Make a visual profile of a philosopher in your mind. What comes first to your mind? For most, invariably it is unruly hair, ragged beard, and lack of regard for hygiene, which all but conform to the stereotype.
At least for a second, there is some sort of a possible explanation. Caressing your beard during strenuous mental activity helps ease things. It also increases your cognitive abilities when you do it, though, no conclusive evidence supports this idea. If you have beard, you know it better.
Why is there any association of beard with a philosopher isn’t known very well, although the fact that so many of them used to have beards surely helps.
Confucius considered it an extension of the body and a natural gift inherited from one’s parents, hence, its trimming was discouraged.
Figure 1: Epictetus, a Greek philosopher, who would rather die than shave
Among the Greeks, it was a sign of manhood. The unruly beard was a way of distinguishing between normal civilians and philosophers, although at least one major thinker, Aristotle decided not to retain it.
Among the Roman philosophers, the beard became a sign of showing dedication with the profession. Unsurprisingly, when paranoia led Romans to oust all philosophers, the theoreticians shaved their beards to blend in.
Figure 2: Shelly Kagan, a Clark Professor of Philosophy at Yale University
In modern times, people like Bertrand Russell and William of Ockham kept the idea alive (consciously or not) with the barber paradox and Occam’s Razor, respectively. Currently, philosophers like Yale’s Shelly Kagan are sporting a beard and keeping the tradition alive.
In true modern sense, the deep relationship between the philosophers and beards could be seen in a separate section titled “The Philosopher’s Beard” under “Beard” in Wikipedia.
So, next time anyone asks, why beard? You surely have one more reason to tell.
By: Azeem Ullah Khan