Penguins Are People Too: An Essay in Pure Penguinology.

A guest authored edgy essay by Robert Whyte

Famous Australian scientist and tennis player compares penguins and humans, circa 1972.

No, they are not.

Penguins are not people. Quillisophically, this is what is referred to as a “category error.”

People are humans. Penguins are not humans, they are fish, or birds (hard to say really, but definitely not humans). Therefore, Penguins are not people.

By the way, a “category error”[i] is defined quillosophically as follows:

(1) P=Penguins exist
(2) H=Humans exist
(3) P=People exist[ii]

You see how easy it is to get muddled up? On the surface, it looks like P=P. But Penguins spend a great deal of time underwater[iii] which, quite rightly, is below the surface, which is where things get a bit murky.

It is generally known[iv] that while Penguins are not people (we just established this, remember) they think they are. So do people, for that matter (and you can take this any way you like).

The private delusions of Penguins and people have, however, no place in the realm of quillosophy which is not here to answer questions, but to ask them. If Quillosophers answered questions they would all soon be out of a job and who would want that to happen? All right, don’t start. Settle. Hands down. This isn’t a democracy you know, it’s a quillosophical essay, and since you paid the free admission price, do yourself a favour, sit quietly and listen, you’re disturbing the one person who doesn’t agree with you. Who? Me, of course.

So what is the realm of Quillosophy regarding Penguins?

It is of course to ask: “Do Penguins exist?”

Yes I know we have already assumed this in the whole people-Penguin thing, but what if it’s not true? No, that is not contradictory or unfair. It’s just Quillosophy and you had better get used to it if you’re thinking of getting a job doing it.

Quillosophically, Penguins may not exist. This is undoubtedly true, since Quillosophy has nothing at all to do with anything except Quillosophy, especially not evidence, which is in the realm of ordinary people, bless their pointed little heads.

Further, if Penguins may not exist, since this is a polite way of putting it, we simply have to give them permission to not exist, because they asked so nicely.

Further, except for the evidence to the contrary, the non-existence of Penguins is a definitive Quillosophical truth.

In other words, Penguins do not exist.

But don’t tell them! How far are you going to get, walking up to a Penguin and saying, “Oh, by the way, you don’t exist.” A beak in the eye, that’s what you’ll cop.

We are not alone in knowing about Penguin nonexistence, we can assure you. As a matter of uncontroversial fact, all of the hundreds of thousands of detailed, historical accounts of Penguins have been produced with one goal in mind: to disprove their existence.

Since then, and because of those bastards, there has been only disagreement regarding the existence of Penguins. Belief has not been an option.

Really? No-one believed in Penguins, even late at night in the shed on a mouldy mattress reading Catcher in the Rye by candle light?

So what happened to bring them into existence?

Before we answer that question which, as we might have mentioned, we won’t, let us consider the following truth, which we hold to be self-evident.

Prior to observation, facts may exist.[v]

Therefore even if they have never been seen, heard, spoken to or poked nobody in the eye, just because we haven’t personally “known a Penguin” doesn’t mean they couldn’t possibly exist, at least somewhere, perhaps on an Island, running around naked, eating fish and laying eggs and talking about the meaning of life.

What’s that you say? Oh, you think that for facts to be known, they must related by one or several witnesses. OK, we’ll accept this on principle, but with two caveats, a) who are these fucking so-called witnesses and where do they live? and b) eye witness accounts are notoriously unreliable.

Once the foregoing[vi] is realised and manifestly understood, a further undeniable truism emerges as a consequence, which is: fiction is more true than reality.[vii], [viii]

In other words, when confronted by a complete lack of evidence for well-known events, the historian must improvise, taking refuge in the comforting embrace of fiction, where anything can happen, and usually does. From fiction comes storytelling and from stories — the truth. If we were to deny the truth, we might as well give up now.

Having presented the facts as we found them, and leaving out anything which didn’t quite fit with our theories, we hereby absolve ourselves of the need to answer the question of Penguin existence.

It’s really up to you to weigh the evidence, be persuaded by the arguments, or remain unconvinced (although even reading this Quillosophical essay, given the topic is in fact Penguins, you’d have to admit you are lending credence to the whole “Penguin existence” thing).

