Friday, 17 June 2011

Q&A Submission Time

Some of you have sent me email questions about philosophers over the past few months, which I believe I’ve already answered (if I haven’t yet, shame on me!). While I hope that this has been helpful for you, you often have really good questions that more people could probably also benefit from. One reader had the great idea of asking me to create an entry specifically for questions, which I will answer.

[Note: No previously submitted questions over private messages will be included, to preserve privacy].

So, if you have a question, either about philosophers or about non-philosophers (for example, how might we react in situation X, or what are we thinking in situation Y, or how should you respond in situation Z, etc), please comment with them below or submit them over facebook under the link for this article. Philosophers and non-philosophers can participate in this Q&A time.

If you send me a question over email or in a private message, I will only post it here if you tell me specifically that you would like it posted. I want to keep private questions private, to protect my readers.

If you ask questions about me, I will probably answer them untruthfully, but my answers will be creative. This blog is not about me.

You have until the end of the day on Monday, June 13, [I mean, June 20th], to submit questions. I will answer them all in a subsequent blog post (s).

Happy questioning.

[Note: as I write this post, I realize that it could fail miserably. If there are no questions submitted, then I will make up my own, as sad and pathetic as it might be].

You can follow me on twitter (@philosiologist) or friend me on facebook (Philosiologist Qed). I also respond to email messages (left sidebar).

~The Philosiologist


  1. Maybe you meant juLy 13, right?


  2. I'll take advantage of your generous offer. I'm curious about how philosophers handle personally-directed, strong, even violent rhetoric and actions.
    If, when giving a talk, the philosopher is accused of adhering to a controversial concept, say, insidious Moral Relativism, how would they politely but firmly rebut the accusation? (assuming the heckler to be a non-philosopher)
    To up the stakes, if a philosopher came out one morning to find their car spray-painted with Biblical quotes proclaiming them to be a minion of evil, what sorts of words might pour forth, and how quickly would rational, reasoned analysis return?

  3. 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?

  4. Hi, I would like a post regarding the fabulous love series on how do philosophers (my disease) and other people of specific areas, such as a web designer, which is my case. I find that interaction rather curious (arts or visual concept people with philosophers). Also, it could be nice how do philosophers are at work at non-academic places. Nowadays, philosophers have all kinds of job types. Many thanks for this blog

  5. My 9 year old companion (I'm the philosopher) wants to know if philosophers can mute people out -- i.e. can we simply not hear them..

  6. How do I go about discussing philosophy with non-philosophers in a way that doesn't make their eyes gloss over?

  7. Anatomy of a philosopher? (yeah yeah, it's not a wff)

  8. The question all philosophers have in mind but would never ask to any non-philosophers (junt in case): how can someone NOT choose to study philosophy or choose NOT to study philosophy? Let's be sincere: it just makest no sense. And even more: could someone find meaning it her life withouth philosophy? What do they do with their lifes if they do not spend their time thinking about philosophy? (Do they in secret?).

    AND the question all non-philosophers have in mind but never ask to any philosopher (just in case): how can someone choose to study philosophy? Let's be sincere: it just makest no sense. And even more: could someone find meaning in her life if she spends it doing philosophy? What do they do with their lives, are they really always thinking about philosophy? (Do they think about 'normal' things, like football or other individuals, in secret?).

    I do really thing both groups of people would be benefited by knowing the answers to those questions... :)

    [NOTE: I'm not a native speaker, so feel free to reformulate the question in accordance with its "spirit"]

  9. Andrew R McHugh18 June 2011 at 06:28

    Regarding the philosopher/non-philosopher divide, if philosopher's spend a good deal of time making sure they lead an examined life, what is everyone else doing all the time? And, why are they not examining what they do?

  10. When I respond to the question "What do you do?" with "I'm a philosopher", most non-philosophers seem to assume that that means I'm unemployed and probably do a lot of drugs while contemplating the meaning of life. Why is that? I have a real, tenure track job. I hate that the only way to get around this seems to be to say that I teach philosophy.

  11. I'm almost afraid to ask: what do (or, merely, do) philosophers think of other academic disciplines? I imagine it varies, of course, but perhaps there are trends.

  12. I normally walk away when I get weird reactions from non-philosophers. However, this becomes more difficult when I’m romantically interested in the person in question.

    Sometimes they encourage me to talk about philosophy but their simplest answers show that they have no clue what I am saying. Yet, they persist in venturing into this land where they are not equipped to go. They argue that a maxim or out of context scripture verse is all one needs to know and that all my work is unnecessary.

    I am perfectly okay with dating someone who is not a philosopher and does not try to act like one. Is there a way I can nicely tell a non-philosopher that she is making a parody of something for which I’ve sacrificed nearly my entire life?

    I once dated someone who was fascinated with chemistry. I never pretended to know anything about that field. Why don’t non-philosophers treat me in the same way? How should I respond to these non-philosophers?

