Regarding philosophical AskMe questions February 18, 2007 7:36 PM   Subscribe

Regarding philosophical AskMe questions and answers to philosophical questions... [far too long for anyone to want to read]
posted by ontic to Etiquette/Policy at 7:36 PM (117 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

First off, I wanted to apologize and clarify that despite the flippant tone of my response in the inner turmoil question (now deleted), I wasn't taking offense at what people like scody were saying. I didn't think carefully enough about the tone of what I said before I responded. I somewhat understand the vision Matt and everyone else has for AskMe and I don't think I want to oppose that vision. I just want to inveigh a little on philosophy's behalf.

That said, as a professional philosopher, I do want to stand up for the idea that philosophical questions can have answers -- even clear ones -- just not non-controversial ones. Philosophy has what is in my opinion an unjustified reputation as having "no right or wrong answers" or "every answer is in some way correct". I realize that not everyone in my discipline (including mdn who posted an insightful comment to the thread) agrees with me here -- including major figures like Wittgenstein and pretty much all of existentialism. While there are philosophers who are mainly doing philosophy for purposes of personal transformation or societal transformation, some of us do believe we are actually adding to knowledge in some of the hardest places.

It's true that philosophy doesn't have answers in the sense that everyone in the field agrees a certain answer is right. There are hardly any non-controversial answers in philosophy (including to whether there are answers in philosophy!), but there are many answers that have a great deal of support and most of the significant objections have been dealt with. This doesn't mean that everyone accepts these objections as failed, but it's hard to convince everyone even when you have verifiable empirical evidence. (I'm thinking of the moon landing here.) Many questions even have several live contenders for the right answer, but these contenders are often still well developed, clear answers. But controversy is part of most any discipline that's not immediately applied.

In fact many philosophers spend their careers defending particular answers to philosophical questions from counterattacks, just as many historians spend their time proposing and defending particular theories about what led to certain historical events. I imagine if I thought longer about it, I could come up with some cases in the "hard sciences" as well. Philosophers have been studying the questions "What is the good life?" or "What are we morally obligated to do?" for centuries. At first glance these feel like they will frustrate any attempt to answer them. It may even seem like the idea of answering them is silly. And no strong, universal agreement has congealed. But there are still several clear answers in contention, and there are many spurious answers that can easily be rejected ("to eat beans", "to ruin others' lives"). These are theories of the good life or moral theories, and they function much the same way that historical theories do. We slowly confirm or reject them as we see them try to deal with objections, exceptions, and counter-arguments. I like to think that many philosophers wouldn't do philosophy if they didn't think they were getting closer to the truth about some of these tough questions.

I think a question about why inner turmoil exists is much less like "What superpower would be best?" and a little more like "Why did the Mayan civilization disappear?". I'm not sure observing this is possible with AskMe because of course something like the inner turmoil question is going to garner lots more chatting. Everyone's experienced inner turmoil while few have studied Central American history. But philosophical disagreements can, I think, be knowledge producing. Do I think that a professional philosopher such as myself can pop in and answer these questions? Certainly not. Anyone purporting to have philosophical answers should really come to the table with humility -- bags full, truckloads full, tons of humility. But surely there are several clear ways of answering the question (biologically, spiritually, psychologically) and even though it doesn't seem one could ever truly win out over the others, I don't know a good argument for the intractability of the question. And the more we throw up our hands at ever finding an answer, the more we discourage people from ever finding answer which, I suspect, is lurking out there -- waiting for us to get smart enough to figure it out.
posted by ontic at 7:36 PM on February 18, 2007 [2 favorites]


You're right about it being a good question in an abstract sense, but I'm not as convinced that it's a good question for Ask MetaFilter.
posted by danb at 7:48 PM on February 18, 2007


You are absolutely right. You are also completely wrong. But I guess you're used to that.

There are lots of places where you can hang out and shoot the breeze about philosophical questions. Ask MetaFilter isn't one of them.
posted by dg at 8:30 PM on February 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


Ontic, if even a small percentage of persons answered such questions with the degree of alacrity you show, there would likely be no such thing as Chatfilter. Personally, I feel AskMeFi is best when there is a chance of coming to a specific answer, or set of possible solutions, to a question. It's partly why the medical questions are so exasperating - they attract so much ridiculous conjecture that it becomes repellent to even participate. I wouldn't dream of trying to answer an IT query, or many others, for example.

FWIW, I would welcome a more specific question that solicited a response from the philosophy community, along the lines of the origins of existentialism, and what it has to say about happiness. But the phrasing of the question was what did it in, I think.
posted by docpops at 8:31 PM on February 18, 2007


I have a truly marvellous proof of this proposition which this margin is too narrow to contain.
posted by fandango_matt at 8:34 PM on February 18, 2007


I have a truly marvellous proof of this proposition which this margin is too narrow to contain.

