Flirting with Philosophy

Sunday, May 31, 2009
First Aired: 
Sunday, August 12, 2007

What Is It

What is flirting? Can you flirt without intending to? Can you flirt by dressing a certain way, by walking a certain way? Is flirtatious behavior culturally relative? Could you flirt with a robot? With your own long-term partner? With an idea? Join John and Ken as they plumb the philosophical depths of flirting with Carrie Jenkins from the University of Nottingham, author of "The Philosophy of Flirting."

Listening Notes

Have you ever flirted? Have you seriously thought about it? I don’t mean your designs to pass off a knowing wink at that special someone on your daily commute—I mean, have you ever thought about what it means to flirt, why you do it, or what it means to do it well?  In this episode, John and Ken do just this with the renowned philosopher and expert flirt Carrie Jenkins.

So what is flirting? It often seems to involve intonations of romance or sex, but not everything sexual or romantic is flirting. Is there anything essential to flirting? Is this even a worthwhile philosophical discussion? John wonders if perhaps it’s cheap to approach flirting in this way, but Ken quickly reminds him that almost all philosophical discussions begin in a similar way, and that flirting is a form of communication that can be discussed like any other.

We’ve lost the chance to chat with Heraclitus about change or Aristotle about syllogisms, but in this episode, John and Ken get to talk with a modern day founder of a philosophical topic: Carrie Jenkins, a professor at the University of Nottingham and contemplator of all things flirtatious. While her definition of flirtation is complicated, she insists that the proper intention is essential, as well as playfulness and a certain worldly wisdom.

Carrie’s first paper on flirtation quickly received a polemic reply from her husband. The bone of contention was whether one could flirt so badly that it ceases to be flirting at all. Is this possible? One caller wants to know about what happens if you’re unconscious about flirting. Is there a difference between being a flirt and being a tease? Maybe the best way to think about flirting is as a speech act—a way of doing something by speaking. Does this bring any new insights? Listen, and find out.

  • Roving Philosophical Report (seek to 4:49): Polly Stryker goes to a local bar to find out why and how people flirt. Some people use them as simple pick up methods, and some use them artfully as a way of making people fall in love with them. Is there  a single method that works on everyone, or do you need to approach each person differently? These are questions best settled empirically.
  • 60-Second Philosopher (seek to 50:06): Ian Shoales, master flirt, drops in.  Look at literature: everyone flirts. We see it everywhere in Jane Austen; Scarlet O’Hara did it, and James Bond does it all the time. Flirting is a doorway, but it’s often best not to have expectations about what’s on the other side. When a woman flirts too much, she’s a vixen, and when a man flirts too much, he’s a wolf. What happens when a vixen and a wolf end up sitting next to each other at a bar? Well, probably an awkward morning at the least.