Sunday, August 16, 2015

Philosophy as Performance

Philosophy as performance may take the form of reading, interpreting, discussing, arguing about, and responding to philosophical ideas and texts. It may involve a single performer or multiple performers, and it may take place in a library, in a classroom, on a stage, behind a lectern, in a lecture hall, in a café, in a theater, beside a water fountain, in the midst of a crowd, on a park bench, or on a rooftop.
      Philosophy as performance may incorporate aspects of not only the performing arts, but also the visual arts and literary arts. Examples of performance philosophy include the public lectures and readings of the philosopher Alphonso Lingis, which have included a stage performance in which he read a philosophical text while dressed as a Geisha (in an art gallery in Kyoto, Japan, January 20, 1997).1 Another example of performance philosophy is the work of the artist and philosopher Adrian Piper, whose conceptual art projects have included “The Mythic Being” (1973), a photo and film documentation of a street performance in which she disguised herself as a man (donning an Afro wig, fake mustache, and sunglasses) and recited mantras such as “I am the locus of consciousness” as she  walked through crowds of onlookers.2
      To describe philosophy as performance is to describe a discipline whose potential to become a widely recognized art form may not yet have been fully realized. Performance philosophy may involve the use of multiple media, such as text, audio, video, background music, and background lighting. It may also involve the wearing of makeup, wigs, and costumes, the use of hand-held or stage props, the use of mobile stage platforms, the use of lighting and sound effects, and the use of special effects (such as optical and atmospheric effects) if they enhance and do not distract from the presentation of philosophical ideas and texts.
      More traditional performance philosophy may include public readings of philosophical texts, panel discussions of philosophical issues and problems, philosophical dialogues, philosophical debates, and public conversations, colloquia, and symposia concerning philosophical matters and subjects.
      Whenever a philosopher addresses an audience, teaches students, shares her work with colleagues, writes an essay, publishes a book, interprets the work of another philosopher, or answers the questions of an interviewer, she is in some way delivering a kind of performance, insofar as she is presenting herself, her ideas, and her work in a particular form or manner. She is in some way presenting, staging, framing, or displaying aspects of herself (such as her personal and professional habits, her conversational style, her writing style, her research methods, and her philosophical interests and concerns). Her performance of herself and of her ideas or work may be more or less spontaneous or deliberate, committed or uncommitted, self-conscious or unself-conscious, intentional or unintentional.
      The way in which a philosopher presents her ideas, thoughts, and impressions to a reading, listening, or viewing audience involves a kind of performance of those ideas, thoughts, and impressions in order to connect with, and engage, the audience. It also involves a kind of performance of herself in the role of philosopher, in order to gain the audience’s acceptance, attention, engagement, trust, and respect. It also involves a kind of performance on the part of the audience, insofar as it must interpret and determine how to respond to the philosopher’s ideas, thoughts, and impressions. Each of these three kinds of performance may be relatively felicitous or infelicitous, successful or unsuccessful, skillful or unskillful.
      Philosophy as performance may be planned, memorized, scripted, and rehearsed, or it may be unplanned, unmemorized, unscripted, and unrehearsed. It may be linear or non-linear, monologic or dialogic, interactive or non-interactive.
      To see philosophy as performance may be to see that philosophy must recognize its own performativity. The performativity of philosophy may arise from the kinds of social roles that philosophy performs, and from the kinds of social roles that philosophers play when they do philosophy. The act of doing philosophy may be both performative and constative in nature.
      Philosophy may theorize performance, and it may analyze the relation between performance and performativity. To explore philosophy as performance, we may need to explore not only the discursive and representational, but also the non-discursive and presentational modes of philosophical speech and language.
      Performativity may be defined as the state of being a performance. It may also be defined as the ability to perform an action, role, duty, purpose, or function. The degree to which something (such as an utterance, segment of discourse, mode of behavior, or mode of language) is a performance (or is performative) determines the degree of its performativity.
      Performativity may also be defined as the quality of being a performative utterance. A performative utterance is an utterance that does not describe or report anything, but that nevertheless performs some social role or function.3 Performative utterances include acts of apologizing, thanking, ordering, promising, welcoming, warning, admitting, approving, and disapproving. For example, the utterance, “Be careful” performs the role of an admonition, and the utterance “Excuse me” performs the role of a request for pardon.
      Performances may be live or recorded. While a recorded performance may look or sound the same each time it is repeated, a live performance may never look or sound the same each time it is repeated. Each time a philosopher presents a live performance of her work to an audience, she may be performing that work in a somewhat different manner, and each time an audience sees or listens to that work, it may be responding to it in a somewhat different manner.
      Performance and philosophy may be two sides of the same coin. Thus, we have on one side of the coin/and on the other side of the coin:

