Welcome to “Top 40 Philosophy”* where I get to do one of my favorite things: analyze vapid pop music philosophically, just to prove:
- that you can do philosophy about anything, and
- that doing philosophy about something actually makes it (the thing) better, for some reason.
I’ll be working primarily from Billboard’s Hot 100 list, but reserve the right to analyze songs that aren’t actually in the Top 40. Just so you know.
Today on Top 40 Philosophy, we have this week’s #1 song, “Shake It Off,” by Taylor Swift.
The video above is a spoof–along the lines of “Choreography” from White Christmas–of Lady Gaga and Miley Cyrus, among other things. (Remind me to talk about the ontological status of spoofs sometime.)
The song belongs lyrically to the “My Critics Are Wrong and/or Irrelevant” genre, and thus makes no significant contribution to English literature. But it does raise an interesting point about what philosophers call “epistemology.”**
The first verse is about what people say. The second is about what they (don’t) see.
In drawing this contrast, the song implies that knowledge comes from seeing. If people only saw Ms. Swift’s actual life, they would know what she is really like. But they don’t. Their claims are mere hearsay, not knowledge.
The philosophical question this raises for us is this: Does all knowledge come from first-hand experience (“seeing”)? Or can knowledge ever come from what some authority, expert, or witness tells us?
*Can I call dibs on “Top 40 Philosophy”? I like it, and want to keep it for my very own.
**”Epistemology” is the study of knowledge (of what knowledge is, how it is different from mere opinion, how to get knowledge, and so forth). Use this word when you want to impress people at cocktail parties.