John Hinderaker went on to major in philosophy as an undergraduate at Dartmouth, but I believe it was Hugh Hefner who awakened John’s interest in philosophy. Before Wittgenstein, there was Hef. In “Perjury penumbra,” John spoke for both of us when he wrote:
For those who don’t remember, Hefner’s “Playboy Philosophy” was a monthly staple of the magazine for what seemed like three or four decades. Every month, along with the girls and the fiction and the articles on stereo equipment and cars, Playboy carried a long — interminable, really — dissertation on Hefner’s “philosophy.” If all the installments of the “Playboy Philosophy” were collected and published in book form, they would (in volume, at least) put the Encyclopedia Britannica to shame. Hefner made Marcel Proust look like Calvin Coolidge.
The “Playboy Philosophy” may have been verbose but it was fascinating, especially if you were thirteen. Hefner painted a grim picture of the sexual landscape of early-sixties America. America was, we learned, dominated by Puritanism. Books were censored. A few jurisdictions banned, or purported to ban, the sale of contraceptives. Archaic laws against oral sex were on the books in many states, and married couples were hauled off in chains for violating them. Puritanical prosecutors and judges lay in wait to punish anyone venturing to engage in sex that was not of the approved sort. With hindsight, this was an odd perspective on the America of that era, but it described our junior high schools pretty well, and we bought it.
While railing against the Puritanism of present-day America, Hefner described the world that was struggling to be born. A world where sexual gratification was available to everyone (at least everyone who could afford a car and a stereo), and freely consenting girls would be standing on every street corner. We know now it didn’t quite turn out that way, but at the time, it sounded good to us.
Today the New York Times visits the man who a clever headline writer calls “The loin in winter.” Hef is 83. The Times reports that he now cohabits with three young girlfriends. Two are twins, age 20. It’s not illegal, but it’s creepy.
Harking back to the days of the Playboy Philosphy, Hef has a six-volume illustrated autobiography with highlights of Playboy’s first 25 years coming out next month. The Times reports that only 1,500 of the $1,300 behemoths will be sold. Preorder now!
The Times conveys the concern of some of Hef’s long-time friends. They “fret that some of the accomplishments they admire — creating a cultural icon (the Playboy Bunny), eroding racial boundaries (through the inclusion of black performers in his clubs), and supporting many feminist causes, including abortion rights and the Equal Rights Amendment — are getting lost.”
What about the achievement represented by Hef’s philosophical work? Surely it stands with his support of “feminist causes, including abortion rights and the Equal Rights Amendment.”