Monday, 30 May 2011

Philosophers on Breaks

The semester will eventually draw to an end for your academic philosopher. Now that the papers, classes, grading, and office hours are done, your philosopher will have several full months of freedom. Philosophers generally handle this freedom in several ways.

1. Feeling Guilty

Yes, your philosopher does finally have a little freedom and what do they do? Sit around every day feeling guilty because they are not doing enough work.

Some philosophers handle this guilt by trying to drink a lot and hang out with other free philosophers; some just dink around, powerless to come up with anything to do because whatever they decide to work on must be important enough to work on all summer, which means that they will never decide on anything; or some commit themselves to impossibly large projects, which makes them feel even more guilty when they cannot accomplish all of them.

2. Start Reading Groups

Philosophers love reading groups. Near the end of semesters, you might hear a buzz around the philosophy departments about different reading groups that members of the faculty or grad students are planning on organizing. Almost every philosopher—at one time—commits themselves to a reading group, but it common knowledge that nearly half of all philosophers who do commit to a reading group will actually attend said reading group. Just the idea of reading groups make philosophers very excited.

Those who do actually follow through with this group will commit themselves to many more readings than they can actually finish in a break, which adds to their guilt. My philosopher, in fact, has gone on record for the statement, “Perhaps the most important skill in grad school is guilt management.”

3. Working on a Thesis, Dissertation, or Publication

Most people who are not affiliated with anyone in academia do not realize how much work academics actually do during breaks. Philosophers (and others) tend to keep a mental list of all of the projects that they need to do during the school year, which they are planning to push off until a break. The list is usually insurmountably long, and your philosopher may end up seeming even busier than they are during the semester.

This is often the time when philosophers work on theses, dissertations, or other publication projects (articles, books, conference presentations).

4. Having Lots of Philosopher-Parties

Philosophers generally love to get together and drink and eat. Because they don’t have specific schedules during breaks, you may often find philosophers getting together for philosopher-parties.

5. Attending Conferences

There are many conferences during breaks—especially summer breaks. Long breaks are the chance for long-term conferences, sometimes up to a month long. Philosophers also may find themselves invited to special roundtables or workshops, which are chances for them to spend time with other philosophers interested in their subject area and present and write papers together. Your philosopher may even get paid for attending these.

To spouses/partners of philosophers: Because philosophers tend to either throw themselves completely into projects during a break and obsess over them or do nothing and feel really guilty and depressed, you might find yourself as a sort of floodgate controller. I find myself doing a lot of "directing" during breaks, especially in regards to encouraging my philosopher to attempt new projects when he's in the doldrums and being a helpful shoulder when he's attempted a project that's too large. Bake lots of cookies.

To all non-philosophers: The nicest part about breaks is that your philosopher is a bit more flexible with their schedule than they usually are during the semester. Feel free to encourage (and/or nudge) your philosopher to do something fun with you. Philosophers also like to do normal-people things, but sometimes they just need a bit of encouragement that it’s okay to take a break from their work.

You can follow me on twitter (@philosiologist) or friend me on facebook (Philosiologist Qed). I also welcome emails (left sidebar). If you have any suggestions for how to keep green pepper plants from dying in a hot, humid, windy region, please feel free to send these along, too.

~The Philosiologist

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Philosopher Fashion

[Note: Thanks, all, for your patience with my blog-negligence and vacation. On a personal note—though I usually like to keep these posts as impersonal as possible—writing has been hard for me lately because I am having some eye problems. Seriously, I had to set the text at 26 points today to be able to see it, which must be really funny to see on a young-person’s computer. Hopefully, this will be remedied soon. In the meantime, please enjoy the post].

Philosophers, like most academics, like to think of themselves as incredibly unique individuals. You may have noticed that your philosopher likes to consider themselves a person untouched by societal pressures and norms. One thing that philosophers especially like to think they are unique about is their manner of dress.

Philosophers do really tend to dress differently than most non-philosophers, but they still generally fall within several philosopher-dress categories. Here are a few that I’ve noticed.

[Note: There can be cross-overs in all the categories. For example, a Free-Ranger might also be a Same Five Shirts].

Same Five Shirts

This category of philosopher can be combined with any other philosopher-dress category. This philosopher wears the same five shirts and/or same five outfits. Same Five Shirts philosophers have many reasons for wearing the same clothes, among their reasons are (1) lack of money, (2) they only like five shirts, (3) they don’t really care about clothing, (4) they feel guilty about buying more clothes when there are so many people in extreme poverty in the world, or (5) they are really picky about their clothes and have to go to extreme ends to purchase exactly what they want.


They have a lot of clothes, but these clothes may or may not have been popular twenty years ago.


Edgy philosophers are often tattooed or pierce body parts besides their ears. They often wear leather, spikes, chucks, and black. Edgy philosophers may or may not die their hair funky colors or shave it all off (this includes females, of course).


Oh, hipster philosophers. All of you know what a hipster is, right? Philosophers sometimes dress like hipsters (skinny jeans, black-rimmed glasses, suspenders, TOMS shoes).


This philosopher wears organic cotton, hemp, vegan shoes, neutral colors (no synthetic dyes), and/or re-purposed clothing.