      Performance as Philosophy/Philosophy
      as performance
      The performer as philosopher/The
      philosopher as performer
      The philosophy of performance/The
      performance of philosophy
      The philosophy of art/The art of philosophy
      Art as philosophy/Philosophy as art
      The artist as philosopher/The philosopher as
      Conceptual art as philosophy/Philosophy as
      conceptual art
      The comedy of philosophy/The philosophy of
      The tragedy of philosophy/The philosophy of
      Philosophy as jazz/Jazz as philosophy
      Philosophy as the blues/The blues as
      Poetry as philosophy/Philosophy as poetry.

      When we study performance as philosophy, we must ask ourselves: Is there a philosophy that produces the performance, or does the performance itself produce a philosophy? What makes a performance a work of art? What makes a performance philosophical?
      Other questions that must be considered include: Can a philosophical text, reading, or interpretation be considered a work of art? Can Plato and Aristotle be performed in some way that is analogous to the way in which Mozart and Shakespeare can be performed? Is Plato’s interpretation of Socrates in some way analogous to Bernstein’s interpretation of Mahler or Gould’s interpretation of Bach? Is philosophical interpretation in some way analogous to literary, musical, or dramatic interpretation?
      And still other questions that may need to be considered include: Is there a performance philosophy that is analogous to performance poetry? Can performance philosophy take the form of spoken word poetry? Is performance philosophy a philosophy of performance, or is it philosophy as performance? 
      Some adjectives that may be used to describe a performance, when it is praiseworthy, include “impressive,” “outstanding,” “remarkable,” “extraordinary,” “powerful,” “moving,” “amusing,” and “entertaining.” Some adjectives that may be used to describe a performance, when it is not so praiseworthy, include “average,” “mediocre,” “amateurish,” “overwrought,” “annoying,” “tedious,” “mechanical,” “stiff,” and “boring.” The kinds of adjectives that may be used to describe praiseworthy or unpraiseworthy performances indicate the kinds of performances that performers may want, or may not want, to give.
      There may be a philosophy of each of the performing arts, i.e. a philosophy of music, a philosophy of dance, a philosophy of drama, a philosophy of performance art, a philosophy of public speaking, and so on. However, all these philosophies may share a concern with such questions as: How should art be defined? How is art created? What makes art inspiring or uninspiring? What kinds of truth does art reveal? What kinds of meaning does art express? What kinds of response may art evoke in an audience?
      Conceptual art may be philosophical in its themes and content. Examples include Joseph Kosuth’s “One and Three Chairs” (1965), Jenny Holzer’s “Truisms” (1984), and Barbara Kruger’s “Belief+Doubt” (2012). Performance art may also be philosophical in its themes and content. Examples include Pope.L’s “Tompkins Square Crawl” (1991), Maren Hassinger’s “Women’s Work” (2006), and Marina Abramović’s “The Artist is Present” (2010).


1Clark Lunberry, “The Philosopher and the Geisha: Alphonso Lingis and the Multi-Mediated Performance of Philosophical Discourse," in Discourse, Vol. 22, No. 2 (Spring 2000), pp. 92-103.
2Robin Cembalest, “Adrian Piper Pulls Out of Black Performance-Art Show,” in ArtNews, Oct. 25, 2013, online at
 3J.L. Austin, How to do things with Words (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1962).

