Generally I’ve found that philosophers tend to care more about societal/ethical issues than the average person. This could be because they read mountains of blogs every day (political and philosophical) or because they often study political and ethical theory in philosophy classes and participate in discussions about such theories in lectures and conferences and with each other.
Wherever they pick these things up, I have discovered that most philosophers I know have very strong opinions on things like food ethics, animal welfare (many philosophers are vegetarians or vegans), political systems, welfare, the organization of welfare, race and ethnicity, and education.
One of the problems that non-philosophers often encounter with philosophers who care so much about these ideas is that to us it seems that these philosophers may not put into practice the theories that they believe in. We see our ethicists talk about treating all members of all social classes equally, but they act particularly unkind to a waiter/waitress. We see our Marxists refuse to attend a sporting event because they don’t want to interact with the proletariat who annoy them. You get the idea.
This is an old problem in academia, across the subjects: An English professor might study Dickens, but is completely unaware of the poverty in her/his local community. A professor who studies feminism might be particularly unkind to her/his female office staff members. A, economics professor who believes that tax revenue is important to fund government programs that help the needy might cheat on her/his taxes so they don’t have to pay out.
What makes philosophers different than other academics in this area is how they handle inconsistencies being pointed out to them. Philosophers like to think that they are living “the examined life.” If a non-philosopher points out to a philosopher that they seem to believe one truth but act contradictory to this truth, philosophers generally become hostile, as almost everyone does, and then react with fierce philosophical attacks. Remember, philosophical work is all about making arguments. But, the important thing to remember is that philosophers—because they really are trying to live “the examined life”—will often change their behaviors as a result of someone drawing attention to inconsistencies.
So, instead of getting angry with your philosopher when they spout strong ethical/political views but never practice them, I encourage you to point out these inconsistencies (in a gentle way) and steer your philosopher back into the real world. One of the best things about philosophers I’ve noticed, that works in your favor, is that they all have an incredibly serious guilt complex, which is very effective if you can tap into it.
Here are some ways that you can point out inconsistencies your inconsistent philosopher:
1. Wait, then note.
Wait until the situation is past (or the person your philosopher said/did something to is out of hearing) then point out the inconsistency. Addressing the inconsistency while the person is close or can hear will just make your philosopher feel like you are trying to make them look bad, which will make them even more bristly.
2. What would [X philosopher] say about what you just said/did?
Some philosophers do not need much prompting to feel guilty about their behavior. A simple question will help them draw a connection between what they just did and what they actually believe.
3. I remember that you’ve explained [X ethical/political theory] to me before. It seems to me that it is inconsistent for you to say [X] and do [what you just did]? Do you think that my interpretation of this as an inconsistency is correct?
Some philosophers find this method very patronizing. Some philosophers really need to be reminded of their political/ethical views and feel that you also understand them, though, before you can express any contradictions in their own behavior. I don’t recommend this for many people.
4. Note inconsistencies in your own behavior and try to change them.
Sometimes acting ourselves can be enough of a wake-up to a philosopher. You probably won’t even have to mention anything about how you are trying to demonstrate your commitment to idea X. Encouraging your philosopher to participate with you in this action—and having your defenses ready in case they try to pull the “I’m too busy for this” clause—will be motivation enough for them to act.
5. Hey, you’re doing it again.
If you and your philosopher have discussed inconsistencies before, sometimes a simple reminder (a nudge, a significant eyebrow raise) is enough to bring on a little philosopher-guilt.
6. If all else fails, gear up for a battle.
Some philosophers need direct philosophical attack in order to recognize inconsistencies. If your philosopher is this type, prepare yourself by reading summaries of the type of theories your philosopher believes. Approach the battle with questions such as, “In [situation reminiscent of one where you witnessed your philosopher being inconsistent], would [theory X] say that this person was acting immorally?” “What about [another situation]?” Then a simple, “Sometimes you do [situation]. Is there a reason why you do this? Are you really following [theory X] if you do this?”
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