If you’ve been around a philosopher long enough, you might begin to notice a certain trend toward fixation on a certain idea within philosophy that they bring up in almost any situation. Let’s use, for example, my philosopher’s current fixation on the idea within ethics of “moral luck.” We might be talking about a nuclear disaster or my cat’s habits of being underfoot at every opportunity, and inevitably the conversation will come back to moral luck. I might say offhandedly, “If I had tripped fifteen seconds earlier, I might have landed on the cat.” Then my philosopher will perk up and say, “You see, this is a clear example of moral luck.”
Next thing you know, I’m either rolling my eyes (and sighing with a “Here we go again”) and/or listening to a mini-philosophy-lecture.
Your philosopher might go through stages of fixations on different ideas within philosophy, but you will often notice a trend toward some idea if you listen long enough. To us non-philosophers, these fixations can be rather annoying if we let them be, but they can also be extremely useful, for several purposes:
1. Distracting your philosopher
Sometimes you will need to distract your philosopher. Perhaps you could sense a philosopher-attack coming on, or perhaps your philosopher is just really depressed during paper-writing/grading season. Nothing will distract and/or divert a philosopher like asking, “In [situation A that I experienced today], was this an example of [philosopher’s fixation]?”
2. Convincing your philosopher that you like them
Sometimes we snap one too many times at our philosophers or lose our patience at movie commentary. Whatever the case, our philosophers will be convinced that we do not like them. An easy way to remind your philosopher that you do really like them is to start asking them questions or making claims about their fixation. Next thing you know, your philosopher will be happily prattling away about why you are right/wrong and answering your questions. This kind of discussion makes philosophers very happy.
3. Impressing other philosophers
Because you have heard your philosopher mention their fixation so many times, it is a very helpful thing to use when around other philosophers (particularly if your philosopher is also present). You don’t even have to do much of the heavy-lifting, either. For example, let’s say you went out with some philosophers for drinks. They start talking about these other ideas within philosophy that you don’t understand, so during a lull in a conversation you might ask, “What do you think of the problem of [philosopher’s fixation]?” If your philosopher is with you, she/he will jump in with a more thorough (i.e. “correct”) explanation of what you mean, and next thing you know, the philosophers will be dickering back and forth about the fixation and you have kept yourself from looking like you know absolutely nothing about philosophy.
You can follow me on twitter (@philosiologist) or friend me on facebook (Philosiologist Qed). I also welcome emails (left sidebar), expensive chocolates, and sweet job offers in Europe.