Cultural Meaning

Individual Meaning

Self-Expression and Double Skin

Inescapable Seriousness


I Tattoo Myself, Therefore I Will Commit Murder

The Mark of Cain

Tatau: First Signifier

Name Beyond Face

Truth Itself, Unread

Tattoo Devotion



Nice Tattoo

What is Art?

Art World Theory: Art is Participation in the Art World

Formalism: Art is the Result of Formal Properties Working Together

Expressionism: Art Elicits an Emotional Response from the Viewer

What Do These Theories Accomplish for Tattoos?

Tattoos as Performance Art

The Human Canvas

Tattoos, Mortality, and Deep Meaning


Mobile Art Gallery

The State of Aesthetic Theory

The Female Fleshy Canvas: Body Art from a Feminist Perspective

Gadamer’s Hermeneutics and Tattoos: Play, Festival, and Symbol

Art Cannot Change the World, but it Can Influence Those Who Will



A New Tattoo Space

The Savage and Civilization

Nothing Ladylike About Being Tattooed?

Ornaments, Crimes, and the Creation of a Feminine Tattoo Space

From Tattoos to Graffiti


Recuperating the Political Body


Getting Under Her Skin

Revolutionary Politics and Feminist Body Consciousness

Homosociality Skinship Bonding, and Corporeal Feminism

Meeting Narrative Needs

Pricks as Needles

Odd Girls Out

‘By the Father’s Hand’: The Tattoo Taboo, Public Anxiety, and India(n) Ink

The Skin She’s In: Keeping Tattooing Personal and Political



Questions of Identity1

Personal Identity Across Time

Somatic and Psychological Accounts

Tattoos and the Somatic Account

Narrative Identity

Tattoos of Anchors … and Anything Else as Anchors

When You Get a Tattoo, You Tattoo You


A Permanent Collection?

The Phenomenology of Determining a Changing Object in a Moving Subject

Visible Freedom: Nineteenth-Century German Aesthetic Theories and Legacies


A Lasting Impression


Not Fade Away

The Present Time of Things Past

Memory as Presently Constructed

Constantly being Imbued with New, Present Meanings



A Philosopher’s Worries

Being a Hedonist … and Regretting It

Mill’s Will

Too Little and Too Much

Motif, Meaning, Motive, and a Middle Path

A Philosopher’s Worries Again


Fingers Running Up and Down the Back of My Arm

Am I Really Free?


Kant, Freedom, and Alternate Natures

‘Nature’ Isn’t a System

Embodied Freedom: It Develops!

The Response Part of Responsibility

In the Space Created by that Fluid Emergence



Story One: Sewn into My Skin is Written into My Story

Story Two: Tattooing at Auschwitz – Ink, Terror, Death

Story Three: Tattooing as a Practice of Writing, Unwriting, Inscription, and Counterinscription

Story Four: ‘Real’ Tattoos and the Excesses of Meaning

A Final Story: My Geckos


A Bad Sign?

Pictures of the Future on Your Skin

Never a Tattooed Man Like This

Tattoos and Human Nature

Covered with Rare and Significant Beauties

Creativity, Creativity, Creativity

Can’t You Recognize the Human in the Inhuman?



Of Ouija Boards and Bar Owners1

Bad Reasons for Condemning Tattoos

Some Moral Compliments

My Complaint

Traditional Virtue Ethics

Virtue Ethics and Tattoos

Tough Tattoos … What Lies Beneath


Knowing the Difference Between One’s Ass and First Base

Self-Important Dork

Personal Ethics and Professional Ethics

The Philosophical Foundations of Bioethics

Clinical Bioethics and Some Major Players

Risk Versus Benefit


Inside the Outside Influences of Your Ink

Memory Remodeling


What if Tattooing is Immoral?

Latent Criminals or Degenerate Aristocrats

Loos and Amorality

Tattooing is Like Murdering?

Loos and the Crime of Ornamentation

Tattooing and Personal Meaning

Tattooing and Liberal Autonomy

Attraction and Repulsion



Dispelling a Confusion

‘You Shall Not Make … Any Marks Upon Yourselves: I Am YHVH’

‘You Are Not Your Own … Therefore Honor God with Your Body’

‘We Must Not Injure Our Bodies: This Is the Beginning of Filial Piety’

The Christian Confucian Confusion


Uh, Because I Am a Buddhist

Impermanence and Permanent Tattoos

‘No Self’ and Body Art as Self-expression

Suffering, the First Truth of Both Buddhism and Getting Tattooed

Mindfulness of Ink


The Belief in Jesus Christ, and Other Religious Beliefs and Disbeliefs

Tattoos, Tea, and Testing Faith

Unmoved Mover and Uncaused Cause

Interaction of the Supernatural and the Natural

The ‘Three Ms’





ROBERT ARP has taught and published in many areas of philosophy and
ontology in the information science sense. He also has done a lot of work in
the philosophy and popular culture realm, and has regularly flashed his half
smiley face, half skull tattoo (located on his right arm, thank goodness!) to
make a point about the distinction between appearance and reality in
‘introduction to philosophy’ courses.


