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Knowing thyself ... in private: Masturbation and philosophy

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“Only a being which, like man, ‘had’ the word... can and must ‘have’ ‘the hand’” —Martin Heidegger

“I have a dangerously supple wrist.” —Friedrich Nietzsche


Karl Marx once compared philosophy to masturbation, essentially seeing both as privative, idealistic, and impractical activities. Indeed, many lay folk see philosophers as “wankers.” While the present state of universities does throw doubt on the liberatory character of contemporary philosophy, Marx’s jibe nonetheless mischaracterizes masturbation. This paper is a brief attempt to correct Marx’s characterization of masturbation by drawing on the work of a thinker ofter associated with “intellectual onanism”: Martin Heidegger. Speaking ontologically, Heidergger’s theories can be developed to show that masturbation it is not privative, but “stretched” in time and place. Moreover, masturbation plays a practical role in the creative development of the self, including the self’s essential bodiliness. While not necessarily defending philosophy against Marx’s charges, this paper does show how even so-called “onanistic” philosophy might be redeemed.

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Young, D.A. Knowing thyself ... in private: Masturbation and philosophy. Sex Cult 9, 58–79 (2005).

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