Your Wiles do not fool me.
posted by carsonb at 8:39 PM on February 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


I agree that philosophy, or other non-definitive disciplines, probably have their place on AskMe. But that question was a poor example of them -- it was so broad that there was simply no way to answer it comprehensively. You couldn't even give a comprehensive overview of one discipline's schools of thought on the matter within what would be considered a reasonable-length answer on this forum, let alone try to cover all the various disciplines that have addressed this question.

I mean, it's not just a philosophy question. It's a philosophy question, it's a biology question, it's a theology/spirituality question, it's a psychological question, it's a general humanities / arts question... I'm sure I'm missing a few. Any one answer is going to be such a meager slice of information about the entirety of thought on this topic -- and, predictably, most of the actual responses were just personal thoughts and anecdotes that aren't based on any sort of research or knowledge or deep synthesis.

Which is fine in some contexts -- I do think people's personal theories are often fascinating, and worth discussing -- but AskMe's not really the place to do that. It's just not a good forum for it. Anything over a few paragraphs starts seeming tedious; people are discouraged from interacting with each other (in favor of interacting with the poster); and it's advice-oriented rather than intellectual-exploration oriented. Which means you get comments like were in that thread, with everyone offering their own "meaning of life" as if it were definitive. Which... doesn't really get anyone anywhere, I don't think.
posted by occhiblu at 8:42 PM on February 18, 2007


I knew leaving that question up would be a problem (see two metatalk posts back) and I knew deleting it would as well (see this one). But I tend to side with the delete camp, ask mefi isn't really about unanswerable things.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 8:42 PM on February 18, 2007


I think philosophical AskMes can be good, and a lot of them have stayed up and led to interesting and useful responses (along with, of course, some confused and unhelpful responses). People do have philosophical questions, they always will, and the site should allow them to be posted. But what about philosophical questions that haven't been narrowly enough expressed to allow a useful answer? It's not clear to me that the site needs to allow those.

Having a philosophical question that's big, broad, and leafy is ok, and quite natural, and the kind of thing we usually work through in philosophy classes to get down to more manageable questions. But allowing the big leafy ones on AskMe means allowing questions that effectively say "I am interested in x, and would like to have a bit of discussion about it to clarify my own ideas about it." This is not really what AskMe is for (even though it does sometimes get used that way, and often to good effect).

The line between too-broad and narrow-enough is a judgment call. My own way of thinking of it is: if a philosophical question is narrow enough, I should be able to provide a bit of vocabulary/conceptual triage and then a pointer to another internet resource on that topic. If I can't do that, then the question is probably too broad.

With this question, I would probably have made the same judgment call that Jessamyn did if there were no answers posted. As it happens there were some useful responses in the thread, so I'm glad I don't have J's job.

(Also: Go Team Philosophy!)
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:52 PM on February 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


And: didn't say this, but I fully agree with ontic that philosophical questions, well-expressed, are usually NOT unanswerable. Even this one probably has a factual answer - just one, as occhiblu points out, that we can't reasonably give in the space we have, and with the current state of human knowledge.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:58 PM on February 18, 2007


This AskMe question asks a far more vast and unanswerable question. Your philosophy is for bubble gum wrappers.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:59 PM on February 18, 2007


Let's talk about this weird "hidden in plain sight" double identity thing you've got going on instead. I realize there's some kind of, I don't know, paradox thing in the "what's with your nick" part of the profiles, but what really interests me are the disparate personalities between these (I assume) personas... like, Painquale is significantly more prolific than Ontic, but more likely to comment on matters of, for example, celebrity ephemera, while Ontic almost exclusively treats matters formally philosophical. Painquale likes significantly more things than are liked about him, whereas with Ontic this ratio is reversed. But answer me this, Mr. Professional Philosopher: what am I to make of this? I mean, brain check me on this one, my memetic friends: at the end of the day, that thing is just a fucking teevee, right?
posted by nanojath at 9:04 PM on February 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


Burhanistan, that question is beautiful. The answers, eh, I dunno. But the question! O glorious thing!
posted by cgc373 at 9:05 PM on February 18, 2007


Matt, I don't envy you having to moderate the site and maintain the community (to say nothing of putting up answers to the constant stream of "this question doesn't deserve deletion" metatalk posts). I just wanted to post a view of philosophy that perhaps gets marginalized. I think AskMe shouldn't really about unanswerable things too, I just want to make a distinction between philosophical questions and unanswerable questions.

Others who have responded in the thread are probably right, despite the fact that philosophical questions may have answers, we can't count on people acting like that's the case in each question. And that's probably due to the popular notion of philosophy as having "no right or wrong answers", thus making all personal theories fair game. But even if I can't change a few minds and influence the level of public debate about philosophy, I have to make the attempt.
posted by ontic at 9:07 PM on February 18, 2007


I'd like some clarification on the ontic/painquale relationship, too, if it's not too much trouble, ontic.
posted by cgc373 at 9:10 PM on February 18, 2007


nanojath -- stop it, you're blowing my mind.
posted by ontic at 9:13 PM on February 18, 2007


The problem, ontic, is that philosophy is not an end unto itself and so, unless you're at an academic conference or something where abstraction is the rule, one's own philosophy should be part and parcel of the rest of his actions and words. So having open debates about it where meaningful pauses and subtle gestures are substituted by the refresh button is less than satisfactory, in my opinion.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:13 PM on February 18, 2007


at the end of the day, that thing is just a fucking teevee, right?