FRITZ ALLHOFF is an associate professor in the philosophy department
at Western Michigan University, as well as a senior research fellow at
the Australian National University’s Centre for Applied Philosophy and
Public Ethics. In addition to editing the Philosophy for Everyone series, he is
also the volume editor or co-editor for several titles, including Wine &
(Wiley-Blackwell, 2007), Whiskey & Philosophy (with Marcus P.
Adams, Wiley, 2009), and Food & Philosophy (with Dave Monroe, Wiley-Blackwell
, 2007). His academic research interests engage various facets
of applied ethics, ethical theory, and the history
and philosophy of science.


Series editor: Fritz Allhoff

Not so much a subject matter, philosophy is a way of thinking. Thinking not just about the Big Questions, but about little ones too. This series invites everyone to ponder things they care about, big or small, significant, serious… or just curious.

Running & Philosophy: A Marathon for the Mind

Edited by Michael W. Austin

Wine & Philosophy: A Symposium on Thinking and Drinking

Edited by Fritz Allhoff

Food & Philosophy: Eat, Think and Be Merry

Edited by Fritz Allhoff and Dave Monroe

Beer & Philosophy: The Unexamined Beer Isn’t Worth Drinking

Edited by Steven D. Hales

Whiskey & Philosophy: A Small Batch of Spirited Ideas

Edited by Fritz Allhoff and Marcus P. Adams

College Sex – Philosophy for Everyone: Philosophers With Benefits

Edited by Michael Bruce and Robert M. Stewart

Cycling – Philosophy for Everyone: A Philosophical Tour de Force

Edited by Jesús Ilundáin-Agurruza and Michael W. Austin

Climbing – Philosophy for Everyone: Because It’s There

Edited by Stephen E. Schmid

Hunting – Philosophy for Everyone: In Search of the Wild Life

Edited by Nathan Kowalsky

Christmas – Philosophy for Everyone: Better Than a Lump of Coal

Edited by Scott C. Lowe

Cannabis – Philosophy for Everyone: What Were We Just Talking About?

Edited by Dale Jacquette

Porn – Philosophy for Everyone: How to Think With Kink

Edited by Dave Monroe

Serial Killers – Philosophy for Everyone: Being and Killing

Edited by S. Waller

Dating – Philosophy for Everyone: Flirting With Big Ideas

Edited by Kristie Miller and Marlene Clark

Gardening – Philosophy for Everyone: Cultivating Wisdom

Edited by Dan O’Brien

Motherhood – Philosophy for Everyone: The Birth of Wisdom

Edited by Sheila Lintott

Fatherhood – Philosophy for Everyone: The Dao of Daddy

Edited by Lon S. Nease and Michael W. Austin

Coffee – Philosophy for Everyone: Grounds for Debate

Edited by Scott F. Parker and Michael W. Austin

Fashion – Philosophy for Everyone: Thinking with Style

Edited by Jessica Wolfendale and Jeanette Kennett

Yoga – Philosophy for Everyone: Bending Mind and Body

Edited by Liz Stillwaggon Swan

Blues – Philosophy for Everyone: Thinking Deep About Feeling Low

Edited by Abrol Fairweather and Jesse Steinberg

Tattoos – Philosophy for Everyone: I Ink, Therefore I Am

Edited by Robert Arp

Forthcoming books in the series:

Sailing – Philosophy for Everyone: Catching the Drift of Why We Sail

Edited by Patrick Goold


This book is dedicated to Susan, Zoe, and Lexi Arp, and Bill Drake.




Tattoos were a harbinger of Twitter. If I were to tweet that message, it wouldn’t reach the right audience. Twitterers have opinions (lots!), but for someone to see my tweet they would have to follow me, and you mostly follow people whose opinions you share. Also, there are those who don’t get tattoos or tweets; for instance, my mother is not on Twitter.

‘You’re what?’ was my mom’s response when I told her I was leaving my job at a major publication to take editorial control of Inked – a tattoo lifestyle magazine. If this were a sitcom I would have just repeated myself, but it wasn’t, so I paused to give her a moment to reflect on my decision. ‘I don’t like tattoos,’ she continued (though that phrase could use an exclamation point, my mother doesn’t exclaim; at times like this her voice inflects a loving worry and there’s no punctuation mark for that). ‘Do you have tattoos?’

When I told my former journalism professor, Amy Kiste Nyberg, she mused, ‘What can you write about tattoos?’ Indeed, tattoos evoke questions that can be mundane, or even deeply philosophical. When I was in college, that same professor hammered home the journalistic maxim, ‘in a city of eight million people there are eight million stories.’ So, the simplistic response to her question was that in a city of eight million people who each have two tattoos there are sixteen million stories. Ink is that important to the wearer. The marks on their skin signify an important time in their life – even if someone just got a tattoo on a whim because they were ‘young and crazy,’ that’s an entry point into talking about what else they did when they were reckless.

