The words of the philosophers are written on the bathroom walls

Inspired by [post=8448974]this post[/post], I remembered this epigram that struck me when as a young man I first saw it in a toilet stall (no, not the “here I sit all broken-hearted” phrase):

“To be is to do” - Philosopher A.
“To do is to be” - Philosopher B.
“Do be do be do” - Sinatra.

In my case, I saw it with A = Socrates and B = Sartre.

But a quick internet search this morning showed many variations, with the names Socrates, Sartre, Nietzsche, Kant, Descartes, Voltaire appearing as either philosopher A or philosopher B.

Which would be the most appropriate for A, and which for B?

“To be is to do” might be a decent match for Aristotle. One of his key ideas was to define what an object is in terms of what it does, and a good object by how well it does it. For instance, a knife is a thing which cuts, and a good knife is a thing which cuts well.

My two cents:

“To do is to be” sounds an awful lot like Descartes’ “I think therefore I am”, at least to my ears. It is just stated in more general terms.

I thought the words of the PROPHETS were written on the SUBWAY walls and tenement halls…or is it studio walls and concert halls…


“Religion is the opiate of the masses.” Karl Marx

“Get high on Jesus.” Billy Graham
“I think, therefore I am.” Rene Decartes

“I don’t think so.” Jimmy Hoffa

According to a magnet I saw for sale today, it was Nietzche for the first and Kant for the second. Of course, I’m not sure which order the two phrases were in.

Wikiquote gives “to be is to do” as attributed to Kant. Nothing on Nietzche’s page.

but I do know that Mme. Descartes would sing that Cole Porter song whenever she refused her husband’s affections:

“Descartes, take that away from me.”

Thank you waterj2. I wonder what wikiquote’s source is for assigning “to be is to do” to Kant. Could it be from a bathroom wall graffito?

  1. Know thyself
  2. Nothing in excess
  3. Why seekest thou here? They joke lies in thine hands!

For a good time call Mme. Descartes, 555-3877.

No, for a good time call (303) 499-7111

I know this is not a philosophy 099 course, but I wonder about this. Was there something inherently wrong in that idea? It seems so self-evident that I think I must be missing something. I can’t conceive of another way to say what a good knife is. What am I not seeing? If it doesn’t cut well, it can’t be considered a good knife, can it? How would Aristotle have defined a box cutter?

"*Assistants!  Assistants!*":  Ed Wynn

Not that I know of, and I didn’t mean to imply that there was. What’s perhaps more controvertial is the extension of the idea to us: Aristotle defined a “person” as a thing which thinks, which would make a “good person” one who thinks well. Which then, of course, raises the question of what constitutes “thinking well”, and whether a psychopathic genius is a “good person”.

How old is this piece of grafitti? I first saw it about 1972 or 1973. It can’t be older than 1966, since that’s when the Frank Sinatra song came out.

I recall it in a bathroom in a college dorm I lived in which might put it as early as 1970 or 1971, though it could have been later.