Didn't you read the ad copy? They said it wasn't just a 70" TV, but an award winner.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:15 PM on February 18, 2007


Yeah, ontic (if that is your real username) - what gives?
posted by dg at 9:29 PM on February 18, 2007


Others who have responded in the thread are probably right, despite the fact that philosophical questions may have answers, we can't count on people acting like that's the case in each question.

But that's the thing. You're treating this like it's an exclusively philosophical question. When I first read it, the only thing that jumped to my mind was Buddhism, so I saw it as a religion question. LoriFLA apparently saw it as a science question, since she specifically asked about evolution. Which is why the question was too broad -- you personally may see a discrete set of responses, but that's because you're coming at it from only one discipline. Once you start multiplying that out, it becomes too complicated and open-ended to be a worthwhile discussion on this forum.
posted by occhiblu at 9:32 PM on February 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


This make Dizzy head hurt.
posted by Dizzy at 9:33 PM on February 18, 2007


There are lots of places where you can hang out and shoot the breeze about philosophical questions. Ask MetaFilter isn't one of them.

I think ontic's point is that at least some philosophical questions can be answered without "shooting the breeze". I tend to agree, but I'm not sure the linked question is one, or is really framed as one. (And framing the question is at least half the battle in philosophy, it often seems.) However, I also bet that ontic is much more able than most (being a trained philosopher) at jumping to a real question lurking behind a very broad or vague one.

I can easily see ways to reframe that question in a way that might have real answers. For instance: "It seems that having inner turmoil is a fairly fundamental state for human beings. Are there any theories in philosophy of mind or cognitive science, particularly experimentally/empirically grounded theories, that could explain why this is? Has anyone even come up with a precise way to characterize what 'inner turmoil' is?" This is of course much less broad than the original post and might not even get all that many answers.

(Maybe we should have meta.ask where people discuss how to best phrase a question for ask.mefi...)
posted by advil at 9:39 PM on February 18, 2007


I'd like some clarification on the ontic/painquale relationship, too, if it's not too much trouble, ontic.

Heh, I can assure you that unless some weird Durden-esque thing is going on, painquale and I are different people. I mean, how am I supposed to afford a sock-puppet on a philosopher's salary? As far as I can tell, he/she's another philosopher and we just happen to disagree about whether qualia exist. And thus, in a sense, whether he/she exists. Hmm...

But seriously, painquale had the remark about qualia in his/her profile and I jokingly updated mine, linking back. Painquale reciprocated in good fun.
posted by ontic at 9:40 PM on February 18, 2007


Philosophical questions are fine as long as they present themselves as philosophical questions in some way or another. This question seemed to me like one that was sort of up in the air and the ending "Why can't intelligent beings rationalize and lead a more contented life in adulthood?" seems to take the slightly edgy view that maybe if you're smart, you should be able to think your way out of being unhappy.

I'm fairly sure this wasn't LoriFLA's perspective, but the phrasing of the question put that and many other things up in the air and wound up being so broad as to be unanswerable. Clearly no one on AskMe is going to be able to answer it any more definitively than anyone else. If the question was more like "why do philosophy type people think this is so" then it narrows it down some, as a possible suggestion for future philosophy questions.

the more we throw up our hands at ever finding an answer, the more we discourage people from ever finding answer which, I suspect, is lurking out there

I am not disagreeing with you here, but I will state that there are some questions that AskMe isn't really designed to solve or even work at solving and this doesn't negate its usefulnes for solving other sorts of problems. If people don't want to be introsepctive and think about they they and others are unhappy because a question on AskMe used to exist and no longer exists, they have more existential concerns than a website can help them with.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:45 PM on February 18, 2007


I think he's trying to suggest something about the duality of man.
posted by bob sarabia at 9:47 PM on February 18, 2007


AskMe: People don't want to be introsepctive and think about they they and others...
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:11 PM on February 18, 2007


Hmm. I ditto everything LobsterMitten said. I don't think this particular deletion was in error. When I saw a new philosophy question go up, I got all excited, but couldn't figure out how to respond without asking for clarification about "inner turmoil" and what sort of explanation was wanted. It seemed like a heck of a lot of discussion would have to go on to make any progress at all. As occhiblu says, I'm not even sure this was a merely philosophical question.

The hardest part of philosophy is usually figuring out how to tame the question you want to ask into something askable. Taming that question begins with involves all sorts of discussion, trial and error, conceptual analysis, etc. I'm not sure that AskMe, which encourages responders to make quick in-and-out stabs at the answer, is the right place for this sort of thing. Which is a shame, because when most people have philosophical questions, they do want to ask the "big questions." Still, some philosophy questions are formed in such a way that it's clear they should get to stay up, and they usually do. (Though (and not to get too "stupid-two-week-limit!" about it) I swear there's been a lot less of these recently.)