To answer my mother’s first question, the timing was right for both myself and for tattooing. She was born in the first half of the twentieth century – a time when the only people who got inked were sailors and scofflaws. Now we see tattoos on a few doctors, mayors, priests, and even academics such as those who have contributed to this book.

For older generations, the American Dream was to conform. The goal in life included a nine-to-five job, khakis, two-point-five kids, a golden retriever, and ambrosia salad. Anyone who deviated – the hipsters, hippies, mods, punks, and then a different iteration of hipsters – was labeled as weird. But suburban fatigue set in, and, when a younger generation was told that they could be anything they wanted to be when they grow up, they no longer aspired to be businessmen or lawyers – they wanted to be themselves.

At that time, the tattoo landscape was dangerous, filthy, and devoid of talent. Most shops were strategically located a beer-bottle’s throw from the skeeviest dive bars, the insides resembled Soviet-era doctors’ offices, and the purveyors either looked like or were the kind of guys you’d meet in prison. The tattoo parlor was a hangout for the usual suspects, where you could easily score drugs or a girl for hire. Naturally, in the tear-down-the-picket-fence era, this lifestyle attracted throngs of young talent. Creative teenagers who before had the choice of being a starving artist or selling their soul by going into advertising now had a third choice: become a tattoo artist. Akin to being a commissioned painter, tattooing offered a variety in projects, though it is arguable that ink has a steadier stream of customers. But, most importantly, tattooing was lucrative: it was, and still is, a cash-in-hand business (i.e., ‘If the IRS wants their money they can come down here and try to take it from us’). This new crop was not interested in tracing stencils of staid hearts and hula girls – they wanted to create their own designs. With their deft hands, they perfected composition, color schemes, and shading in the medium. Before, tattooists were people who could operate a piece of machinery – mere craftsmen. Now they were artisans.

Maybe it was the new guard, or perhaps it was the AIDS hysteria, but tattoo shops started cleaning up their act. Back in the day, your crude skull tattoo might have come with a bonus of hepatitis or something else off dirty needles. Now, hygiene was as much a crusade as the movement to progress the art form, with the buzz around the autoclave being that they would never expand their clientele if it weren’t safe to get inked. One shop gets a customer sick and the rest of the shops in the city lose. Some tattoo artists even implored their local governments to enact health codes and inspections, and because, as you remember, the government didn’t often step foot into shops, some tattooers even helped write the codes.

With new, interesting art and a sterile environment, the free-from-conformity youth at large began exploring the idea of getting tattoos. One of the pillars of individualism is fashion; when prisoners are stripped of almost all of their rights and freedoms, the moment they are able to make a free decision, they pick out their own clothes. In the new ‘be yourself’ environment, what was Dockers’ loss became tattoos’ gain. Fundamentally, ink is fashion: you pick it out, it’s worn on you, and it tells people something about you. At first, a brazen few started altering their look with tattoos; those early adopters were looked at with envy by their peers, as well as with flippant distain by the mainstream. The style went through the same periods of cultural introduction and acceptance that women’s makeup and then hair dye had earlier in the century, only tattoos seemed stranger and more severe due to their permanence (confounding those who see it as a passing fad). And, though tattoos weren’t alone in the brave new world of body alteration thanks to the rise in nose jobs, face lifts, tummy tucks, and breast implants, those procedures were meant to make a person fit in (well, maybe not in the case of some extreme breast implants), while the only purpose of tattoos was to make one stand out.

Again, at first it was the edgy, bombastic youth who tried out tattoos; but then Kat Von D, the face that launched a thousand tramp stamps, became Middle America’s liaison to the tattoo world. Kat’s shows – TLC’s Miami Ink and LA Ink – took the tattoo shop experience and beamed it into the homes of soccer moms in Ohio. The nuclear family that would have never dared peek into the window of a tattoo parlor could safely play a fly on the wall thanks to reality television. Not only did they like what they saw, they wanted in – they wanted ink. The producers of the Ink programs made shrewd choices in casting not only charming, personable tattooers but also some of the best working artists. Had they gone with the scary, crusty old guard of workman-like inkers, tattooing would have never embedded itself into the skin of the mainstream.

I don’t believe that tattooing is underground – it’s not even a subculture any more. Numbers vary, but most of the hard data agree with a 2006 Pew Research poll that found that forty percent of Americans between the ages of twenty-six and forty are tattooed. That means that there are more people with tattoos then there are blondes in the United States. Let that sink in. And, speaking of the popularity of tattoo art, in a highly unscientific study, conducted by yours truly, I cold called a bunch of phone numbers in Lebanon, Kansas, the geographic center of mainland America. I asked the person who picked up on the other end if they could identify any of the following artists: Jeff Koons, Shepard Fairey, and Kat Von D. Guess which name they knew?

