Pints with Aquinas Episode

On New Year’s Day, Pints with Aquinas, a podcast that seeks to explain the thought of Thomas Aquinas to non-specialists, featured an episode on happiness; it is a conversation between me and the podcast’s hilariously self-deprecating and generous host, Matt Fradd.  The episode is titled “How to be happy” but its not about that (no one can tell you how to be happy–virtue is not a technique,  and philosophy isn’t self-help).  I’m posting a link to it here; I hope you enjoy our conversation!

Side note:

Whenever I do a podcast, I always think  about what I wish I had said as opposed to what I actually said.  In this episode,  for instance, Matt asked me why I don’t like Jordan Peterson’s writings.  I wish to say a little bit more in response here than I offered Matt during our conversation.  I didn’t want to derail our episode, but at the same time, I want to be on record about why male interest in Jordan Peterson bothers me.

First and foremost, I don’t follow Jordan Peterson and I have not read his book.  I do not consider this a failure on my part.  I am a finite being with limited resources, and I have to be prudent  about what I decide to read, especially since I read very carefully and in a time consuming way.  Jordan Peterson is famous not because he has brilliant ideas–from what I can gather, his book promotes many pedestrian, time worn platitudes about us, in addition to some fairly shallow readings of great books–but because he is an admitted, radicalized culture warrior.  I am allergic to our toxic culture wars,  as they drag down discourse rather than elevate it.  Culture warriors have practical (typically political) ends and reality gets dragged around to meet these ends on both sides; I have no time for that.  I don’t need to engage yet another voice opposed to finding common ground together.  I want to search for common ground, and if I didn’t believe that was possible I would sooner give up on discourse rather than further destroy it.

But I went further and said I don’t like his work, and that is what needs to be explained.   Jordan Peterson says  some unserious (indeed, laughable) but also dangerous things about women, and frankly, whatever sensible, true  things  he says about our culture is outweighed by his toxic attitudes about women.  For instance, that the feminine is deeply associated with chaos whereas order and reason is masculine, and to treat it any other way would be “transhuman” or denying reality.  For instance:

“You know you can say, ‘Well isn’t it unfortunate that chaos is represented by the feminine’ — well, it might be unfortunate, but it doesn’t matter because that is how it’s represented. It’s been represented like that forever. And there are reasons for it. You can’t change it. It’s not possible. This is underneath everything. If you change those basic categories, people wouldn’t be human anymore. They’d be something else. They’d be transhuman or something. We wouldn’t be able to talk to these new creatures.”

Or, if that wasn’t weird enough, here’s something JP tweeted in 2016:

“Women, if you usurp men they will rebel and fail you and you will have to either jail or enslave them.”

Um, OK.

And please note that his “Twelve Rules for Life” is an antidote to chaos–an antidote to the feminine. I think I know enough already about what he is on about, and I’m not interested in what he’s selling.  If you are interested–if this vision of women appeals to you and rings true to your experience–I’m concerned about you.

Having said this, I certainly don’t want to silence Jordan Peterson, even though I think this vision of the feminine is dangerously false.  I will  raise daughters to be proud of their feminine genius insofar as they have cultivated it. But when men ask me point blank, as Matt did, why I don’t like him, as if he’s obviously great, I hope the answer is now clear:  I don’t have time for misogyny masquerading as eternal verities.  Life is too short, and I’d rather be reading wise women like Elizabeth Anscombe, Philippa Foot, Donna Tartt, Edith Stein, Hannah Arendt, Simone Weil, Marilynne Robinson, Eleonore Stump, or any of the incredibly amazing contemporary women philosophers and theologians I am so blessed to work with and learn from.









8 thoughts on “Pints with Aquinas Episode

  1. Peterson plays with order and chaos thru the cannon of hero stories. Chaos, in Peterson’s work does not represent femininity however, the secular world. Order, is what we benefit from in society. Peterson illustrates simplistic versions of the hero journey: Bilbo Baggins, Luke Skywalker, Cain & Able, etc. as a call to young people to leave the comfort of their basements, confront chaos and return to the domestic space having learned how to set their lives in order.
    I agree, it’s sad this message resonates as novel.


  2. Very well put Jennifer – I was hoping you would address this further as it was cut short in the podcast. I thought overall the interview with Fradd was fantastic, and I ordered the The Sources of Christian Ethics and Gilead as well. I have read Peterson’s “12 rules for life” and found most of it was common sensical and then the chaos stuff was just weird (but that’s just me). There also seems to be plenty of muddled and meandering thinking – kind of the opposite of Aquinas. I will say that if you want to find common ground with JP, I think it’s that he is at least battling the “meh” culture…especially among men.


  3. Hi Jason, I’m so glad you liked the episode. You confirm my impression that it is mostly recycled common sense stuff, but weirdly packaged as anti-feminine. It’s the latter I take issue with. But again, I haven’t read it, so who knows. But at this point in my life, I’m a pretty good judge of what’s serious and what isn’t. Fallible judgment, but basically reliable (I hope!) I’m all for battling a bad culture for men; but proposing antidotes for the feminine seems like the wrong way to go. Also, I did a podcast episode on Gilead if you are interested. And a blog post too. Here are some links:



  4. Hi Devin, A quick google search reveals Jordan Peterson himself describing the feminine as chaos. Is there some sort of deep distinction between the feminine and femininity you are operating with here? Otherwise I don’t see how you deny my basic claim. Certainly I am happy to tell young men that they should get their lives in order (we all should)! But I am not happy with reducing the feminine to chaos as opposed to an orderly masculine. That denigrates the feminine, in a way that is both weird and highly suspect.


  5. I guess maybe I should add this: When men describe JP, it tends to sound anodyne and quirky. When women describe JP, it tends to sound pretty suspicious. Probably something there.


  6. Jennifer, I really enjoyed your interview with Matt. I was curious to hear more about why you don’t like Peterson’s work so thank you for taking the time to elucidate. Also, I just listened to the lecture you gave for the Thomistic Institute on Walker Percy and it was wonderful. You’re an incredibly clear communicator and I really enjoyed the lecture. Keep up all the great work!


  7. Watching your interview with Jared Zimmerer on the WOFI Digital Summit right now, and the subject is really similar to this episode you did with Matt Fradd. I just love this topic and your take on it…the Happiness and Meaning topic, not the Jordan Peter topic, that is.


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