Of course, almost any deleted question can be nudged to fit the guidelines (there's always the "I'm writing a book" excuse). I think the question might have been left up, and discussion been similar, if the poster had written, "I've been asking myself, 'why do people have inner turmoil?', but I don't know how to start approaching the question. Are there any famous theories or famous thinkers who write about inner turmoil? What do they think it is, and why do they think we have it?" So, here's a cheap and generalized way to get around Matt's ban on supposedly "unanswerable" questions: instead of posting the question itself, post a meta-question asking what people have written about the question. The meta-question is "answerable" in anyone's eyes, and I doubt discussion will suffer much for it.

All that said, I do find the "whatever, it's philosophy, it's all unanswerable" attitude pretty annoying, and dead wrong. Kudos to you, ontic, for arguing philosophy's case. But I don't think that this deletion is a very sturdy soapbox on which to stand.

On preview: I'm not ontic!
posted by painquale at 10:20 PM on February 18, 2007


But answer me this, Mr. Professional Philosopher: what am I to make of this? I mean, brain check me on this one, my memetic friends: at the end of the day, that thing is just a fucking teevee, right?

Oh great. Time to rethink my whole worldview.
posted by painquale at 10:43 PM on February 18, 2007


Hey ontic, you're a philosophy professor, not a professional philosopher; the latter is a synonym for something like night-shift cab driver or unemployed plumber. You know, somebody who could figure out for him/herself what AskMetafilter ain't good for. That said, the reason y'all have inner turmoil is you don't SEND ME MONEY.
posted by davy at 10:51 PM on February 18, 2007


I agree with painquale, and in fact was going to suggest the same strategy as in his/her third question. (Although I'm with ontic on the question whether non-Sony qualia exist. How could we be wrong about that, painquale? What kind of an illusion would that be?)
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:51 PM on February 18, 2007


you're a philosophy professor, not a professional philosopher

What's a "professional philosopher" but someone who makes their living by doing philosophy? Philosophy professors teach, but also write philosophical books and essays, and give philosophical talks defending philosophical positions. And get paid (though as ontic points out, not a lot) for it.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:54 PM on February 18, 2007


his/her third question
That is, his/her third paragraph. Ok, to bed.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:55 PM on February 18, 2007


The point is that there is no such paid job as "philosopher": a philosphy professor one is paid to be a professor not a philosopher. That is, you're professional academics, and in a near-useless subject too, unlike literature professors who teach people to be trendy novelists or engineering professors who teach that paying skill. (And in many U.S. universities most professors don't actually teach, that work is given to underlings.) For non-academics philosophy is a hobby, not a job, regardless of the person's intellectual capability. For most college students Phil 101 is simply a required course to bullshit one's way through by regurgitating "in your own words" what the lecturer just droned on about; Liberal Arts professorship as a profession is a way to avoid having to engineer, plumb or hack.
posted by davy at 11:48 PM on February 18, 2007


Although I'm with ontic on the question whether non-Sony qualia exist. How could we be wrong about that, painquale? What kind of an illusion would that be?

The qualia question! I get called out for this a lot on Metafilter. My profile page invites it.

First off, I don't deny that we have conscious experience. I just deny that we have qualia. 'Qualia' isn't an ordinary English term; it's technical (and yet, no two philosophers seem to use it in precisely the same way, which is a little aggravating). Some features of qualia: they're said to be ineffable, irreducibly first-person, and irreducible to any other categories in our conceptual scheme. Although I doubt we could be wrong about the fact that we have conscious experience, it's within the realm of reason to think that we could be wrong that conscious experience has these properties.

I'm motivated to think this because (1) I take a functionalist/behaviorist line when it comes to intentional states (meaning they're effable, possible objects of scientific inquiry, etc.), and (2) I'm unconvinced by arguments that conscious experience cannot be reduced to intentional states. In fact, no one ever gives arguments for qualia being irreducible. They give thought experiments and intuition pumps. I am no fan of intuition pumps (or intuition in general, for that matter). So, here's how the type of thought experiment that's supposed to cause trouble for me goes: take two people who are in the same functional/behavioral state, but alter the qualia in one. The idea is that you can imagine inverting someone's color spectrum, removing all their qualia (thus making them a zombie), or changing just one little element of their conscious experience. But the reason these thought experiments are tempting, I think, are due to gross failures of imagination on our parts. When we assent to them being real possibilities, we're not fully thinking things through. We don't recognize that in imagining a change in qualia, we're also imagining a change in belief.

Can you really imagine a plate of spaghetti that consciously tastes to you like carrion, and still wanting it wholeheartedly, looking forward to it, believing that it tastes good, believing that you're not deceiving yourself, and believing that it tastes quite a bit like other Italian foods? I can't. I can imagine briefly acting that way (for a play, maybe) but not really and legitimately believing all those things. Something would have to give: either I would not actually believe that it tasted good (and hence wouldn't be in the same intentional state), or it would actually taste differently. Now, it takes a little work to go through all the inverted spectrum/zombie/Mary thought experiments, but I'm pretty sure that, if you really describe the thought experiments in detail, intuition starts to drift back in my direction. (I won't do so here, but feel free to press.)