Tattoos and reality television – two celebrations of everyman individualism – have helped each other grow to prominence. The rise of these two have occurred thanks to people who were told they were special, told they could be themselves: the ‘me generation.’ The people of our generation wanted to scream their identity on their skin and shout their opinions from the rooftops. When the craft of tattooing bettered itself through aesthetics, safety, and public relations, we went under the tattoo gun. Then, when technology finally caught up with our need to self-express, we logged onto Twitter.

When Robert Arp, the editor of this book, contacted me about the project, I was a little shaky about the idea, despite the fact that the book is loaded with readable and thought-provoking chapters. I know that Joe Sixpack likes tattoos and will pick up a publication to read about them, but it wasn’t clear to me that the philosophers, academics, and more ‘thoughtful’ people would appreciate, or even want, ink on ink. These thinkers seem to float above pop culture, not in it: do they perceive tattoos to be nothing more than the mark of a deviant?

During my mulling-over period, I received an email from my old professor, who wanted to send me one her brightest students to intern at Inked. Well, this indicated to me that, by her sending a future bright light of journalism to cover tattoos, a part of the intellectual elite was investing in the culture’s relevance. In order to reach a more highbrow audience about my belief that tattooing is the new modern art, as well as an important symbol of my generation, I concluded that the message should be in this heady book rather than tweeted to my circle. The only other question I had was whether I was right person to write this Foreword. I wasn’t sure whether my immersion in the tattoo scene had tainted my perspective of the current acceptance of ink. Damn the Pew numbers – were tattoos still perceived as scary and weird?

Then my mother called. She started, ‘You should see this woman at my job, she has the niftiest tattoo.’



An Introduction to Tattoos – Philosophy for Everyone: I Ink, Therefore I Am


Can you imagine yourself without your own body? Can you conceive of yourself existing in someone else’s body? Go ahead and take a moment to try. If you have a tattoo, and you think it’s something that defines who you are, then chances are you’ll find it a little more difficult to perform these above thought experiments. Why? Probably because your inner self is revealed for the world to see through your tattoo, and you need your body in order to do the revealing. Your tattoo on your body expresses your thoughts, your beliefs, your experiences, your feelings, and your past – all of which make up who you are at a fundamental level. Even if your tattoo represents something else, or someone else’s thoughts, beliefs, and the like, it’s still on your body as your statement of your thoughts or beliefs about someone else’s thoughts, beliefs, and the like. The same goes for those tattoos that you may have been forced or coerced to get, or got when you were (perhaps) drunk or high, but have decided to keep anyway. Who would you be without your tattoos, which are indelibly marked into the skin of your body?

The above thought experiments are serious questions that René Descartes (1596–1650) posed in his Meditations on First Philosophy (1641). In this work, Descartes claims that, because he can clearly and distinctly understand that he has a mind – with thoughts and perceptions – and can be deceived and think, there must be something that is doing the thinking, perceiving, and even being deceived (the deception is possibly by virtue of some evil, genius, god-like thing). Descartes viewed his own existence as a non-bodily thinking thing, or mind, as the ‘something’ that does the thinking, as well moving the body around. Thus, Descartes claims that, if he is thinking, he is existing as a thinking thing/mind to do the thinking in the first place, and that’s where we get what has come to be known as the ‘I think, therefore I am’ dictum associated with this famous French philosopher. The argument itself can be laid out in simple modus ponens format like this:

The argument is valid (the conclusion follows necessarily from the premises), but I will leave it to you to take the further step and decide whether the argument is sound by determining whether the premises are true or not with evidence and further argumentation.

In the Meditations, Descartes also goes on to distinguish the thinking thing part of himself from his bodily part. One argument Descartes puts forward has to do with the idea that he can conceive of himself as a thinking thing distinct from his own body extended in space and time, but cannot conceive of himself as distinct from his own mind as a thinking thing. Thus, claims Descartes, the body is distinct from the mind in fundamental ways. The argument can be laid out like this:

Again, I’ll leave it to you to evaluate the argument by deciding whether the conclusion follows from the premises and whether all of the premises are true (these are the two general steps to take in evaluating whether an argument is a good one or not). Here’s one possible problem, though: it may be that Descartes is assuming in his premises that mind and body are distinct, which is what he’s actually trying to prove in the conclusion! Such a fallacious move (if in fact he’s making it) is an example of bad reasoning called ‘begging the question.’

