We didn’t start the rhyming.

Maybe someone should tell the Guardian’s higher education columnist David Cohen that claiming to not know Billy Joel doesn’t make anyone look younger – just a little ignorant. Ignorant though he may be about pop-classics, Mr Cohen writes about a very entertaining website called ‘philosophy songs’ featuring a number of philosophically inspired re-lyricised cover versions of well known songs. The site was apparently created by Alan White, a professor of philosophy at the University of Wisconsin Colleges.
Here’s the lyrics of his re-working of Billy Joel’s 1989 hit “We didn’t start the fire” – mp3s of his loose singing to what are apparently general-midi files of the song are available.

Billy Joel’s song listing major events of the second part of the 20th century seems to be helpful for school teachers when explaining recent history. I wonder if Mr White’s quick run through the history of philosophy could also be found useful in elementary philosophy courses…

We Didn’t Start Inquiry
(Sung–loosely–to Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire”)

“All is water”, “All is air”,

“There are numbers everywhere”,

apeiron and logos, Eleatic thought-block–

Sophistry, Socrates, Plato’s reminiscences,

Aristotle’s physics (apriori / ad hoc). . .

Hellenistic Hippo-crat–Ages Darken after that–

Abelard, Maimonides, Proslogion proof,

Avicenna, Guanilon, Occam strops his razor on,

Galileo drops the ball–inertia’s set loose–


We didn’t start inquiry,

But with ideas churning we can kindle learning–

We didn’t start inquiry,

But with questions going we can foster knowing!

Descartes doubting everything, Leibniz’s monads mirroring,

Locke, Spinoza, Newton, Machiavellian prince,

Reid maintains the will is free (Hobbesians compatibly)

qualia’s primarily the Berkeleyan sense. . .

Hume causes Kant to wake, Kierkegaard gets into faith,

Wollstonecraft, Kapital, the Origin’s proofed,

Nietzsche outwits superman, Mill’s utilitarian,

Peircean pragmaticism works up new truth–


Russell’s denotation scheme, Godel crushes Frege’s dream,

Popper, Whitehead, Dewey, James, Santayana, Royce–

Novel time of Einstein, tables turned by Wittgenstein,

undetermined quantum cats that die by choice. . .

Carnap, Tarski, Reichenbach, ordinary language acts,

Ayer, Strawson, on “Two Dogmas”–gems true grue–

Anscombe, Kripke, Frankena, Dummett, Putnam, Plantinga,

Barcan Marcus, Rorty, Lewis–even me and you!