Is “awesome” just an overused word for things we like? Or does it refer to a particular kind of excellence? Would the world be a better place if we all tried to be more awesome and less sucky? This week, we’re thinking about awesomeness.
What Is It
The word “awesome” once meant inspiring extreme fear or dread. Nowadays it’s mostly used as a general purpose exclamation of approval. So when we describe a person as awesome, are we saying that they exemplify some general form of excellence? Or are awesome people those who break specific social norms to generate moments of creative expression and social connection? Would the world be a better place if we all aimed to be more awesome and less sucky? Josh and Ray stand in awe of Nick Riggle from the University of San Diego, author of On Being Awesome: A Unified Theory of How Not to Suck.
Is “awesome” just a word for things we approve of? Or is awesomeness a particular kind of excellence? Josh thinks the term has become meaningless and overused, but Ray argues that it holds a definition of doing something excellent that inspires respect and admiration. They disagree about whether a pro-social condition such as helping other people is necessary for awesomeness and wonder if it should only be used to describe things with an ethical dimension.
The philosophers are joined by Nick Riggle, Professor of Philosophy at University of San Diego. Nick provides his definition of awesomeness as being good at creating social openings, followed by various responses to these invitations and the importance of being sensitive to how they will be received. Ray then asks about what it means to suck, which Nick describes as declining a social opening for no good reason. Josh wonders about the relevance of expressing one’s individuality, which Nick believes can be understood through the difficulty of breaking out of social roles. He also proposes that describing things as awesome means that they have the potential to play a role in social dynamics.
In the last segment of the show, Ray, Josh, and Nick discuss awesomeness in the context of war and its interactions with politics and social oppression. Josh points out how Nick’s theory situates awesomeness as a moral value and how it might be less accessible to certain groups of people, such as introverts. Ray worries that they fits Nick’s definition of a “fake ass person,” but he reassures them by pointing out its condition of being deceptive about taking up social openings. Nick emphasizes the mutualistic relationship between social change and awesomeness and the importance of expressing our individuality in a communal way.
- Roving Philosophical Report (Seek to 4:33) → Shereen Adel speaks to people on the street about what they think are awesome, from favorite animals to airplane food and friendships.
- Sixty-Second Philosopher (Seek to 45:40) → Ian Shoales considers the overuse of the word “awesome” in American culture.
Is "awesome" just a word for things we approve of?
Or is awesomeness a particular kind of excellence?
Would the world be a better place if we all try to be more awesome?