Philosophical Clerihews

By Dean Zimmerman

I've wasted an inordinate amount of time on the lowest verse form in existence, the Clerihew. Here's the cream or the dregs, depending on how you look at it.

The first one ever written (1890, by the 16-year-old E. Clerihew Bentley) went like this:

Here's a really good one by Maurice Hare:

The Poet's Manual and Rhyming Dictionary of Frances Stillman defines the clerihew as "a humorous pseudo-biographical quatrain, rhymed as two couplets, with lines of uneven length more or less in the rhythm of prose. It is short and pithy, and often contains or implies a moral reflection of some kind. The name of the individual who is the subject of the quatrain usually supplies the first line."

Bentley himself wrote a few on philosophers. W. H. Auden has a book of clerihews with ones on Kierkegaard, Hegel, and a couple of others. Paul Horgan's book of clerihews has a few as well. By and large the ones on philosophers aren't very good. The best I know of are these:

(Paul Horgan)

*-`With some of their Applications to Social Philosophy'.

(all by Bentley)

But the largest batch of philosophical clerihews follows...

Philosophical Clerihews

by Dean W. Zimmerman

This form was evidently
invented by E. Clerihew Bentley.
He did nothing else well,
but what the hell?

Moses Maimonides
wrote vast quantities
and stood for amity
in an age of Kalamity.

G. E. Moore
was a bit of a bore;
more an old fossil
than a Cambridge Apostle.

By ghosts, C.D. Broad
was not generally overawed;
but he looked a trifle haggard
after his Examination of McTaggart.

Fearing Wittgenstein was blotto,
Popper adopted the motto:
"I will not argue with a joker
who's brandishing a red-hot poker."

"Peter Geach!" said God,
"would it not be slipshod
were I to raise not the authentical
you, but someone relatively identical?"

Roderick Chisholm
was never accused of asceticism
by Roderick Firth,
who was equally down-to-earth.

Nicholas Rescher
is under no pressure
to write another book;
but look!

Edwin B. Allaire
prefers particulars bare;
he doesn't find them rude
in the nude.

Jaegwon Kim,
writing poetry under a psuedonym,
met with considerable inconvenience
in rhyming "supervenience".

"I sneezed", explained Al Plantinga,
"as I scaled the rockface, barely panting. 'Ge-
sundheit!' said a voice; but not God's, inasmuch
as that's German not Dutch."

If your battery's dead, don't ask Bradley
to give you a jump. He'll say: "Gladly,
I have jumper cables; but need another item:
a cable to connect the cables" and so ad infinitum.

The British railroad
was the ruin of C.E.M. Joad.
Back then it wasn't cricket
to be caught without a ticket.

Jose Benardete
cooks large batches of spaghetti.
His noodles make you full
when you've eaten Aleph-null.

Alfred Freddoso
thinks his own work's just so-so;
he'd never go so far as
to compare it to Suarez's.

Sydney's David Malet
Armstrong had little palate
for Marxism;
and that'll spark schism.

Derek Parfit
wouldn't wear a scarf. It
made him more bold
to think someone else would catch cold.

G. H. von Wright
is not very strict.
He remains polite
when called "von Wright".

Here's a moral pilfered
from Wilfrid
Sellars: Have enough to drink
and all ice cubes look pink.

Wilfrid Sellars
abhorred poor spellers;
they made his blood congeal
and gave him a raw feel.

When he was younger,
the ignorance of Peter Unger
was vast;
but it didn't last.

A handy acronym
invented by Colin McGinn
explains why
philosophers shouldn't even try.

There's no disputin'
that Grigori Rasputin
had more will to power
than Schopenhauer.

Susan K. Langer
liked instruments that twang. Her
Philosophy in a New Key
was dedicated to Paul Stookey.

Unfortunately, Thales
never tried Bailey's.
It's smoother than water, so better suited
to be that of which all is constituted.

The metaphysics of Ernie Sosa
has little in common with that of Spinoza,
except for this: both claim to show
all things are like a ball of snow.

Although it hurt Curt Ducasse
to be kicked in the ass,
he was filled with elation
at the observability of the causal relation.

Escaping at night from the embalmer's,
The zombies sought help from Dave Chalmers.
Though their speech was mere echolalia,
He knew what they wanted: dancing qualia.

With parenthetical suggestions for cartoons:

(Gritting his teeth, fingers twitching)

(Picture of a bat with Nagel's face, putting wing over face in vampire fashion to avoid looking at a bust of Hegel)

(Dancing waltzily while sensing redly)

(In Saturday Night Fever outfit at a disco, opening letter and looking depressed)

And here are some by Brian Leftow:

Who better to get my first clerihew
Than Yale's new chair, Robert Merrihew
Adams? His job is one to admire. He
Should hire me.

Goodman trades classes
for all possible scattered masses:
No matter where the parts are from,
they are many, ergo sum.

Hobbes has no abstracta
Just entia tacta-
what isn't in chunks

"To be or not to be?"
Said Parfit, "totally
redundant. Hamlet pushed the issue way too far.
What matters isn't B, but R."

That Alvin
Rhymes with Calvin
Is, in my estimation,
Proof of predestination.

Quine and Cartwright point with glee
to the 1992 Times, where we
read that Mr. Bobbitt
was for awhile a scattered object.

Richard Rorty
Wrote philosophy till forty.
Then midlife crisis hit
And he quit to write... pragmatism.

If reference is inscrutable
And ostension mutable
There's just no knowing
where Quine is going.

When reading David Lewis
One can't say what the thing to do is-
Gape? Guffaw? Collapse and fall?
Elsewhere some counterpart does them all.

G.W.F. Hegel
Is less nutritious than a bagel.
A bagel has just one hole in the dough-
Hegel's all holes, wherever you go.

Antony Flew
Wouldn't be caught dead in a pew.
A wiser head
Would worry that some day he'll be caught dead.

According to W.V. Quine
Any ontology's fine
And that's why I
Think he's a heckgavagai.

According to John Stuart Mill,
Better check whether 2+2 still
Make four. They did today,
But as for tomorrow - who can say?

Nietzsche thought that all events
Repeat themselves- which makes no sense.
Nietzsche thought that all events
Repeat themselves- which makes no sense.

One more by Tom Kirby-Smith:

Ludwig Wittgenstein
Hardly ever went out to dine.
Be the menu never so abundant,
He found "green leafy lettuce salad" tautological and redundant.