In the history of Western philosophy since Descartes, these two arguments have been influential in not only driving a wedge between the body and the mind but also in getting people to think that the fundamental and defining part of a person is her/his mind and mental capacities. So, people have used these arguments (and others) to answer the questions ‘What is a person fundamentally?’ and ‘What makes you be who you are in essence?’ by claiming that a person’s essential nature and identity is some kind of mind or collection of mental capacities (experiences or memories, for example). There is a whole area of philosophy known as the philosophy of the person that investigates these questions (areas of philosophy of mind investigate these matters, too) and researchers in this area offer numerous arguments for and against taking the thinking thing as a person’s basic essence. But here I just want to call attention to the fact that positing a person’s identity as solely a mind would probably be called into question by the tattoo person, again, given that the bodily-based tattoo is such a strong form of self-expression. ‘My tattoos express who I am’ is a mantra that can be consistently heard out of the mouths of tattoo persons, as well as found in numerous articles, books, and blogs in virtually every language on the planet. And one’s body is necessary for that expression.

Now, I want to take Descartes’ famous dictum of ‘I think, therefore I am,’ reconstitute the ideas a bit (as well as do some wordplay), and maintain that the tattoo person would probably feel comfortable saying ‘I am, therefore I ink.’ What I mean by this is that the person with a tattoo

1 Realizes not only that s/he is intimately tied to her/his body but also that bodily expression is a fundamental way of communicating to others (this is the ‘I am’ part) and
2 Utilizes the intimate connection with the body to express innermost thoughts, beliefs, experiences, and the like by indelibly marking the body for all to see (this is the ‘therefore I ink’ part).

In other words, the tattoo person might say something like ‘I am a person intimately tied to my body in a community of persons who express themselves bodily; therefore I ink to express my innermost thoughts, beliefs, experiences, feelings, and the like to this community of persons.’ Again, it’s not the same kind of reasoning utilized by Descartes, and I’m wordplay-ing a bit, too – but you get the picture.

It sometimes happens that people are forced to get tattoos, in concentration or internment camps, or they are coerced through peer pressure to get a tattoo (maybe in the military), or they get a tattoo while completely drunk, stoned, or high on something. Even in these situations, unless you get the tattoo removed, almost everyone who has (or keeps) a tattoo probably thinks of the tattoo as a constant visual reminder of who they are and/or what they have experienced, whether the experience is a positive or negative one. In an email correspondence with me during the construction of this introduction, one of the contributors in this volume, Adam Barkman, emphasized the experiential nature of the tattoo by wisely noting:

Tattoos are a part of our personal histories and as such are valuable, even sacred in a sense. We all are faced with a choice as to whether we will grow or merely change. Growth is what a tree does – it adds new layers, but never denies or replaces the other layers. So should we (and our tattoos ought to), like the rings of a tree, represent our past, a part of us that will always be us, in some respect.

It should be clear by now that I have underscored the fact that tattoos are a form of self-expression and, given the intimate tie between a person’s bodily-based tattoos and who they are, numerous philosophical questions arise regarding personal identity. So, in this introduction we have already done a bit of philosophical reflection on tattoos from the perspective of the philosophy of the person, which is usually a branch of philosophy under metaphysics. A few of the chapters in this book investigate issues concerning what constitutes self-expression, personal identity, and identity over time. But there’s more philosophizing to be found associated with tattoos: tattoos and the tattooing arts are fertile ground for both Western and Eastern philosophical ideas and analysis, and this book offers many valuable ‘seedlings’ in the form of chapters devoted to several central topics in Western and Eastern philosophy. In case you’re wondering what the areas of Western philosophy in general might be, see Figure I.1 for short descriptions.


As an editor, I have never seen such enthusiasm expressed by contributors in their emails as was expressed by these authors when submitting abstract ideas for this book. Virtually everyone who submitted an abstract said something along the lines of: ‘I am so excited to see someone doing a book like this!’ or ‘It’s about time a book like this was written!’ or ‘What a great idea!’ This volume, thus, enthusiastically presents chapters that touch upon many areas in Western and Eastern philosophy with the goal not only of enlightening people concerning the nature of tattoos and the tattooing arts but also of bringing philosophical ideas to non-philosophers, and vice versa.

FIGURE I.1 Branches in Western philosophy.


Besides philosophical questions regarding personal identity like the ones I have presented above, in this book you’ll first find a chapter on the history and nature of tattoos and the tattooing arts, TATTOOS AND THE TATTOOING ARTS IN PERSPECTIVE, which seems to be a sensible way to start the discussion. However, as Charles Taliaferro and Mark Odden note, the ‘historical progression, meaning, and significance of tattoos and the tattooing arts are neither smooth nor unified, and actually can be considered as varied and punctured as the skin on which the tattoo is placed.’ Many will find it fascinating to learn that the word ‘tattoo’ is derived from the Tahitian word tatau (which means ‘marking something’) as well as the Polynesian word ta (which means ‘striking something’). By the end of this chapter, not only will you have a basic understanding of the history, cultural meaning, individual meaning, and self-expression associated with tattoos, but you will also be able to think about whether you agree or disagree with the intriguing ‘double skin’ theory that Taliaferro and Odden put forward.

