By Paul Stephan
Author: Paul Stephan (PhD student at the University of Freiburg and research fellow at the Forschungsinstitut für Philosophie Hannover)
Reference: Bedeutende Bärte. Eine Philosophie der Gesichtsbehaarung. Berlin: Parodos. 2020, 240 p. ISBN: 978-3-938880-97-5.
After Jacques-Antoine Dulaure’s Pogonologie, ou histoire philosophique dela barbe from 1786 and Thomas S. Gowing’s The Philosophy of Beards from 1854, Paul Stephan’s monography is the third major contribution to philosophy of facial hair within the history of Western philosophy. Such as his predecessors, Paul Stephan proceeds in a mainly historical manner: Commencing from the ancient Greeks, he inquires the topos of the beard over the entire course of the history of Western philosophy until today. He shows 1) how philosophers have discussed about literal beards (which means mainly the question if it is good or bad to wear a beard), 2) how philosophers have used the beard as a metaphor (e. g. Ockham’s razor or the beard of Zarathustra), 3) how philosophers actually have worn their beards (e. g. Marx, Nietzsche, and Heidegger). This exploration leads Paul Stephan to some very interesting conclusions which help to view the history of philosophy in a very different light: He shows, for example, that Nietzsche’s beard might demonstrate his deep affection for Bismarck and how the beard became a symbol of a revolutionary attitude in the late 18th century. He interprets, following e. g. Rousseau, the modern disguise for the unshaved face as a symptom of the major modern tendency of smoothing the world: all differences between individuals are seen as problematic, individuality as such is judged as a threat for economical efficiency, political stability, and public health. In this context, wearing a beard becomes a symbol for various kinds of resistance against the modern world. The book culminates in a plea for wearing beards – but with an ironical self-distance which one can find in authors such as Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Sartre.