The problem with the qualia thesis is that it assumes that if you change a person's intentional states, you can keep a unit of conscious experience - a quale - as a residuum. I think this is unmotivated. (Of course, one direction you could go is to assent that consciousness is reducible to intentional states, and then claim that intentional states like beliefs are themselves irreducibly first-person and ineffable. This is wrong too, I think, but for other reasons.)
posted by painquale at 12:13 AM on February 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


The point is that there is no such paid job as "philosopher": a philosphy professor one is paid to be a professor not a philosopher.

Um, this is like saying "there's no such job as a paid [academic] biologist, a biology professor is paid to be a professor not a biologist". That is, pretty absurd (and demonstrates a lot of ignorance about how universities work, and what is involved in doing philosophy these days).

And I'm kind of missing why an all-out attack on academic philosophy or liberal arts is even relevant to this thread, which (just in case you forgot) is about what kinds of questions are good for ask.mefi?
posted by advil at 12:17 AM on February 19, 2007


I'm not attacking anything, I'm clarifying terms. And I'll try again:

A biologist need not work as a biologist in Academia; there are non-academic positions available. But where else would one work as a philosopher? Do you imagine Shell Oil hires philosophers to do philosophy? Have you ever seen a job listing for a philosopher from a zoo, a plumbing contractor, a law firm or a taxi company? I'll even accept a non-academic Help Wanted that requires Philosophy 101.

Clear enough?

As far as "demonstrating ignorance" goes, I know I can't write for toffee but still your "critique" would be less like toffee if you'd try a bit to read for comprehension. And as for your secondary kvetch, what makes you think Metatalk needs you for Thread Topic Queen?
posted by davy at 1:42 AM on February 19, 2007


The point is that there is no such paid job as "philosopher"

There's not much of a market for theoretical physicists or pure mathematical research outside academia, davy, but clearly being a theoretical physicist or a mathematician is a perfectly respectable paid job.
posted by matthewr at 1:53 AM on February 19, 2007


Professors are paid to profess. Regardless of the subject: the work of a philosophy professor would resemble the work of a physics professor more than that of a cab driver or plumber. That's why they call the academic job "professor of philosophy", not "philosopher". Of course it's helpful that an applicant for the job of professor of philosophy demonstrates proficiency in the subject; I'd hate to be a student in a school that required their philosophy professors to prove proficiency in plumbing instead of philosophy.

As for matthewr's "rebuttal", I'm not laying down the law on what jobs are respectable either, only -- again -- clarifying terms. Those who must get defensive are certainly welcome to, but it's not something I require. (At least I didn't say "Those who can, do; ...")
posted by davy at 2:23 AM on February 19, 2007


Actually, I believe many philosophers who specialize in logic work in non-academic settings doing what would fall under the rubric "philosophy". The same can be said for ethicists, who are commonly employed in hospitals and by the government if their speciality is medical ethics.
posted by Rumple at 2:24 AM on February 19, 2007


davy, professors are not paid only to profess. We are also paid to conduct research and to administrate the university. The latter two are not "professing" and bear more resemblance to, say, non-academic researchers and to middle managers respectively, than it does to your notion of professing.
posted by Rumple at 2:28 AM on February 19, 2007


Davy: What about people in philosophy faculties who don't do any teaching? What are they, if not professional philosophers?
posted by matthewr at 2:32 AM on February 19, 2007


(And in many U.S. universities most professors don't actually teach, that work is given to underlings.)

This is false. Please stop talking about things you don't know anything about, davy.
posted by gleuschk at 4:07 AM on February 19, 2007


I basically agree with LobsterMitten's assessment above, that this started to look interesting once it got going, despite its not seeming specific enough to begin with. But I'm surprised philosophers take it as a negative that broad, vague philosophical questions are "chatfilter". This question is essentially "what is the meaning of life", and any interesting responses are the result of creative thinkers, not trained expertise or direct experience.

And: didn't say this, but I fully agree with ontic that philosophical questions, well-expressed, are usually NOT unanswerable. Even this one probably has a factual answer - just one, as occhiblu points out, that we can't reasonably give in the space we have, and with the current state of human knowledge.

facts are things int he world, but meaning is all relative. "why do we suffer?" is an unanswerable question not because we don't have enough information yet, but because there will always be those of us who feel two ways about it (in other words, it is not analytic). In a sense this question is a good example of the the issue I mentioned in the thread itself: if knowledge is incomplete because we haven't finished yet, then it is theoretically answerable. If knowledge is fundamentally a relative state whose existence depends on privation as much as position, then there are no final answers in non-analytic areas (this could be a distinction between mathematic and dynamic categories, for instance)
posted by mdn at 5:31 AM on February 19, 2007


Davy, why must we be defined by our job title? We can be whatever we want to be. Personally, I am a daydreamer.
posted by Roger Dodger at 7:15 AM on February 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


davy, the analogy with pure math is apt. Lots of work is done in universities with no immediate commercial application - surely that can't be what you're protesting? The point of saying "professional philosopher" as opposed to merely "philosopher" is that most people think about philosophical questions and some even have very complex philosophical views - but they don't get paid for it. That is, we're conceding that there may be lots of philosophers out there, just they don't get paid. Also, many/most academic philosophers view themselves mainly as researchers, not mainly as teachers. (Though of course, nearly all of us teach in addition to doing the research.) It is research, publishing philosophical books and essays, that leads to professional advancement -- teaching rarely is the make-or-break item in a tenure case or a hiring decision. It is completely standard within the field to refer to oneself as a "professional philosopher" for these reasons.