    Thank you in advance for your words of wisdom,
    Charles B.

  13. Overlaps between philosophers and other fields might be a fertile area to explore. As a theologian I recognize a great deal of your "most philosophers..." comments also applying. Albeit with some twists and noted differences at times.

    The role/function/need/place of irrationality might be a fun topic to pick on too.

  14. Anonymous 18 June 2011 10:40. Best not to ask.

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

  16. Do you have any thoughts on how a philosopher might present himself as to be more appealing qua philosopher to the opposite sex? (I'm guessing hint #1 would be "Stop using 'qua'!") I am most interested in a male philosopher appealing to females, but any thoughts on other permutations of the same issue would certainly be very interesting.

  17. I would say that I don't strictly fall into either camp (philosopher/non-philosopher) [of course, professional philosophers may raise the bar to phD as the required certificate or perhaps further to an academic appointment in a relevant institution].

    Yet, I enjoy this blog as I can see both perspectives, and I find myself often defending the integrity of the discipline (even for its own sake i.e. no profitability) as well as acting as an advocate of philosophy to non-philosophers (of which all but my former professors are included) and interlocutor of many of their misconceptions. Honestly, many philosophers revel in their idiosyncrasies.

    I also teach (albeit poorly) philosophy (moral, political, legal etc.) to 8th graders, so I am pretty good at distilling complex concepts into smaller sound bites and often images--comic books are a great source! BTW, 12-13 year olds are natural philosophers as puberty and adult subject matter hit them more acutely at this age and this coupled with their curiosity and desire to challenge authority makes my teaching experience incredible. Plus, many are sharper than my undergrad non-majors in philosophy (but I'm a Texan).

    Please continue to do this wonderful work.

  18. Ugh...I'm a space cadet. Cont'd from 20 June 10.34 post (same Texan).

    My question to the community for feedback is at what age did you explore (or abandon) philosophy for the first time, and when would you recommend guided orientation?

  19. june 20th, 11:02
    'When did you find or abandon philosophy?':

    I found philosophy first in jr. high but was unaware that it was a category of study (thank common language usage for that). It was not until college that I realized Hume, Nietzsche and Kant were part of a discipline and a history... I still am obsessed.

    20 June 2011 10:34.
    'I also teach (albeit poorly) philosophy (moral, political, legal etc.) to 8th graders':

    Thank you for helping our society to think critically and to expose those OCD reasoners not only to philosophical problems but to philosophy as a discipline. I think at least critical thinking should be taught in high school.

    'Is there a way I can nicely tell a non-philosopher that she is making a parody of something for which I’ve sacrificed nearly my entire life?'

    I am unsure of how to go about having a social life with non-philosophers which is neither trivial or "folk" research oriented, romance is particularly problematic. I have had experience with it but at best it seems like there is only one option. Go back to basic questions (Plato etc...) and explain them before you even try to express the kind of mental gymnastics you must perform to deal with a sentence like "do you KNOW what I'M feeling?", "do you BELIEVE I'm telling you the TRUTH?" or other problematic questions..... Remember those questions that grabbed you as an undergrad and see if your significant other find them interesting. Go back to basics; that is where philosophy starts.

  20. Is terminal indecision, for philosophers in particular, an occupational hazard?

    Of course where there are principles, and Good Grounds, they know exactly which way to go, and they can tell you why (in detail which I fear is probably exhausting for the non-philosophers).

    But confronted with perfectly practical decisions for which there is no Good Reason on one side but not the others, do philosophers tend to get stalled, dither, defer and generally flounder?

    Or is that just the philosophers I know?

  21. Postscript to Previous:

    And if that *is* and occupational hazard for philosophers, just how maddening is this disability for the non-philosophers around them?

  22. I guess this is late, but I apparently have no regard for deadlines (and thereby identify myself as a philosopher). My question:

    I recently went on a date with a girl architect who is a Christian -- like, churchgoing. We had a really good time, and I think she's great. But I'm an atheist, and I'm not sure I could actually date a churchgoing Christian without saying something terribly offensive at some point or another. The problem is not that I hate Christians or anything like that; I just tend to treat nothing as sacred, think Christianity fails to live up to appropriate epistemological burdens, and don't agree with a lot of the normative content in the bible. I think I could agree to disagree about much of this, but I've thought a lot about these things and am not ashamed of my views, and I don't know if I could keep my mouth shut all the time. Have I actually become a person who can't date religious people?

  23. @Anon 13:21: hey, I know you didn't ask about this, but I guess I better give you a heads up since I'm an ex-fundamentalist and now liberal christian. Christians are NOT allowed to date non-christians. Its being unequally yoked. Unless she's moderate-liberal type then this problem is inevitably going to come up.