In HOW TO READ A TATTOO, AND OTHER PERILOUS QUESTS, Juniper Ellis quite cleverly shows how several different personal tattoo experiences throughout history yield their own ‘I ink, therefore I am’ claims. For example, the great critic of tattoos and tattooed people, Adolf Loos (1870–1933), likely would have claimed, ‘I ink, therefore I will commit murder,’ while one of the first Christians, St. Paul of Tarsus, might have been comfortable saying something like, ‘I ink, therefore I am saved by God.’ In point of fact, Ellis has written her own book on tattoos – specifically tattoos from the Pacific – and her expertise shines through in her writing. After completing her chapter, you’ll likely agree with her comment that ‘within and beyond the Pacific, a tattoo’s proclamation reverberates in both the most secular and sacred realms.’

The third chapter, ARE TATTOOS ART?, begins a discussion, running throughout the volume, of whether or not tattoos can be considered forms of art. As Nicolas Michaud notes, it’s important to get at a definition of art since people go around saying of certain things they see, ‘What cool artwork!’ or ‘That’s not art!’ And, we wouldn’t want to call just any old thing we see (or experience with one of the five senses) art – for example, some chewing gum on the sidewalk that has been stepped on. But, do we determine what counts as art? Or is art what it is, and then we have to conform to it when we create things like sculptures, paintings, or tattoos? After presenting four popular theories of art – namely, art world theory, formalism, expressionism, and performance art – Michaud goes on to consider whether tattoos could appropriately fit into one or more of them. In the end, he argues that tattoos might best be considered examples of performance art, adding: ‘the fact that a tattoo is placed on a person adds a significant layer of context and potential meaning that makes tattoos a fertile ground for aesthetic experience.’

Continuing the art of tattoos discussion, in the fourth chapter, FLESHY CANVAS, Kimberly Baltzer-Jaray and Tanya Rodriguez maintain: ‘It seems that the only thing that distinguishes tattooing from other fine arts is the fleshy canvas its content appears on.’ They back this claim up with a discussion of feminist and hermeneutical aesthetics (‘aesthetics’ is the branch of philosophy that concerns the definition and nature of art, beauty, and taste). Feminist aesthetics adds a personal, individually willed, redefinition of a tattoo as art that exists on the ‘female fleshy canvas,’ while hermeneutical aesthetics – inspired by Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900–2002) – imbues the female fleshy canvas with the possibility of a variety of interpretive perspectives of that tattoo. A tattoo is a personal statement, as well as a public display of that personal statement, which is bolstered by Baltzer-Jaray and Rodriguez’s following observation: ‘As much as art has a very intimate, individuating aspect, it is also a way in which the witness to art participates in something beyond themselves, something communal.’

All of us need to be reminded of the fact that, throughout human history, there have existed male-dominated social, philosophical, and scientific spheres, among others, in a variety of cultures all over the world. Numerous women have tattoos, and the feminist philosophical perspective not only offers valuable insights into tattoos and the tattooing arts but also sheds light on these male-dominated spheres. FEMALE TATTOOS AND GRAFFITI is the fifth chapter of the book, and in it Thorsten Botz-Bornstein suggests that tattoos can help us rethink, as well as break down, stereotypes associated with women and men. He puts forward the interesting argument not only that contemporary female tattoos have created a new social space that is multidimensional but also that the female tattooed body acts as ‘a wall on which multiple desires are projected.’ ‘In this sense,’ claims Botz-Bornstein, ‘tattoos have become graffiti.’ Whereas a landscape offers one the visible features of the land before one’s eyes, and this landscape can include graffiti, Botz-Bornstein speaks of a ‘skinscape’ that offers one the visible features of the human skin (here, specifically, female skin) before all of society’s eyes, and this can include the female tattoo expressive of a ‘women’s own economy of thought, will, and/or desire.’

‘Popular portrayals of feminism often use simple, sensational terms such as ‘man-haters,’ ‘penis-enviers,’ or ‘closet lesbians’ to depict proponents of this ‘f-word.’ These misogynistic stereotypes and attitudes fundamentally overlook the diversity and complexity of feminist history and philosophy.’ So begins Nancy Kang’s thoughtful piece, PAINTED FETTERS, which is the sixth chapter of the book. She notes that, while there are a variety of different feminist perspectives (for example, radical feminism, Marxist feminism, liberal feminism, and corporeal feminism), what they all have in common is the desire to rectify a world in which women are assumed to be inferior to men, and, hence, do not enjoy the same kinds of rights, benefits, and privileges as their male counterparts. One thing Kang seeks to establish in her chapter is that female tattoos act as a way to ‘accentuate’ and ‘amplify’ this unjust, differential treatment of women. Another is the fact that ‘both tattooing and feminism elicit powerful emotional responses, often in the forms of hasty judgments about a person’s moral character.’ Kang mentions Michelle ‘Bombshell’ McGee (who, by the way, endorsed this book) and how people probably thought she was all the more a ‘home wrecker’ of the relationship between Sandra Bullock and Jesse James precisely because she dons many a tattoo. Such an example, Kang maintains, is important to mention because ‘it is a feminist imperative to question, deconstruct, and critique any bias against women based on physical appearance.’