There are jobs outside of academia that call for an advanced philosophy degree. Various jobs having to do with logic (eg writing tests, building computer "knowledge architectures") and ethics (eg hospitals hire medical ethicists, various professional associations - law, business - hire ethicists, etc) require philosophy experience. There are freelance "philosophy consultants" who are like personal therapists -- that is, they are hired by individuals to meet and discuss philosophical questions.

Undergraduate philosophical training (in clear thinking and expression) is valuable for a much wider range of jobs than this.


painquale, so just for curiousity, do you think that the qualitative features of our conscious are
a. fully expressible in words
b. reducible to some other category in our conceptual scheme, or
c. accessible to other people?

For the most part I think inverted spectra are possible, although moving from a visual case to a taste case is a nice move, tying the qualitative features to more immediate biological associations of delight and disgust. I think the plausibility of inverted spectra depends on the experiencer having had a consistent set of experiences - that is, I think it's possible that I see red as you see green and always have. I think it's less plausible that I see red as you see green, and I just switched to being that way today, and all my attitudes are staying as they were. So, to make the carrion case analogous, we'd need to imagine that from birth, spaghetti has always tasted like carrion and yet I have formed (not retained) the same beliefs etc. We get something like this in the case of cilantro -- to some people it tastes good, to others, bad. But there, we know about it, because the people to whom it tastes bad have protested. So, maybe that's a data point for your theory? I have the dialectic a bit muddled in my head and must go teach so can't sort it out now. (As I have understood it, the ineffability claim isn't that we can't express anything about our qualitative experiences, though, it's that we can't fully express them. No?)

mdn, I guess I was thinking of the evolutionary biological angle on "why do we have inner turmoil" when I said the question has a factual answer. I'm not sure I agree with what you said about knowledge.
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:56 AM on February 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


The point is that there is no such paid job as "philosopher": a philosphy professor one is paid to be a professor not a philosopher.

At the top of the profession, at least, this is false. At a major research university, the teaching load for philosophy faculty is slim, and what courses they do teach are often upper level undergraduate courses and graduate seminars aimed at furthering their research by enabling them to trot out new ideas in a friendly setting. They can do this by pushing most of the lower level courses onto adjunct faculty and upper level graduate students. Those few lower level courses that the faculty do teach usually involve only preparing a lecture--which they can do once and repeat endlessly if they choose, and many do--with the rest of the work shoved at younger graduate students (Ask me! I'll tell you!). Tenure decisions at these universities will be made solely on the quality of your published work and your perceived philosophical talents. A great philosophy teacher with documented proof of such will make a few hundred bucks more than an average one at my university. A great philosophy researcher will get a plum job at major institution and spend all her time on research; an average philosophy researcher will struggle for tenure at some branch campus, and die under a heavy teaching load. Quit trolling around the thread, davy. You don't know what you're talking about.

That said, the AskMe was lousy because it was too general, as many others have said. Though I stand behind ontic: philosophical question are the sorts of questions that have answers. It's just that the answers can't be gleaned from a question that spends an hour on the front page under the eyeballs of folks on Ask Metafilter. They're too hard for that.
posted by Kwine at 8:22 AM on February 19, 2007


ontic: "That said, as a professional philosopher, I do want to stand up for the idea that philosophical questions can have answers -- even clear ones -- just not non-controversial ones. Philosophy has what is in my opinion an unjustified reputation as having "no right or wrong answers" or "every answer is in some way correct"."

1. I can understand your confusion, but your point has no merit in the larger context. Look at the 'religion and philosophy' section: about ten standing philosophy questions are asked monthly. There are some that start to slide into chatfilter, and I confess to having taken part in some of those; but there are plenty of questions in what you call 'your area of expertise' around there. A well-constructed post to the front page of Metafilter is where you'll want to go if you want something more.

2. You have to understand how mind-numbingly silly it is when people call themselves "professional philosophers." Philosophy is not an art, like painting or writing; it is not a skill, like cooking or engineering; on the practical and immediate level, it is merely the pursuit of a habit, the habit of thoughtfulness. People do not get paid for habits. You may as well say that you're a professional breather or a professional sleeper. It wouldn't be necessary to point this out if the academic world hadn't crawled so far into its own rectum that it can't tell the difference between a profession and a pursuit, much less teach students well enough to prepare them for the obnoxious world that we've created for ourselves.

