A Breakup Letter to Academic Philosophy

Updated: Jan 27, 2019

Dear Academic Philosophy,

Long time no speak! It’s great to hear from you again after so long. To be honest, you didn’t answer the emails I sent after we broke up so I just assumed you didn’t want to be in touch anymore!

I’m doing well, thanks for asking. I run a YouTube channel now called Philosophy Tube. I’ve been doing it for six years – I actually created it back when we were still together, in my second year at university. Remember when the British government tripled tuition fees? I thought that was really unfair, so I started filming myself talking about what I had learned in my lectures so anybody could get that knowledge for free. I hope you’re not upset! What we had was definitely special, but after all, we weren’t exclusive.

The show has done really well! By the end of day one I had a hundred subscribers - more people than were on my course – so I knew I was on to something. By the time we broke up, I had ten thousand subscribers; modest by YouTube standards, but more than the total number of students at my uni. Last month I reached a quarter of a million subscribers! I’ve started approaching making videos as art, rather than giving lectures, which I think has helped a lot. Honestly, though, the main thing isn’t the size of the audience, it’s how many amazing people are willing to crowdfund the show. It’s my job now, thanks to the generosity of people who are just curious about philosophy and want to learn more about it – isn’t that amazing?

I know you didn’t just write to me because you wanted to catch up. I know you still have feelings for me, Academic Philosophy, and I really appreciate you wanting to pick up where we left off, but I just don’t think it would work.

Every now and then friends ask me if I’ve thought about us getting back together, like for a PhD or something. For a while my Mum and Dad were keen on the idea too; I know you always got on well with them. But honestly, I don’t think I can make room for that kind of commitment right now. I really enjoyed our time together, but being with you is tough. I feel like I could spend three years pouring my heart and soul into a dissertation about the Frege-Geach Problem that you’d take no notice of when I could be out here doing public philosophy and changing people’s lives. I recently made a video about the work of Talia Bettcher--you know her? She’s fab; her stuff on transphobia is really cool. Over 150,000 people saw that video; isn’t that incredible? Did you ever imagine there’d be such an enthusiastic audience for metaphysics of gender, or that so many people would connect with it on such a deep, visceral level?

Also -- and I don’t want things to be ugly between us, but -- I’ve heard about how you underpay and casualize your grad students; about how expensive your tastes are now; how you hide a lot of the stuff you do behind paywalls; how your conferences can have serious accessibility issues… I dunno, since we broke up, I’ve come to realise that we’re just very different in terms of what we value. I’m sorry. I feel as well that you’ve got enough privileged white guys in your life right now without adding another.

That doesn’t mean I don’t miss you though! I enjoyed bumping into you in Bristol, where I did that panel for the students, and at The Hague University of Applied Sciences when they flew me out to do a lecture on ethics and AI. I guess I’m just a bit confused as to why you’re contacting me now though? I did try to stay in touch after we broke up; I even invited you to be a part of the show! Remember in my second year of uni, how I wrote to you then? Let me refresh your memory:

Right before we broke up I asked my university if they’d be willing to sponsor the show in exchange for me putting their branding on it, and they said yes! I made the videos but when I sent my invoice they told me they had no memory of ever making a deal like that and that it was never going to happen. I showed them the emails, but they took no notice. I gave my university a whole bunch of free advertising and they turned around and washed their hands of me! That still hurts, Academic Philosophy. That’s an example of exactly the kind of thing that drove us apart: the philosophy was great, god knows I loved it (I remember staying up late doing philosophy with you, or sneaking off to a quiet bit of the library for a studying tryst), but it was all the other stuff getting in the way that just killed the spark for me. And now I hear you’ve put me on the university reading list? Well I’m very flattered, but it’s a bit late. After we split up I must have written to twenty of the top universities in the country making them the same offer – trying to make them understand, “Hey I reach more students in a week than you do in a year!” – but they just didn’t get it. It felt less about educating people or figuring out the world and more like justifying the university qua the structure and hierarchy that it is.

In fairness, our last fight was my fault. Remember we had that quick fling at SOAS University of London, where you paid me £2,500 to create an advert for the university? I had a lot of fun that night. But it just wasn’t right! You were spending thousands of pounds on employing marketing agencies to get YouTubers to make adverts for you, but meanwhile, your staff were on strike because they were being underpaid and exploited. Your students were protesting because you had put their fees up! It wasn’t right for me to take that money – that’s why I donated it to the SOAS student union – and I know you might not forgive me for that either. I think our political differences are irreconcilable: I know it’s not just you, it’s all the academic disciplines, but you’ve fallen in with a bad crowd of neoliberals and I’m not sure it’s healthy.

The truth is, Academic Philosophy, the underground philosophy scene that’s going on out here is doing gangbusters. And I’m actually not the only one of your exes involved: wait till you see what Natalie Wynn has been up to since you broke up! Rebecca Buxton and Lisa Whiting are doing well too, working on that book about women in philosophy (that’s crowdfunded too by the way). In fact - I maybe shouldn’t say this, but you know Jon, he’s one of the new PhDs you’re seeing at the moment? He’s been hanging out with us as well: he teaches philosophy on Twitter to like, twenty thousand people. He’s not the only one I’m in touch with – quite a few of your lecturers write to me, and I know my videos get used in your classes. Not to mention all the podcasts! It’s honestly a great time for philosophy outside the academy right now.

Not just the ideas either, but the presentation. I mentioned how I see videos more like making art now than giving lectures? Well if you watch my stuff you’ll see that it’s a bit less… how to put it? … dry? Than the stuff I was making when we were still together? For instance, my latest video is about Kant, but it also features a foul-mouthed Australian vlogger in a hentai shirt. (If you don’t know what hentai is ask your undergrads but don’t Google it on university computers.) And that stuff really connects with people! I did one for Halloween that was all about Marxist primitive accumulation and feminism, but I filmed the whole thing in costume by firelight! That’s just something I could never have done when we were together.

I’m not saying we can’t have some kind of relationship – in fact I wish you’d be in touch a bit more - but I just don’t think I can come back to you. I wish you all the best, and every happiness.


Olly Thorn

Olly Thorn is a professional actor and YouTuber living in London, putting his Philosophy MA to good use as the creator of Philosophy Tube. Pronouns: he/him.

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