This philosopher only wears expensive and/or expensive-looking clothing; usually tailored suits. An expensive philosopher will always have expensive-looking haircuts and accessories, too. They will always look their best, even during breaks.


T-shirts, cargo shorts, and sandals are the loafer’s favorites. When occasions call for dressing up, the loafer may wear a button-down, short-sleeved, cotton shirt. Sometimes, they also wear loafers without socks.


This philosopher always has something untucked, unbuttoned, askew, wrinkled, stained, and/or ripped. They really do not mean to be a messy-pants, but they just can’t help it.

Christian Kid

This philosopher may not be a Christian kid, but they sure dress like one. Christian-Kid philosophers wear very modest clothes such as off-brand polo shirts, cargo shorts, capris, tennis shoes, cardigans, flats, and/or blue jeans. Male philosophers of this variety will always tuck in their shirts. They tend to also keep their haircuts and styles fairly modest and predictable.

Too Poor

Some philosophers are whispers of the previous categories, but are too poor to really follow through completely with the philosopher-style.

What are some other philosopher-dress categories that you’ve seen?

You can follow me on twitter (@philosiologist) or friend me on facebook (Philosiologist Qed). You can also send me an email, if you would like. I am not really answering emails right now because doing anything on the computer is painful, but I will get to your emails soon.

~The Philosiologist

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Female Philosophers

[Note: I just could not find a way to make this more sarcastic or funny, because it’s such a serious issue. I had to even put off writing about it for a few days. And now, to address the elephant in the room.]

In the philosophy-world, there has been a recent movement to increase awareness of the sorts of experiences that female philosophers have—merely because of their gender—in philosophy departments. Two blogs that specifically address these issues that I highly recommend that all of you read (even if your philosopher is a male, they will interact with female philosophers) are What is it Like to be a Woman in Philosophy? and What We’re Doing About What It’s Like.  I check these blogs every day.

Before you read these blogs, though, I thought it would be useful to address the question, “Why is it so hard in some departments to be a female philosopher?” Addressing this question will also, I hope, answer the question, “Why is this important?”

Fact: The field of philosophy is still dominated by men.

I don’t have any hard facts or figures for you about how many men and women there are in the field of philosophy, but all you have to do is attend a non-feminist philosophy conference, visit a department faculty webpage, or look up some currently published philosophy journals to see that there are more men than women in philosophy.

Fact: In places dominated by men, a masculine style of communication is almost always adopted.

If you’ve encountered any research about mixed genders in groups, you know that there is this theory called Muted Group Theory. MGT explains that in situations where men and women communicate together in groups, the conversation will tend to have a more masculine style of expression (i.e. aggressive, competitive, a focus on rationality rather than cooperation, more typically male metaphors [sports, for example]). Researchers such as Cheris Kramarae explain how women and other minority groups are forced to communicate in a white-masculine way in order to succeed in society, and thus their tendencies toward alternative communication styles are muted.

Most philosophy is especially oriented around a masculine way of communication (aggressive debating, attacking, destroying opponents). This is unattractive for some of us, not because we can’t compete in this way but because we favor a more cooperative and exploratory style. Some philosophers wrongly think that philosophy cannot be done in this way and believe that to do philosophy in a non-masculine way is to make philosophy more ‘watered-down’, ‘incompetent’, or ‘wishy-washy’.

Fact: There is still a lot of sexism and sexual harassment in philosophy.

Fact: Female philosophers are often perceived as either angry feminists or nonthreatening nurturers.

Seriously, how are women supposed to succeed in a field where if they approach philosophy in a more aggressive fashion, they are deemed “angry” or called bad words that mean essentially the same thing, or if they approach philosophy in a cooperative or gentler way they are perceived as being mothers or nurtures (but definitely not as philosophical threats, of course).

Can you see why this is a problem? This is where the blog What We’re Doing About What It’s Like comes in. Some departments really are trying to change the prevalent attitudes in the field, and this blog chronicles some of these.

So if you have a female philosopher, be extra aware of what she will most likely experience in her academic life. Encourage her to keep philosophizing. This is a large and systemic issue in philosophy. Your female philosopher might often feel marginalized and alone. She might feel that talking about episodes where she has felt discriminated against is just a lot of complaining (women are often made to feel this way by superiors who do not want to address their concerns). One thing that you can do is encourage her to share with you when she encounters discrimination, and encourage her to stand up against such treatment.

And keep your male philosophers from dismissing women and trivializing their important contributions to the field. Seriously.

 You can follow me on twitter (@philosiologist) or friend me on facebook (Philosiologist Qed). You can also send me an email, if you would like (left sidebar). Paper-writing season is now over for my philosopher, so perhaps posts will be more regular than they are now, as I now have access to the home computer. Perhaps, perhaps not. I'm still not quite used to writing for an audience, so the elementary, "I'll write when I feel so inclined," attitude still dominates my psyche.

~The Philosiologist

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Philosophers and Inconsistencies

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?”

Good luck.
You can follow me on twitter (@philosiologist) or friend me on facebook (Philosiologist Qed). You can also send me an email if you have a question, comment, post idea, or want to chat about philosophers. As a note to a very confused anonymous,  I also enjoy thinking and talking about things other than philosophers, obviously, but I'm not making this blog about me. You can also email me about Victorian literature, if you're tired of hearing about philosophers.

~The Philosiologist~