Philosophy From CarTalk

 Posted by on 21 August 2008 at 12:16 pm  Funny
Aug 212008

As an occasional listener of the NPR show “CarTalk”, I was amused to hear this listener’s letter on the following classic philosophical question:

I am writing to offer profound thanks to you for resolving an important philosophical question that has been heatedly debated for the last twenty years. The rumination began on a construction site one summer in the early 1970′s, as my friend Jamie and I were working our way through college. The question we raised and have agonized over, lo these many years, is one that I’ve never read about in any philosophical treatise, and yet I have found it has applied to countless situations and conversations overheard in bars, repair shops, sporting events, political debates, etc. etc. etc.

Posit the question:

Do two people who don’t know what they are talking about know more or less than one person who doesn’t know what he’s talking about?

(Pardon the un-PC masculine pronoun, but I have found this to be, most predominately, a male phenomenon.)

In your recent conversations regarding electric brakes on a cattle carrier, I believe you definitely answered this query and have put our debate to rest. Amazingly enough, you proved that even in a case where one person might know nothing about a subject, it is possible for two people to know even less!

One person will only go so far out on a limb in his construction of deeply hypothetical structures, and will often end with a shrug or a raising of hands to indicate the dismissability of his particular take on a subject. With two people, the intricacies, the gives and takes, the wherefores and why-nots, can become a veritable pas-de-deux of breathtaking speculation, interwoven in such a way that apologies or gestures of doubt are rendered unnecessary.

I had always suspected this was the case, but no argument I could have built from my years of observation would have so satisfyingly closed the door on the subject as your performance on the cattle carrier call. To begin your comments by saying, “We’ll answer your question if you tell us how electric brakes work” and “We’ve never heard of electric brakes” and then indulge in lengthy theoretical hypostulations on the whys and wherefores of the caller’s problem allowed me to observe that you were finally putting this gnarly question to rest.

I am forever indebted to you for the great service you have performed! I’m truly impressed that it took so many years of listening to your show to finally have this matter resolved.

Andy R.

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