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

"Selling" Ourselves: The Ethics of Self-Marketing

Do we inevitably do ourselves an injustice when we try to “sell”1 ourselves? Can there ever truly be an ethics of marketing or “selling” ourselves? Is the phrase “the ethics of self-marketing” an oxymoron?
      Is it ever morally right for us to place a price tag on, or assign a monetary value to, ourselves? When we “sell” or market ourselves, do we inevitably risk demeaning and devaluing ourselves? By putting a monetary value on our time, labor, skills, and abilities and expecting to be financially compensated for them, are we thereby confirming the justness and appropriateness of their monetary valuation?
      When we market or “sell” ourselves, we may be offering to provide others (in exchange for their money, assistance, approval, or sponsorship) a variety of things, such as our labor, skills, expertise, advice, ideas, experience, personal services, personal endorsement, personal spokesmanship, or personal image rights.
      We may try to “sell” or market ourselves in a variety of ways. For example, we may try to "sell" ourselves by telling others about ourselves, by talking with them, by listening to them, by developing personal relationships with them, by building friendships and partnerships with them, by trying to respond to their interests and concerns, by engaging them in our own interests and concerns, by educating them, by entertaining them, and by trying to inspire them.
      Methods of self-marketing may include handing out business cards, mailing out brochures, sending out emails, creating a website, blogging, writing magazine or journal articles, writing books, giving talks, conducting seminars, creating online videos (e.g. on YouTube, Veoh, or Vimeo), using social media (such as Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and LinkedIn), appearing as a guest on a radio talk show, becoming a professional coach or mentor, becoming a professional consultant, becoming a member of a professional society, and doing volunteer work for a nonprofit organization.
      Self-marketing may also include “personal branding” (e.g. Donna Karan Fragrances, Martha Stewart Home Decor, Hilton Hotels, and Oprah Magazine), “self-packaging” (e.g. developing a signature style or creating a look) and “image management” (e.g. personal, social, professional, and political image management)
      The ethics of self-marketing may presuppose that there is an external market governing transactions between buyers and sellers, and that there are market rules regarding buyer and seller behavior. Violations of marketing ethics may therefore trigger external (market-imposed) as well as internal (self-imposed) sanctions.
      “Selling” or marketing ourselves may consist of demonstrating our aptitude, ability, knowledge, competence, trustworthiness, and reliability to others. It may also consist of making others aware of, or making others believe in, our merit and value.
      “Selling” ourselves may also consist of promoting our ideas and demonstrating their meaningfulness, significance, and relevance. It may also consist of demonstrating the value of our physical, mental, social, or professional traits and assets. It may therefore be a kind of performance that can be judged according to ethical as well as aesthetic criteria.
      In order to properly investigate the ethics of self-marketing, we may need to recognize that there is an art (including a visual, auditory, and performing art), as well as a science (including a cognitive, behavioral, and social psychology) of self-marketing.
      The ethics of self-marketing may define not only our duties to ourselves (including the duty not to surrender or compromise our own human dignity and moral integrity), but also our duties to others (including the duty not to make intentionally false or deceptive claims about ourselves).
      Our duties to ourselves may include the duty not to “sell” or market ourselves in a manner that is harmful to our physical and mental well-being. Thus, we may have a duty not to “sell” or market ourselves in a manner that is harmful to our sense of self-worth and self-respect.
      Our duties to others may also include the duty not to “sell” or market ourselves as something we are not. Thus, we may have the duty not to exaggerate or embellish our personal accomplishments. We may have the duty not to misrepresent the level of our technical expertise, practical knowledge, and professional training. We may have the duty not to intentionally create false impressions about our educational, academic, or professional backgrounds. There may be moral limits as to how we market ourselves, and as to what we say about ourselves.
      We also have the duty not to accept bribes or unethical inducements for “selling” ourselves and for selling our time, labor, services, personal companionship, personal property, or privacy.
      The ethics of self-marketing also demand that we not participate in illegal markets, including markets in illegal drugs, markets in illegal weapons, markets in smuggled goods, and markets in stolen or pirated goods.
      We have the duty not to sell our knowledge, expertise, skills, services, etc. to unlawful or criminal enterprises. We also have the duty not to let ourselves become the knowing or unknowing instruments of corrupt business or political interests.