The reason it amuses me when people talk that way is because I have some esteem for philosophy, and because I find it a bit comical when people make appeals to authority (and "I am a professional philosopher" is, my friend, an appeal to authority) in a realm where appeals to authority are generally thought to be invalid. And in this case it is invalid in the deepest sense; for the current attitude toward philosophy in academia is such that I know of very few intelligent philosophers who have actually chosen to remain in that rot-laden field of their own volition (leaving legions of second-rate amateurs who care very little for actual philosophy) and I know gas station attendants, librarians, and civil engineers who could wipe the floor with so-called "professional philosophers" when it comes to depth and seriousness.
posted by koeselitz at 9:21 AM on February 19, 2007


Roger Dodger: "Davy, why must we be defined by our job title? We can be whatever we want to be. Personally, I am a daydreamer."

And people would rightly label you pretentious, snooty, and full-of-yourself if you went around calling yourself a "professional daydreamer."
posted by koeselitz at 9:24 AM on February 19, 2007


Bears revisiting.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:39 AM on February 19, 2007


I'm tempted to make a reasoned response, but really, WTF?
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:57 AM on February 19, 2007


Comicus: Stand-Up Philosopher.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 10:05 AM on February 19, 2007


Again, do learn to read what I said: I did not say undergraduate courses in philosophy have no value, I agree that they do. I said:

"But where else would one work as a philosopher? Do you imagine Shell Oil hires philosophers to do philosophy? Have you ever seen a job listing for a philosopher from a zoo, a plumbing contractor, a law firm or a taxi company? I'll even accept a non-academic Help Wanted that requires Philosophy 101."

Your defensiveness is funny enough that I'll forgive you for putting words in my mouth. Slay your straw men at will!

As for what tenured full professors do (as opposed to the Associate Professors I had more contact with), admittedly, must rely on the reports of others. On the one hand I doubt that Noam Chomsky has done much research and/or lecturing in linguistics in the past decade or two, it may be true that at least during my adulthood his professorship amounted to a sinecure. (For that matter, many medieval bishoprics fell to the brother of some nobleman who had no real clerical training or experience, but the job description was still "the chief clergyman of a diocese" rather than "some count's kid brother".) This does not differ much from the job description given in the Wikipedia article:

The meaning of the word professor (Latin: "one who claims publicly to be an expert") varies. In most English-speaking countries, it refers to a senior academic who holds a departmental chair, generally as head of the department, or a personal chair awarded specifically to that individual.

Skipping ahead a few sentences in that article we find:

Professors are qualified experts who may perform the following:

* conduct lectures and seminars in their field of study (i.e., they "profess"), such as the basic fields of science or literature or the applied fields of engineering, music, medicine, law, or business;
* perform advanced research in their fields.
* provide pro bono community service, including consulting functions (such as advising government and nonprofit organizations);
* train young or new academics (graduate students).
"

So assuming they do something for their money, how does the work of a Professor of Philosophy differ from that of a Professor of Mathematics? Are Professors of Philosophy supposed to be exempt somehow from "conduct[ing] lectures and seminars" or "training young or new academics"?

Quoth LobsterMitten: "Lots of work is done in universities with no immediate commercial application - surely that can't be what you're protesting?"

Exactly: surely that can't be what I was protesting. I don't feel like investing weeks learning to rephrase what I am saying to get past the filters your defensiveness imposes; you must rely on your own ability to "read for comprehension" to decipher what I thought I was saying quite clearly. Surely there's hope for ya, surely a Smart Person can understand it eventually!

So: are Metafilter's "professional philosophers" tenured full professors? Or are y'all only Assistants or Associates still scrabbling for esteem offline as well?
posted by davy at 10:27 AM on February 19, 2007


LobsterMitten: "I'm tempted to make a reasoned response, but really, WTF?"

I was only trying to explain why it annoys people when one refers to oneself as a "professional philosopher." Don't let my slightly over-the-top polemical style scare you off. Say what you think.
posted by koeselitz at 10:31 AM on February 19, 2007


I'm gonna echo the WTF? Attacking people's job titles seems both beside the point and overly hostile here, folks. I'm finding the whole "let's use random MeTa threads to create mean-spirited rants against random people" trend highly annoying.
posted by occhiblu at 10:35 AM on February 19, 2007


Random!
posted by occhiblu at 10:36 AM on February 19, 2007


occhiblu: "Attacking people's job titles seems both beside the point and overly hostile here, folks."

It's only 'overly hostile' if the person whose job title is being attacked is particularly attached to that job title. Job titles are only words. In fact, that was my point.
posted by koeselitz at 10:38 AM on February 19, 2007


So what difference does it make, then? Why post a multi-paragraph screed against something that doesn't particularly matter? Many people have stupid job titles. I don't see the point in letting that become the issue when interacting with them.
posted by occhiblu at 10:39 AM on February 19, 2007


davy: The point is that there is no such paid job as "philosopher": a philosphy professor one is paid to be a professor not a philosopher. That is, you're professional academics, and in a near-useless subject too,

I don't have a dog in this fight, but I suspect your characterization of philosophy as "near-useless" put the "kick me, I'm a Philistine" stickie on your back.