    As for talking about your views I have some experience as I still go to fundamentalist meetings mainly because all my friends are still there. Instead of just trying to shoot them all down during bible studies, I've learnt to be more like Socrates. Asking questions in a harmless way but provokes them to question themselves at the same time. Sometimes they react positively and sometimes they dismiss the question for being too "philosophical" or "technical", but its a give and take. This is just a way I've developed to handle the situation, and I'm sure if you think about it you can find a way to handle it too.

  24. @13:21: Recall that many of history's great philosophers, especially during the medieval period, were Christians. For instance, think of Aquinas, Anselm, Augustine, Cusa... the list goes on.

    These philosophers, some of whom questioned the existence and nature of what less philosophically-inclined Christians consider sacrosanct, might provide good common ground. If nothing else, they demonstrate that it's "safe" for "good Christians" to question dogma, provided they do so thoughtfully and respectfully.

    @18:28: "Christians are NOT allowed to date non-christians," is a false statement. Crazy fundamentalists who believe that Noah /actually/ carried two of each animal species on the planet on a fricking boat might have overbearing parents and pastors who don't allow them to date outside the pool of certified morons, but that's not all Christians. Catholics, for instance, make no such absurd proscriptions.

  25. @Anon 18:28: Thanks for the suggestion. I'm definitely aware that there may be some problems from her end, and if that's how she feels, then I can be fine with that. I'm honestly more concerned with the possibility that she would be okay with my atheism (presumably on the condition that I'm not a jerk about lambasting her faith and parading my godlessness in front of her), and I would just have to find a way to be a tactful, accepting person. It almost seems ridiculous to me that this would be daunting, but I'm really not sure that I would be able to completely pull it off (never mind my philosopher friends!).

    The suggestion to take a Socratic approach is appealing. But I worry that over time, that sort of thing could come to be a prime target for "Would you just stop it with the questionings?!"-type objections -- and given the spirit of the use of the approach in this context, I think those objections would actually be pretty valid. Do you find that your religious friends feel patronized or belittled when you take that sort of approach with them?

  26. @ Anon 17:04

    "Catholics, for instance, make no such absurd proscriptions."

    Heehee. Right, and catholics are allowed to marry non-catholics, too???

  27. I was wondering what drew you to your philosopher. As a philosophy student, I often have a hard time connecting with people on a romantic level. And I've heard, from past romantic partners, that I'm often too logical and realistic, i.e., I'm not optimistic enough and I don't let myself fall in love as fast as they do. I know a lot of my colleagues feel the same as I do when it comes to a romantic relationship. So I just assume our philosophy training often gets in the way of having a romantic relationship, e.g., we over think things, or approach love very logically. Was your philosopher like this at first? If so, how did you stick it out?! Or are you exactly like your philosopher, to where it was not a problem? Hope this all made sense. I don't want to generalize that all philosophers are like this, but about 70% of my colleagues have discussed, and seem to have, the same problem. This is of course applied to dating a non-philosopher. I don't think we have ANY problems dating a philosopher :)

  28. @17:04

    I totally agree with you especially about philosopher Christians. I can even add to your medieval list, a range of contemporary Christian philosophers that are actually pretty good like Plantinga, Swineburne, William Lane Craig (altho he has the tendency to be more interested in debating ppl than actually doing philo)and Zagzebski. And that is why I qualified my statement with "unless she is moderate-liberal" then problems will occur. I'm sure even the more fundamentalist Catholics believe in only same-religion marriage.

    @13:21/3:10 Well, honestly at the beginning they did get quite bothered with me questioning them all the time. But I guess at the same time I did show them that I questioned everything all the time and not only religion, so they sort of accepted that i'm just that philosophy major dude. However, i do keep it squarely to when bible studies are going on and not to constantly barrage them with questions whenever we just hang out. I think as with the general advice given Katie on this blog, it really is about setting aside times when you know its okay to ask questions and making sure she knows its not attacking her personally. I also I find it is more acceptable to try not to attack the existence of God directly, but more of like the concepts surrounding God. So instead of saying because of the problem of evil therefore your God does not exist, ask why does God allow evil? Another tip is that Christians like it if you are genuinely interested in religion and you ask questions in that sort of regard. So if maybe you looked at this more of "I'm trying to get to know her better by seeing why she is into religion" and ask questions accordingly then that will be more acceptable. Of course this didn't work for me, because like all philosophers I'm more interested in shooting down arguments than understanding ppl.

    p.s. that last statement was a joke...don't hang me people.

  29. It's funny, Molly, I have two not entirely compatible responses to your question, "we over think things, or approach love very logically. Was your philosopher like this at first? If so, how did you stick it out?!"

    My first thought is, I used to think that was me being mad philosophical?, but now I think that was just me being a hypercritical twenty-something.

    And then my second thought was, It helps that I found a nonphilosopher who also overanalyzes everything. And he's a dish. :_)

  30. 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?