      If there are ethical ways for us to “sell” ourselves, then how do we avoid selling ourselves short? How do we avoid misjudging our value to others? If we “sell” ourselves to others, then we may need to be mindful of, and try to avoid, “underselling” or “overselling” ourselves.
      “Selling” or marketing ourselves may be a part of ordinary work skills. A teacher, counselor, attorney, architect, engineer, or professional speaker may have to “sell” herself in some way to her students, clients, customers, or audience in order to be recognized as a reliable and credible authority in her field of training or expertise. A salesperson, shopkeeper, vendor, broker, or entrepreneur may also have to “sell” herself in some way to a prospective client or customer in order for that client or customer to consider buying a product from her or using her professional services. If a marketer or vendor fails to “sell” herself properly, then the prospective customer may consider buying the same product or the same services from some other marketer or vendor.
      One reason that we may fail to get a job promotion or be recognized for our job performance is that we may fail to “sell” ourselves properly to a supervisor or employer. We may fail to make an impression on a supervisor or employer or make her aware of our value and importance to the organization we are working for.
      We may also sell ourselves short by failing to "sell" ourselves tactfully and effectively. We may fail to identify and personally connect with our prospective employers, clients, customers, or audience. We may fail to develop a strategy for reaching, appealing to, and mobilizing a particular market sector, customer base, readership, viewing audience, or listening audience. We may fail to utilize a variety of methods in order to develop a marketing platform and communications network. We may fail to recognize our own strengths and virtues, and may fail to make others aware of how those strengths and virtues could be helpful or useful to them.
      Some of the disadvantages of selling ourselves short are that we may miss out on opportunities (personal, social, professional, and financial) that we would otherwise have had, and we may reinforce negative feelings that we have about ourselves. We may also promote negative images that we have of ourselves. We may also subject ourselves to mistreatment or abuse if we feel that we don’t deserve to be treated any better. We may try to find various reasons to continue dysfunctional or unsatisfying personal relationships. We may also accept being told that we are inferior and undeserving.
      Some other disadvantages of selling ourselves short are that we may settle for a lower level of financial compensation than we deserve for having fulfilled a professional obligation, and we may settle for less recognition than we deserve for having performed a particular service. We may even settle for being discriminated against and being denied privileges that have, under similar conditions, been granted to others.
      On the other hand, the ethics of self-marketing require that we not demand excessive reward or excessive compensation for providing our goods and services. We have a duty not to make false and deceptive claims about our skills, expertise, professional background, and work history. We have a duty not to claim intellectual property rights over intellectual property that does not rightfully belong to us.
      In order to comply with an ethics of self-marketing, we must also avoid “selling out” (compromising our moral principles for the sake of personal reward or financial gain). We must avoid making a Faustian bargain with a supposed benefactor by sacrificing our moral principles and “selling” ourselves to that supposed benefactor in return for temporary personal gain (in the form of power, fame, or success). We must also avoid taking unfair advantage of others for the sake of our own personal gain.
      Techniques for “selling” or “packaging” ourselves may include wearing particular styles of clothing (“dressing for success”), grooming ourselves in a particular manner, trying to make a good first impression, being relaxed and outgoing, being courteous and friendly, establishing eye contact with whomever we are talking to, trying to be considerate and kind, and trying to appear calm, assured, confident, knowledgeable, and competent.
      The ethics of selling ourselves (or of selling various parts of ourselves) may also apply to such practices as paid blood donation, paid bone marrow donation, paid sperm or egg donation, paid hair donation, paid organ donation, paid breast milk donation, paid surrogacy, paid participation in scientific research trials, paid companion services, paid escort services, paid sex work (such as stripping, lap dancing, adult film performing, and prostitution), and selling ourselves into bonded labor or slavery.
      A moral question raised by the selling of our bodies or body parts is whether we have the moral right to sell them, even though no one other than ourselves has the moral right to claim ownership of them. How can it be morally wrong for us to voluntarily sell our own bodies or body parts, if we are not harming anyone else by doing so? Those who affirm that it is indeed morally wrong to sell our own bodies or body parts may argue that it is inherently harmful to our own moral or psychological well-being. They may also argue that our own bodies or body parts cannot rightfully be regarded as buyable or sellable commodities. They may also argue that by claiming the right to sell our own bodies or body parts, we are contributing to the development of markets in bodies or body parts, and thus to human trafficking.
