Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Answer Set #1

[Gosh! Finally!] 

It has been a long time in the blog-world, but I am back after an unintentional blogging hiatus. Not only am I back, but I am answering your questions.

Over the next few days I will be posting answer blogs.  I am intending to group these questions by theme. I heartily welcome discussion to these answers, especially in circumstances where my answer to a question is to open the floor to philosophers/non-philosophers (obviously, there are many times when you have much more wisdom or insight than me).

So, let’s proceed with our first batch of questions.

Question 1

How would a friend/spouse/family member best broach the subject of jobs and money? Some philosophers complete their schooling and are content to spend their days reading, writing, researching, and working on projects without actually being employed or actively searching for a job. This may seem fine for a while but after several years, you would think survival mode would kick in and they would make finding a job a priority. Curiously, this is not the case with my philosopher. I've tried unsucessfully (and sucessfully) to talk to him about it. While he agrees that it is time to get a job, he still hasn't actually looked or applied for one. Is this a common problem among the philosopher community? How might I inspire him to start working?


Several things could be at work here.

1. Philosophers have a hard time transitioning back to the “real world” after they’ve been submerged in philosophy for a while. They got into philosophy because, as you mentioned, they are so happy when they are “reading, writing, researching, and working on projects.” The fact that they may have to enter a realm where people are not interested in these same pursuits is depressing and overwhelming.

2. Your philosopher might not be looking for an academic philosophy job for the terrible (but all too real) reason that there are so few jobs available in philosophy. Perhaps your philosopher looked around a bit but returned dissatisfied and with the resolution to wait it out for a bit. Job prospects (the ideal, tenure-track kind) for philosophers are very slim.

3. It might be a good idea to ask your philosopher if you can discuss the reasons behind why he is so reluctant to look for a job. Perhaps your philosopher is too overwhelmed with the kinds of “real world” jobs on the market and needs some direction. Perhaps they are just hunkering down and waiting for someone they know in the field to recommend them for an interview. Perhaps your philosopher is just really depressed at his prospects.

I would recommend encouraging your philosopher to start applying for some jobs, with the promise that you will back them up if they want to enroll in additional philosophy courses on the side and if you remind them that entering the non-philosophy world is not the end of their philosophy dreams. They can still attend lectures, classes and conferences. Perhaps your philosopher thinks that committing to a normal job means the end of their philosophical study. Assure them that this is not the end! If your philosopher would like to get back into the academic philosophy world, encourage them to work hard on some of the projects they used to work on or are interested in working on.

Question 2

How do Philosophers "rest their brains"? i.e. they spend so much time thinking... so how do they stop and relax for a bit?


The philosophers I’ve met have a wide array of different hobbies and interests outside of philosophy, just like you and me.  Here are a few of the most common ways that philosophers rest their brains:

1. Video games: This is not a gender-biased observation, as I know many male and female philosophers who ‘game. Video games give philosophers a chance to do something with a different part of their minds.

2. Socialize: Philosophers love to get together for dinner, parties, and drinking. While they will often get together with other philosophers, they tend to either talk about “fun” philosophy things or normal-person things.

3. Attend concerts: If you live in a city with a decent local music scene, you will find many philosophers in attendance at such events.

4. Drink: Whatever their brew, philosophers enjoy drinking (coffee, tea, alcohol, etc). While they use these stimulants to work, they also use them to relax.

5. Read books: My philosopher always has 5-10 non-philosophy books  that he is reading at one time—even during the busiest seasons. Philosophers love knowledge, and reading is an easy way to gain more knowledge.

Question 3

Philosophers and pets: If we are mostly incapable of feeding ourselves (clearly a spot-on observation), how is it that we all seem to live with cats?


Ah, yes, the cat question. Pets, especially cats, are very persistent creatures when it comes to things like eating and needing the litterbox cleaned (or needing to go outside). I don’t ever have to tell my cat, “Hey, aren’t you getting hungry?” My cat has made it his personal duty to remind me every time I walk by his food bowl that it is dinner time.

I can see pets adjusting to philosophers and their absent-mindedness extremely well, actually. If a philosopher does not remember the last time that they fed the cat and the cat acts hungry, then they will probably feed the cat, which the cat will quickly figure out and use to her/his advantage (resulting in a very fat, but happy, feline).

Philosophers may not notice their own bodily sensations of hunger, but they will notice a pet that trips them or yowls mournfully near a food bowl or at a door (and if you don’t clean out the litterbox, then a cat will make it very clear to you that it is well past time to do so).

Philosophers, anything to add?

You can follow me on twitter (@philosiologist) or friend me on facebook (Philosiologist Qed). You can also write me an email (left sidebar). 

~The Philosiologist


  1. Around where I live, there's a school between high school and university that's called "CEGEP". Pretty much everyone attends it, and they give philosophy courses in all pre-university programs, which means lots of jobs for philosophers. But people in these jobs do very little research, and when they do, it rarely makes it to peer-reviewed journals.
    The thing is, if you did half as much research, you wouldn't be half as productive. Philosophy research involves a lot of links, and just as in a graph, a new node has much more possibilities to form edges if the graph is very big, your new findings will get you much further if your mind is full of things to make links with because you've been reading a lot.

