When Philosophical Debates Degenerate into Gunplay

Consider the following item from the El Paso Times:

“An argument in southern Russia over philosopher Immanuel Kant, the author of ‘Critique of Pure Reason,’ devolved into pure mayhem when one debater shot the other.

“A police spokeswoman in Rostov-on Don, Viktoria Safarova, said two men in their 20s were discussing Kant as they stood in line to buy beer at a small store on Sunday. The discussion deteriorated into a fistfight and one participant pulled out a small nonlethal pistol and fired repeatedly.

“The victim was hospitalized with injuries that were not life-threatening. Neither person was identified.

“It was not clear which of Kant’s ideas may have triggered the violence.”

I’m not sure what is meant by a “small nonlethal pistol,” but I’m fairly certain that the argument was over differing conceptions of what Kant meant by the categorical imperative.

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One evening some years ago, I was in a neighborhood bar when two guys came out of the restroom arguing in a very animated way.

Eventually, one of them noticed me and said, “Hey, you’re an English professor. How about settling an argument? There’s some graffiti on the wall in there. I think that it’s written in the Cyrillic alphabet. He thinks that it’s written in the Armenian alphabet. How about taking a look and settling this?”

I stayed where I was, and after what I thought was a sufficient pause, I said, “There’s such a thing as an Armenian alphabet?”

And the two of them were suddenly again in full agreement–about the disappointing limits of my knowledge.

One of them asked rhetorically, “Are you sure that you’re an English professor? Because you’ve got to wonder what a Ph.D. is really worth when two guys in a bar know more about alphabets than an English professor does.”

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