
Take “justice,” for example. It might be that I think justice means “restoring things to the way they should be,” and thus “evening out the differences between how things are and how they should be.” (Wait, is “evening” — the time of day — spelled the same as “evening” — the activity?)
But it may turn out that I’ve mixed into my idea of justice the different (though similar) idea of “getting even.” And once I recognize this “mix up” and remove that idea from my definition of justice, it may turn out that the “feel of justice” for me is gone. Just “evening things out” may no longer “sound like justice” to me.
And that means I either have to add back in the idea of “getting even,” or conclude that I don’t really yet understand what justice is
It may be possible, in other words, to know something without understanding it. But what am I saying? “It may be possible”? As far as I can tell, it totally is possible and it happens all the time.