One of the most common tales of aggravation that I’ve heard from non-philosophers about their philosopher is the tale of incessant questioning. Incessant questioning can take several forms, but the form I would like to discuss here we will refer to as philosopher-questioning.
Philosopher questioning can be so darn annoying to a non-philosopher. We non-philosophers might say something innocent like, “I wish I could just go back in time and tell my younger self to have more fun.” Now to us, this statement is merely a thought or a wish, I mean, being an adult sucks sometimes, right?
Next thing we know, our philosopher’s eyes light up and the philosopher-questioning begins: “If you went back in time, would you really still be your 26-year-old self, or would you, in fact, be your 13-year-old self?” And then, before we know it, we’re getting a, “So what you’re saying is . . .” and a, “What you’re committing yourself to when you say that is . . .” (etc, etc, etc).
Next thing we know, we are deep in some discussion about time and the brain states, teletransporters, and time slices, and we are very, very frustrated.
Now, there are two things you must remember about philosophers and philosopher-questioning. They do not do this intentionally, and they are not trying to annoy you.
In academia, philosophers question everything for their living. Remember, analytic philosophers love to look for inconsistencies in arguments and continental philosophers love to relate everything historically. When philosophers take someone seriously (aka they think you are great), they will question you; in fact, they will fire questions at you until you go crazy.
This is a good thing! This means that you have impressed your philosopher enough that they want to engage you. Remembering this will help you when the questioning gets aggravating.
But what do you do when they start doing this at the wrong time, because there will be wrong times.
The exactly wrong thing you could do is to snap at your philosopher and shut them down. If you remember back to the post I wrote about getting your philosopher to talk are very sensitive to being shut down. If you do this often enough, they may get hurt and not question you at all.
I’ve found that the only way to alert my philosopher that this is not the time for philosopher-questioning is to set up a “safe sentence” ahead of time. For example, my philosopher knows that when I say, “I really don’t feel like getting into a long discussion about this right now,” now is not a good time and he should cease.
The important thing about this process, as in most things, is to talk with your philosopher about philosopher-questioning. Explain to them that this type of questioning annoys you sometimes, but you really appreciate that they take you seriously enough to question you. Perhaps it might even be beneficial to set up alternate times to talk about something else in philosophy to help them feel better (I often make promises to do this on our date night). I’m sure your philosopher would be more than willing to wait for a better time if you promise to ask them about their current project.
P.S. Thanks to Brian Leiter for mentioning me on his blog(!!!!!!). And Michael Deem (my recommender and friend), thanks for being confident enough in my posts to recommend me in the first place.
P.P.S. I have a twitter account, but I still haven’t done anything really interesting on it yet (right now I just sound like a weirdo). I do link to new blog posts, though. I’ll probably follow you if you follow me at philosiologist.