Philosophy in the World: Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN.

When relating this course to the outside world, I decided to choose the rap album entitled “DAMN.” by Kendrick Lamar. This piece of work contains 14 tracks that displays the rapper’s exploration of his place in the world- through his community, his own body and even the next stage of his life. “DAMN.” tells autobiographical stories through his songs as Lamar grapples with themes of religion, morality, culture, purpose in the world and many other ideas that some philosophers in the course have touched upon (The album can be listened to here ). This album, like the texts addressed in the course, evaluate human behavior and purpose. While many philosophers focus upon the general public, Lamar creates an internal and external dialogue about his actions in society- a learning process for himself and others to indulge in. Lamar focuses upon the issues of the justice system, evaluating the morality of the actions of people in positions of authority in the United States. This evaluation of his place and purpose in the world, and the actions of others in society provide for philosophical discussion similar to that of the philosophers we study.

Philosophy to me, is the use of abstract reasoning, suggestions, frameworks and ideas in discussion to expand our knowledge regarding how we fit in, and should act in the world. These discussions can revolve upon the actions of others, or even oneself. Philosophy uses examples, and ideas to support these suggestions and does not necessarily rely upon a mutual agreement amongst people. I see philosophy as a large, eternal discussion of the realm we inhabit, and all additions within reason, enrich and provide perspective to this discussion, leading to the proliferation of philosophy.

For example, John Stuart Mill outlines a framework for how people ought to act in terms of utilitarianism. In doing so, Mill suggests the Greatest Happiness Principle: the idea that, “actions are [morally] right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, [morally] wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness.” (Mill 2).  Furthermore, Mill suggests that happiness is defined in terms of pleasure and reduction or absence of pain (Mill 2).  Mill also identifies a distinction between different types of pleasures used to achieve happiness. Mill suggests that sensual pleasures consist of eliminating pain and fulfilling basic human needs needed to sustain life (Mill 4). Conversely, he identifies intellectual pleasures as those which fulfill a higher purpose in the world by pursuing intellectual efforts and potential (Mill 5). Of these, Mill suggests that in order to live a properly happy life, one would have to pursue both pleasures. This is one of the many suggestions that Mill puts forward, but engages a discussion regarding the idea of happiness and morality, and how this can be achieved.

Similarly, Kendrick Lamar engages in a discussion regarding morality through his songs, and provides suggestions in his lyrics regarding his experiences that gives listeners a new perspective. In the song, “YAH.”, the rapper speaks about the faults of justice system in the United States in relation to people of color. Lamar opens by stating that he has “theories and suspicions” about the themes he addresses (Heal). Relating to Mill’s arguments, Lamar addresses ideas of pleasures in “LUST.”. In the song, Lamar provides perspective of what it’s like to be famous in this day and age. He speaks of the empty pleasure of fame through his lyrics: “Lately, I feel like I been lustin’ over the fame/ Lately we lust on the same routine of shame” and even goes on to suggest fame itself is a contradiction of his expectations (Heal). Lamar goes on to suggest that without the social influence of his platform, the fame would leave him unsatisfied. This connects to Mill’s ideas of intellectual pleasures in so far as pursuing social change and social justice would satisfy Lamar’s intellectual pleasures and bring him ultimate happiness. Moreover, in the track, “FEAR.”, Lamar speaks about the things he fears most, including the gang issues in the city he grew up in. Through the stories of his life, he encourages others to challenge the systems that oppress them. This includes police in the community, religious institutions, and social pressures. Through the songs on the album Kendrick Lamar provides an ideology and a new look on society and being a person of color that creates conversation regarding morality, and happiness among many themes. Some of his ideas lie parallel with other philosophers mentioned in class, however the value of Lamar’s work lies in its originality and unique perspective to the conversation regarding morality in societal actions. By contributing to the eternal philosophical discussion and providing new ideas and suggestions through songs, the album “DAMN.” classifies itself as philosophical content.

The use of philosophical activities can vary from person to person. Moreover, the range of philosophical activity is extremely wide and diverse including discussion, to indulgence in media and even volunteering within the community. Personally, the most significant ways I participate in philosophical activity is by dissecting music and engaging in meaningful conversation. Throughout my life, I have indulged in music that helps me gain awareness about the issues going on in the world. This led to my love of hip-hop music, and allowed me to view it as a multifaceted view of expression for artists that can provide immense knowledge. By listening to this kind of music, I feel as though I am able to learn more about how I fit into the world, and where my views lie. I am able to combine the perspectives of others and engage in discussions with my peers that reinforce my suggestions and frameworks of how people ought to live. Moreover, these discussions and perspectives that I put forth can add to the ideas of others, and hopefully add value to their conversations in this idea of an eternal discussion about life.

This class has expanded my idea of what I thought philosophy was. Going into this class, I thought philosophy did not have as much influence on one’s everyday life or their general perspective of the world as I now think it does. Philosophy has helped me to realize the depth and range of perspectives the world has to offer, and that meaningful conversation takes individuals one step closer to figuring out what our place in the world really is.


Works Cited

Mill, John Stuart. Utilitarianism. 1863. pp. 1-17.

Heal, Michael. “Damn: Kendrick Lamar Lyrics.” Genius. Date Accessed April 3, 2018.