      Arguments against legalization of the selling of body organs or body parts include (1) that it is morally wrong, (2) that it is a violation of human dignity, (3) that it treats body organs or parts as if they were commodities, (4) that it promotes an inequitable system of organ distribution, with access to available organs granted to those who can afford to pay, and access to available organs denied to those who cannot afford to pay, (5) that it promotes a system of organ distribution in which the wealthy will be the recipients and the poor will be the donors, treating the poor as sources of organs to be distributed to the wealthy,2 (6) that it might not alleviate the present shortage of available donor organs, since donations might decrease if selling were allowed,3 and (7) that it might lead to the kidnapping and murder of children and adults in order to harvest their organs.4
      Arguments for legalization of the selling of body organs or body parts include (1) that legalized selling of body organs might help to alleviate the present shortage of available donor organs for medical patients who need organ transplantation, (2) that voluntary donation of body organs allows the donors to help those in need, (3) that legalized selling of body organs might encourage more people to donate their organs, and (4) that human beings should have the right to treat their bodies as they desire and should be able to voluntarily sell their own body organs or body parts if they are not harming anyone by doing so,
      Arguments for legalization of prostitution include (1) that prostitution is a “victimless crime,” (2) that legalization would reduce health risks for sex workers by requiring them to be tested regularly for sexually transmitted diseases (STD’s), (3) that it would reduce violence against women, by providing safer environments for sex workers, (4) that it would enable greater regulation of the sex trade, in order to prevent human trafficking, (5) that it would prevent child prostitution, (6) that it would save law enforcement resources, (7) that it would be a source of tax revenue, and (8) that it would allow sex workers to obtain labor rights, such as minimum wage, health care rights, safety rights, and protection from discrimination.5
      Arguments against the legalization of prostitution include (1) that prostitution is morally wrong, (2) that it is inherently dehumanizing, (3) that it promotes the abuse and exploitation of women, (4) that it promotes the victimization of children, (5) that it promotes human trafficking, (6) that it promotes the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, (7) that legalization does not protect sex workers from exploitation, and (8) that it promotes the spread of prostitution.
      Perhaps the two most basic requirements of self-marketing ethics are (1) that we have the right to market or sell whatever we are marketing or selling, and (2) that we do so in a truthful, honest, and socially responsible manner. Thus, the ethics of self-marketing informs us of the duty to engage in ethical advertising  and promotional practices, regardless of what kind of marketing strategy we are employing (e.g. mass marketing, multi-segment marketing, targeted marketing, or niche marketing).
      Self-marketing ethics also include an ethics of self-disclosure, i.e. an ethics governing the nature, kind, and amount of personal data we release to others in our “selling” of ourselves. To the extent that release of our personal data affects the well-being of others, we have an ethical duty not to unnecessarily harm, offend, trouble, or inconvenience them by unnecessarily releasing such data. We also have an ethical duty not to be selfishly attention-seeking and exhibitionistic in our self-promotion or self-marketing. We also have an ethical and legal duty not to engage in such acts as breaching the peace, creating a public nuisance, infringing on the privacy rights of others, and using public resources, property, or communications without proper authorization.
      In some cases, we may have to “sell” ourselves to ourselves (convince ourselves of our own merit and value). We may also have to “sell” ourselves on the act of “selling” ourselves (convince ourselves that we are doing the right thing by “selling” ourselves to others). Self-marketing may therefore in some cases involve marketing ourselves to ourselves as well as to others.


1The word “sell” is here placed in quotation marks to distinguish the metaphorical from the literal sense of selling. We often try to “sell” ourselves to others in everyday life by trying to convince others of our intelligence, sophistication, resourcefulness, attractiveness, sense of humor, and other admirable qualities, but this metaphorical sense of selling is to be distinguished from the literal sense of selling that is exemplified by the selling of human beings into bondage or slavery, the sex trade, and the selling of human body organs or body parts.

2Debra Satz, Why Some Things Should Not Be for Sale: The Moral Limits of Markets (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), p. 198.

3C.J. Dougherty, “Body Futures: The Case Against Marketing Human Organs,” in Health Progress, Volume 68, Number 5, June 1987, p. 51.

4R.R. Kishore, “Human Organs, Scarcities, and Sale: Morality Revisited, in Journal of Medical Ethics, Vol. 41. 2005, p. 362.

5Erin Fuchs, “7 Reasons Why America Should Legalize Prostitution,” in Business Insider, No. 13, 2013, online at