    So I disagree with answer 1. But then, there are many openings in departments for research assistants, post-docs, correctors, etc. This might mean that this person's philosopher might have to move from where she/he is, and he/she might be hesitating because of his/her partner.

  2. The job thing is hard. I'm on the cusp of submitting, and my throat constricts every time I think about the job situation. Like you say, the market is dire right now, and even before it went to hell, it wasn't exactly easy to get a job.

    We all know this though. Yadda yadda. What I wanted to say was that it takes an awful lot of understanding on both sides for couples / families etc to get through this. Whether we're plugging away at trying to get an academic job (cycle after cycle) with no luck; or whether we've apparently gone into denial and just sit and read all day (and / or work in coffee shops -- I'd love to work in a coffee shop!), I can see that it seems like we're just being pig-headed / selfish / lackadaisical.

    The thing is, to get to the point of being a philosophy PhD, we've given 10+ years of absolute dedication to that pursuit and that subject. Giving up on an ailing job market is not just asking someone to give up on their future career plans; it's asking them to give up on their past as well. That's what it feels like, anyway. I went through a really rough period of regretting ever having gone to grad school, feeling like I'd wasted my 20s, and now was behind in pretty much everything, including "life". I mean, who cares if I get to put Dr ahead of my name or not. I'm still not qualified for anything above "Graduate Trainee". At the age of 31.

    Ok, so I felt sorry for myself. Which is hugely unproductive and unattractive. And I don't really want to work in a coffee shop. I want to feel like I contribute to my household, and do something my partner can be proud of. But sometimes I'm just over-awed by leaving the only thing I know. And that includes all my dreams about my future for the last 10 years.

    Ok, so that was a bit of a self-indulgent ramble, but I just wanted to show the non-philosophers what a big mess we can get into when it comes to making career plans.

    ps -- re. question 2 you left of yoga / hiking / running :)

  3. I love the pet question (and answer). I would add that philosophers do well with pets because animals in our homes serve as something tangible (and animate) tying us to the real-world and preventing us from floating away forever into philosophy-land/the insides of our minds. Especially useful for single philosophers (or philosophers living alone)-- they're a reason to come home from the office every now and then, and a handy reminder that living beings (ourselves included) need to eat.

  4. Andrew R McHugh6 July 2011 at 14:17

    A good number of my philosophy buddies all go on bicycle rides. And, at school, my Meta-Ethics class always unwound with a game of ultimate frisbee complete with name calling: foundationalist!, coherentist!, etc.

  5. Anonymous: Especially useful for single philosophers (or philosophers living alone)-- they're a reason to come home from the office every now and then, and a handy reminder that living beings (ourselves included) need to eat.

    Come to think of it, I'm actually hungry right now. What am I doing in this office anyway?

    Thanks for the hints ... I'm off home now.

  6. WoW works pretty well. I've found a 30 minute grind to be a pretty good way to break up reading time. Beware of the dungeon finder though, or you'll find that 30 minutes will very easily turn into 3 hours. Also, stay away from the auction house - it seems to require use of the part of your brain that should be resting. Grinding or farming is best.

  7. RE Q.1/A.1: Never mind what to do after "Grad School", what about having the money to get in to begin with? I just graduated from a philosophy degree and I'm about to enroll on an MA- on the proviso that I have at least £700 to hand over up-front, and then 2 more times later in the year. So I'm going to have no money for a very long time, during which my fellow graduates will all have become managers and will be earning mucho dinero.

    Then there's the fact that if your pet philosopher gets a job, s/he is faced with the prospect spending around 20-30 hours a week doing something he really couldn't give a damn about, probably on minimum wage, and trying to fit it around reading/studying/etc, and leaving him/herself enough time and energy for both. Coffee does not really present an adequate solution here.

    Even before one gets to that point, there's the extremely demeaning task of trying to convince someone to give you a rubbish job (because you aren't qualified to do anything else) of which there are very few anyway, and telling prospective employers all the crap they want to hear about "why I really, really want to work for (insert terrible employer here)". Unless your CV says you've climbed Everest, spent your gap year in Africa saving poor, starving children and miraculously had time to gain some management experience too, they usually don't call you for an interview.

    Unsurprisingly, us philosophers get overwhelmed, depressed, anxious and irritable. We (I) vacillate between bouts of impotent rage and denial. And the support of a girlfriend often appears to us to be of little value when it doesn't immediately solve our problems ("What can I do to help?" my girlfriend often asks when I'm in a depressive funk. "Get me a job" is my usual response). I imagine the philosopher mentioned in Q1 is in a similar state of distress/denial.

    I have no answers, but I wanted to give a (not so) brief portrait of what this is like from a philosopher's perspective, what goes on in our heads and how this makes us behave towards the people who have to live with us.