The next three chapters of the book all deal with what I started to write about at the beginning of this introduction; namely, tattoos and personal identity. In the seventh chapter, TATTOO YOU, Kyle Fruh and Emily Thomas focus on two questions: ‘What does it take for a person to maintain their identity over time?’ and ‘Who am I?’ In response to the first question, although the majority of folks think that it’s some aspect of your mental capacities that makes you be you over time (as I mentioned above, too), Fruh and Thomas seriously consider the possibility that it is your body – complete, possibly, with tattoos – is what constitutes your identity over time. In response to the second question, they cleverly utilize the metaphor of an anchor (with the pun on the classic anchor tattoo intended) to argue for one’s identity as a kind of ongoing narrative. The final line of their chapter speaks volumes: ‘When you get a tattoo, you tattoo you.’

‘Tattoos are forever,’ claims Rachel C. Falkenstern in the first line of the eighth chapter, ILLUSIONS OF PERMANENCE. ‘Yet, tattoos are not forever,’ she claims a little later. Why? It’s not only the obvious fact that our tattoos are connected to a body and the body will disintegrate with time; it’s also the fact that any self-identification with our minds or bodies (complete with tattoos on them) is illusory in the end. Why? Because our selves are intimately tied to our environments, which are constantly in flux: ‘We come into being, develop, and interact with our environments as embodied beings; the world shapes us and we shape the world.’ Falkenstern backs up this claim utilizing ideas and arguments from Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1908–1961), the aesthetic theories of early German Romanticism and German Idealism (late eighteenth to the early nineteenth century), and the Pragmatism of American philosopher John Dewey (1859–1952). After reading this chapter, you’ll never look at yourself in the mirror again without wondering, ‘Is this really me I’m seeing in the reflection?’

One way to think about yourself as being the same self through all time has to do with your memories. You know you’re the same you who went to Disney World at age seven, had your first cup of coffee at age twelve, and had a sip of alcohol at twenty-one, precisely because you remember those events. And those events seem permanently burned into your mind. But, are those memories really as permanent as you think they are? In the ninth chapter, MY TATTOO MAY BE PERMANENT, BUT MY MEMORY OF IT ISN’T, using arguments from Marcel Proust (1871–1922) and St. Augustine (354–430), Clancy Smith claims that, although his tattoo seems to be permanent, ‘as soon as I begin to reflect on the static, unchanging nature of the ink, I realize that my memories have nothing of the immutable nature of the tattoos themselves.’ After reading this chapter, you’ll never look at yourself in the mirror again, then walk away, without wondering, ‘Was that really the same me I now remember seeing in the reflection?’

Tattoos can express a person’s decision to do whatever s/he wants with her/his body, and, in the case of tattoos forced upon persons in concentration camps, they can represent a person’s radical enslavement – thus, tattoos naturally raise various issues in the philosophy of freedom (a branch of philosophy under metaphysics). Am I really free to get my tattoos, or am I compelled or determined by forces beyond my control when I walk into the parlor? Also, should we be free to do whatever we want to our body, possibly covering most of it with tattoos? In the tenth chapter, TATTOOS ARE FOREVER, Felipe Carvalho addresses not only the freedom to get a tattoo but also what might be good reasons to choose to get a tattoo in the first place. He offers us a sensible solution: don’t be overly impulsive and don’t be overly rational when you make a decision to get a tattoo, or make any other decision for that matter. Of course, you might always want to err on the side of being rational, as being impulsive about tattoos can lead to something like getting a tattoo when you were younger that says, ‘I Love Becky … Forever and Ever!’ when you may later marry a woman named Mary!

According to Jonathan Heaps in BEARING THE MARKS, the eleventh chapter, you may think that you are free to go to a tattoo artist and get a tattoo. However:

Doesn’t my nature – in terms of genes causing me to act one way or another – determine my character, beliefs, opinions, motivations, intentions, and actions? … Further, I had no control over the circumstances into which I was born, and the people who raised me and influenced my life growing up (parents, guardians, teachers, role models, and the like). All of this environmental influence and pressure surely has had a direct effect upon my character, beliefs, opinions, motivations, intentions, and actions. So, it’s not just my nature, but doesn’t my nurture (the environment and its lasting effect upon me) also determine who I am? And hasn’t that nurture further determined how I have acted, do in fact act now, and will act in the future? How can I be the thing freely choosing my actions, given the determining influence of both nature and nurture?

