Saturday, 25 February 2012

Three Philosophers: How to Address Break-Taking

One of the most common questions (sometimes asked jokingly and sometimes seriously) non-philosophers ask of me is how to get philosophers out of their books and articles and into the outside world sometimes. I’ve danced around the issue for a while, addressing the issue in bits and pieces (such as my post on habitualness), but today let’s address it outright.

How can I make my philosopher go outside once and while?

I believe that what this question really infers is that (1) being tied up in one’s work all the time is unhealthy and (2) that philosophers never want to leave their work behind and take a break.

Before we proceed any further, I want to get clear on something. I believe that there are three types of philosophers in academic philosophy, and these types of philosophers respond differently to suggestions from us that they leave their work and take a break.

[Note: The most interesting part of this study is that it doesn’t matter what type of philosophy that your philosopher is in or how successful they are—these three types of philosophers are found across the field in all levels/types of philosophy].

Philosopher #1: Philosophy is Everything

This is not the most common type of philosopher, but it is the type we usually think of when we think about philosophers. The PE philosopher really only wants to think about, talk about, study, and breathe philosophy. The PE philosopher doesn’t have many interests outside of philosophy, because everything else just seems so bland, unpredictable, and/or meaningless. If the PE philosopher does have other interests, they will probably only have one or two, and they have somehow become experts in these interests.

If you were to suggest to the PE philosopher that they take a break from their work and try out some new interest, this philosopher becomes very baffled. “Why,” they might ask, “should I try doing something that does not interest me at all, when there is such interesting reading to be found in this book?” This PE philosopher is really, really happy in philosophy.

Philosopher #2: Philosophy is Compartmentalized

Surprisingly, this is actually one of the most common types of philosophers I’ve encountered. The PC philosopher has the ability to absolutely devote themselves to philosophy at certain times, and then at all other moments of their lives they do not talk about or interact with philosophy at all (they compartmentalize philosophy and other interests).

This type of philosopher tends to be interested in things that are completely different than philosophy. For example, the PC philosopher might spend a lot of time in physical activities, such as competitive dancing, biking, marathon-running, rock-climbing, or hiking. Some of the PC philosophers are really into pop-culture stuff, like entertainment, horror movies, and comic books. It might even look—to the untrained, non-philosopher eye—that the PC philosopher is not even really a philosopher at all (“When do they get their work done!”). The PC philosopher, though, can get down to work and get pages and pages of technical, difficult work done in a very short amount of time. Some of the most successful philosophers I’ve met are actually PC philosophers.

I don’t know that you would even broach the idea of taking a break from work with this type of philosopher, as they don’t usually seem that busy. If they do seem really busy, it’s often because they’ve put off their philosophy work until the last minute (and then manage to whip out some masterpiece in three hours).

Philosopher #3: Philosophy is Another Interest

The PAI philosopher is interested in just about everything—everything, that is, that is written about academically in books. [My philosopher is actually this type of philosopher]. This type of philosopher is even harder to get “outdoors” than the PE philosopher, because they find all of their joy and satisfaction in reading, listening to lectures, and watching documentaries about everything. Their interests have to correspond in some way to cognitive development. This PAI philosopher just sees philosophy as one game among many on the cognitive spectrum; it just happens to be the game they are best at right now.

The PAI philosopher responds to the suggestion to leave their cognitive activities behind with perplexity. “The world in books is so interesting. I need to know everything. How can doing this activity increase my knowledge?” The PAI philosopher can be “bribed” to go out with the promise of a trip to a bookstore or library, or the permission to order a new book online.

In conclusion, I do believe it is healthy to take a break of sorts from academic work at times (just consider what happened to JS Mill in his early twenties!), but philosophers are different and will respond to such requests with different reactions. You may find that you need to promise your participation in a philosophical discussion with the PE philosopher or let the PAI philosopher peruse some books at the conclusion of a new activity.

~The Philosiologist

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1 comment:

  1. "The world in books is so interesting. I need to know everything."

    That reminds me of some dialogue from a classic television program, Yes, Prime Minister. Sir Humphrey Appleby, a senior civil servant, asks a junior civil servant, Bernard, for a piece of information.

    Bernard: I'm sorry Sir Humphrey, that information can only be given out on a need-to-know basis.

    Sir Humphrey: Bernard, I need to know everything. Otherwise, how can I know whether or not I need to know it?