Can Billie Eilish Propel Philosophy Away from Old Men?

Since Billie Eilish’s ‘Therefore I Am’ was released, I was trying to find the relation to Descartes beyond the title. As a philosophy student, Descartes and his famous lines “cogito ergo sum” or “I think therefore I am” follow me everywhere. They took philosophy down a new path, a path that separated the mind from the body.

Now Billie is taking philosophy down another new route, she is modernising a field suffocated by white old men. Through music and lyrics, she is engaging a whole new generation in philosophical debates.

Descartes established that we cannot be certain anything exists beyond our mind. “I see plainly that there are never any sure signs by means of which being awake can be distinguished from being asleep”. You cannot distinguish states from waking states. You could be reading this right now in your dreams, so how do you know you are awake? You simply cannot. The best you can do to rely on your mind.

Billie is using this to separate herself from the culture that is trying to beat her down. Of people who are making bold and rash statements about her that they simply have no claim to. Only Billie can know Billie, so why waste your time making up fantasies about her? Try and figure yourself out instead.

A circus jingle perpetuates the song, mocking the people she is talking about. Mocking the people who are so caught up in the material world, instead of focusing on what they know – themselves.

She begins:

You think that you’re the man I think, 

therefore I am.

Billie twists the infamous Descartes line. You cannot know that you’re a ‘man’. You cannot know your body exists. Your body makes mistakes. Sometimes you wave at someone across the street who you are certain is your friend, but it is a stranger. If you can doubt that, you doubt the existence of your body.

But ‘man’ is a double entendre. If nothing can exist beyond our mind, then gender does not exist either. All the men who shame Billie become irrelevant and fallible. Everyone becomes an ‘I am’ and therefore we are all equal. We are all equal as mind – thinking things. Care for your ‘I am’ rather than another.

Reinforcing the artificiality of the world is one of the most philosophical lines in the song is:

“Don’t talk ’bout like how you might know how I feel

Top of the world, but your world isn’t real

Your world’s an ideal”

We cannot know how anyone feels. This is a constant problem in philosophy and has never successfully been solved. It is often called the problem of consciousness. We are the owner of our mental states, we cannot know others. We can only make guesses.

Consequently, in philosophy, we are not able to talk about other people. Whilst I do not believe we should fully adopt this approach in real life, Cartesian scepticism is not practical. However, I think it is important to consider this idea. We should try to avoid talking about other people, especially if it is not necessary.

Your thoughts about other people are only “ideals”. As is your whole world. You place yourself so highly in the world, but this world might not even exist. It’s just you’re ego.

Billie concludes in an almost stoic approach “I really couldn’t care less”. Billie can be in a state of tranquillity. A type of scepticism that occurs when all doubts all loaded thoughts are suspended. She is not concerned with other peoples opinions of her, neither is she concerned with having opinions of other people. She is just focused on herself.

I truly believe Billie is up to something groundbreaking. She is reconstructing essential philosophical argument and making it accessible to a new generation.

A new philosophical argument is emerging. Philosophy needs to be in dialogue with current culture. Billie is trying to grapple and understand human existence and experience. Through lyrics – words – Billie can mass share her philosophies. Meanings are public and we can all share them easily. We can share parts of the world, and parts of our subjective self.

Billie Eilish is not just an artist, she is a philosopher. And with the philosophical timelessness of her lyrics, she is not going anywhere anytime soon.


24/01/21

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