A member of the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition plays the bagpipes for an indifferent Penguin, March 1904. Neither the piper nor the Penguin could possibly be genuine, as in March 1904 there were no Penguins anywhere near here, or anywhere else for that matter. WILLIAM SPEIRS BRUCE, DURING THE SCOTTISH NATIONAL ANTARCTIC EXPEDITION, 1902–04.

Leaving all that to one side, the ‘concept’ of Penguins, we reckon, is a cracker. It must be, otherwise it wouldn’t have created so many books, films, muttered conversations, political complaints and bedside manners.

So, what’s the down side? Such mental constructs do not threaten anyone with material evidence, or claims of human enslavement. Or do they? Surely the concept of Penguins must have some kernel of truth, or would not the concept have wandered, morphed and evolved into something else?

If the concept were merely an insubstantial phantasm, would it not have drifted into the concept of, for example, donkeys? Werewolves? Fish? Birds?[ix] Penguins, conceptually, seem to have somehow acquired the right to remain Penguins. This suggests more than an idle daydream.

Don’t worry, you exist, even if Penguins do not. We can prove this with a simple experiment. Hello!

Did you hear that? Yes, you did. Or sort of. You saw the word Hello! and in some strange way said it to yourself in that feathery head of yours. Anyway, seeing and hearing aside, it’s easy enough to prove you exist. We just did. And we are very glad to have established this, as we were beginning to worry about you.

On a cautionary note, it has been suggested, in more than one place and not only at night, that our essay on the existence of Penguins, the one you are now reading, has been copied, word for word, from other sources.

This is a Replicant, you silly person, not a Penguin.

To this we say: “So what?”

Those other so-called sources were themselves copied from previous essays, and those from essays which preceded them, leading back inexorably to an original essay, all traces of which have unfortunately lost, but which, in corresponding word for word with ours, suggest it may have been plagiarised from the one you are now reading, which by virtue of this logic, must be the first and only true account, from which all others have been copied. So there.

Reptilian Penguin ancestor of the present day. Clearly Penguinesque and wearing a monocle, this Indian cobra is in fact a genetically modified Penguin. COMISSIONED BY MARY, LADY IMPEY (1749–1818) AND HER HUSBAND SIR ELIJAH


[i] Note the scare quotes, which indicates here that there is something fishy about this phrase “category error.” Either that or someone is sending you the proposed price of a new carpet for your bedroom less the price of a book about spiders.

[ii] Whenever I see a piece of prose with mathematical symbols and equals signs I reach for my revolver.

[iii] Just in passing, the expression underwater is a bit misleading. It really means under the surface of the water. If it really meant under the water, it would be referring to whatever was below where the water stopped. It would then be suggesting that Penguins spend a great deal of time in sub-oceanic rock, which is clearly ludicrous.

[iv] This is what you say when you are about to present a false premise.

[v] Gotcha there, eh?

[vi] The preceding statements are rhetorical, of course, and come directly from Spinoza’s celebrated speech, On Penguin logic and the use of false syllogisms in everyday life.

[vii] This may be all very well, but you need to know which truth exactly and whether this truth is within or outside the confines of your knowledge. In other words is the truth known, unknown, unknowable, or an onion?

[viii] What is reality anyway, other than a collection of stories made up by other people? Do you really know anything? You say you know your neighbourhood like the back of your hand. How well do you know the back of your hand? Have you really studied it? Do you know how many hairs or freckles it has? Do you know its chemical composition, or refractive index? Is that a wart over there near the base of your little finger? We thought so.

[ix] It’s really hard to decide on this question. But we Quillosophers don’t answer questions, as we pointed out somewhere else.


Mr Nemo, W, X, Y, & Z, Wednesday 8 August 2018

Against Professional Philosophy is a sub-project of the online mega-project Philosophy Without Borders, which is home-based on Patreon here.

Please consider becoming a patron!



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Mr Nemo

Mr Nemo

Formerly Captain Nemo. A not-so-very-angry, but still unemployed, full-time philosopher-nobody.