Heaps does have a response, though, and it has to do with the fact that nature is really a system of statistical laws – not necessary laws that wholly determine everything – and the probability associated with these laws allows for the possibility of free choices. This offers a clever solution to the problem of being determined to get a tattoo, or perform any human action, actually.

In the twelfth chapter, NEVER MERELYTHERE,’ Wendy Lynne Lee begins a discussion of experiences and stories surrounding tattoos. All of us who have been inked probably remember the experience quite vividly, and even the time before and after entering the parlor. For me, getting ink was an experience laced with pain (obviously), fear, doubt, and anticipation. I got my tattoos in the late eighties, when it was still considered pretty counter-cultural to get them. Lee maintains that there is an ‘intimate relationship between a tattooed subject and her or his embodied experience’ that cannot be placed into words completely; and this seems correct for almost any highly charged, emotional experience. Yet, she tries to put the tattoo experience into words by telling us a few ‘stories’ – including her own – noting that ‘Whatever else is true about tattooing, tattoos are never “merely there.” ’

‘There’s something really the matter with most people who wear tattoos … I know from experience there’s something terribly flawed about people who are tattooed above the little something Johnny had done in the Navy, even though that’s also a bad sign.’ Kevin Decker utilizes this quotation from Truman Capote in the thirteenth chapter of the book, SOMETHING TERRIBLY FLAWED, noting that it’s an example of a hasty generalization. Of course, everyone contributing to this book would agree that a statement such as this one is an unwarranted generalization. Decker does something really neat in his chapter: he takes two famous stories by the American literary giant, Ray Bradbury – namely, ‘The Illustrated Man’ and ‘The Illustrated Woman’ – and offers us a few significant bits of philosophical reflection surrounding tattoos. This illustrated pair are donned with many a tattoo, and not only does Decker give us enough of these two interesting stories to rival Cliff’s Notes (a good thing, actually) but he also links tattoos to a few issues in the philosophy of human nature. ‘As a form of social creativity,’ Decker tells us, ‘tattooing has a deeply philosophical significance inscribed, as it were, in its flesh.’

The possible unsightliness and stigma associated with tattoos gets us to start thinking about issues in ethics/moral philosophy and political philosophy. Do we jump to the conclusion that tattooed people are immoral or unethical? Can we get too many tattoos, such that we’re addicted to getting them like one might be addicted to drugs? Should we shun people with tattoos, or think less of them? Is there any connection whatsoever between tattoos and a criminal lifestyle? In the fourteenth chapter, THE VICE OF THE TOUGH TATTOO, Jennifer Baker begins to address these above questions with an interesting argument from the perspective of a general moral position dating back to the Ancient Greeks (and at least to Confucius in the East) known as ‘virtue ethics.’ Unlike ethical positions that focus on the act itself, the principles associated with the act, or the consequences of an act, the virtue ethicist concentrates on the moral character of the person committing the act, asking the question ‘What kind of person – virtuous or vicious – am I, or am I becoming, as a result of this act I’m about to perform.’ Her argument is simple and direct: Getting a certain kind of ‘tough’ tattoo contributes to an unhealthy subculture, and a ‘good person should want no part of this subculture.’ ‘In fact,’ she maintains, ‘getting a tough tattoo contributes to a vicious, rather than a virtuous, psyche.’ And we wouldn’t want to cultivate vices for ourselves, for our communities, or for our world.

Even though Daniel Miori claims that he doesn’t know his ‘ass from first base,’ he’s a seasoned physician’s assistant who works in palliative care, a field that deals with end-of-life situations on a regular basis. So, he’s often around doctors, and he knows his bioethics (the branch of applied ethics in which philosophical positions are actually put into practice when making decisions concerning matters such as physician-assisted suicide, abortion, contraception, usage of animals for research, and others in the realms of biology, medicine, and clinical practice). In the fifteenth chapter of the book, TO INK, OR NOT TO INK, after some introductory material regarding bioethics and some key players on the field today, Miori ultimately argues that, before getting a tattoo, you should certainly weigh the risks and the benefits associated with getting inked. Obviously, if getting a tattoo will be bad for you (in either the short term or the long term), in your particular set of circumstances, then you shouldn’t get one. This risk/benefit analysis, combined with the idea that you are an autonomous, freely choosing individual with your own mind, means that it can be morally OK for you to get a tattoo. Miori even goes so far as to maintain that getting a tattoo can be therapeutic for some.

In his chapter, WRITING ON THE BODY, Simon Woods takes a serious look at an idea that most of us – especially tattoo people – would reject without even thinking about it; namely, the connection between getting a tattoo and being a criminal. Believe it or not, however, one hundred years ago most people would have made this connection without hesitation. This connection existed thanks, in large part, to a thinker named Adolf Loos (1870–1933), who claimed in his essay ‘Ornament und Verbrechen