I am reading an excellent book titled The Infidel and the Professor that I will review in more detail once I have finished it and had time to fully digest it. The book is an intellectual biography of two Scotsmen David Hume and Adam Smith who were so influential in shaping modern western thought and were also good friends, with each of their ideas building on the other’s, though since Hume was twelve years older and a far more prolific writer, his ideas went into print before Smith’s.
But along the way, the author Dennis C. Rasmussen makes some interesting asides and one that struck me was his listing of all the canonical philosophers who were also bachelors like Hume and Smith: Plato, Thomas Aquinas, Thomas Hobbes, Rene Descartes, John Locke, Benedict Spinoza, Isaac Newton, Gottfried Leibniz, Voltaire, Immanuel Kant, Edward Gibbon, Arthur Schopenhauer, Soren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Ludwig Wittgenstein. In fact, Nietzsche remarked that true philosophers never marry and that Socrates did so only ironically.
The list is quite impressive and makes one wonder whether there is something about a deep commitment to studying philosophy that makes people leery of permanent romantic entanglements. Of course, in making such lists, there is the danger of cherry picking names to fit a tentative hypothesis. There is always the problematic question of what should be the total population that one should start with (what would be the total pool of canonical philosophers) and how the rate of bachelorhood among philosophers might compare with (say) that of prominent physicists or musicians. Perhaps under such a more careful analysis, the effect becomes less dramatic.
But if I take as a baseline Monty Python’s Philosopher’s Drinking Song (below) and look at the names of the famous philosophers they mention where they picked names without consideration of marital status but presumably because they could fit them into the comic rhymes, only four of the 13 people in their list (Martin Heidegger, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, John Stuart Mill, and Karl Wilhelm Friedrich Schlegel) were married with the nine others (Kant, Hume, Schopenhauer, Wittgenstein, Nietzsche, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes, and Descartes) being bachelors, giving a bachelor rate of 71%.