But, as long as it's there, I have to say: you don't know what the fuck you're talking about.
posted by Rumple at 10:49 AM on February 19, 2007


So Rumple, either enlighten my pompously ignorant self or STFU. That is, if you, unlike the (other?) Professional Philosophers around here, know what I'm talking about.
posted by davy at 11:00 AM on February 19, 2007


You have to understand how mind-numbingly silly it is when people call themselves "professional philosophers."

I thought so too when I first started, and the term 'philosopher' still makes me inwardly cringe a little bit. Calling yourself a philosopher to someone not in philosophy is a like calling yourself a prophet... it sounds presumptuous and embarrassing. But I've spent enough time with people who do call themselves philosophers that it's lost most of its squick-factor. As everyone responding to davy's trolling has pointed out, there's no reason to demand that biologists call themselves biology professors. So why do we demand it of philosophers who are more interested in their research than their teaching? I take it that it's because most people don't know that genuine research still goes on in philosophy: they think it's something that ended long ago with people in togas. I still try to avoid calling myself a philosopher when in public because I know it has an air of the ridiculous, but there are plenty of places in academia where no one bats an eye when calling people in the philosophy department 'philosophers'. This is as it should be. But philosophy is going to need a heck of a good marketing campaign in order to change the minds of people like koeselitz, who have no idea what philosophers do and are happy to say all sorts of things about philosophy that are just not true. (Philosophy is not just "the habit of thinking" -- it's the skill of thinking and knowing about certain things, in the same way that mathematics or biology are. Philosophy has content.)

painquale, so just for curiousity, do you think that the qualitative features of our conscious are
a. fully expressible in words
b. reducible to some other category in our conceptual scheme, or
c. accessible to other people?


Yup, I think all those things. It's hard to see how to reduce and fully explain color vision, a little easier for taste, and easiest of all for the emotions, I think. It's not difficult to imagine that the "feel" of anger is given to us entirely by the attitude we take towards things in the world.

I don't know if it makes a difference if we switch the qualia among two functionally identical people right now or if we say that they've had their qualia inverted since birth. the inverted thought experiments are meant to show that qualia inversion is conceivable (hence possible), but I still can't conceive of something tasting just like carrion does and loving it, no matter how I got that quale instilled in me.

Same goes for the inverted color spectrum. One factoid that should make you suspicious: we obviously can't swap just two color qualia (say, pink and light blue), because then in order to hold our beliefs about color similarity constant, we'd have to believe that pink is closer in shade to blue than to red, which seems inconceivable. Then someone hit upon the notion of inverting the entire color spectrum, so that we just take the color wheel and give it half a spin. The problem with this, however, is that the phenomenal color wheel is not symmetrical. For instance, take brown. Where is it on the color wheel? It's not obvious, but brown is a type of dark orange. People need this pointed out to them. Evolution has made us such that we pick out and notice that color especially well, and have a unique set of behavioral dispositions toward it. Now try spinning our internal spectrum. What was once brown is now light purple. Can you really imagine light purple not looking like dark purple, in the same way that light and dark orange don't look similar to us? That's hard to do. The behavioral uniqueness we display toward brown (and brown's qualitative uniqueness) is just one of a whole bunch of behavioral dispositions to our internal color experience that is not symmetrical. Taking all these asymmetries into consideration, to think that we could simply flip our color spectrum and keep our beliefs invariant stretches imagination to the snapping point.

(Sorry for the derail. I should have picked a different name!)
posted by painquale at 11:01 AM on February 19, 2007


Many philosophers, such as Tolstoy, Camus and Sartre, were not Professors (of anything); Nietzsche was an ex-academic but as a philologist. Were my teenhood heroes not real philosophers then? Maybe they were rank amateurs, mere hobbyists?
posted by davy at 11:12 AM on February 19, 2007


Your defensiveness is funny enough that I'll forgive you for putting words in my mouth.

Though this wasn't aimed at me, you're the only one in the thread who seems defensive to me, davy. Claiming that Noam Choamsky's job (and by extension other eminent tenured professors )is a sinecure;
"So: are Metafilter's "professional philosophers" tenured full professors? Or are y'all only Assistants or Associates still scrabbling for esteem offline as well?"(back-handed dig at the philosophy folks in the thread);
"So assuming they do something for their money, how does the work of a Professor of Philosophy..."(by implicature, they don't do anything for their money.)

All of these have the air of someone who got a C in his Philosophy 101 because he thinks that he didn't "regurgitate (the material) 'in (his) own words'" well enough, but really he didn't understand that this isn't what philosophy is about. I'm not saying that is you, just what it sounds like.

Look. I got a Bachelor of Science as an undergrad, with a double major in Computer Science and Philosophy. I didn't choose to go into philosophy because I wanted to "avoid having to engineer, plumb or hack"(another defensive implication on your part, that the only reason anyone would go into academia is to avoid those types of activities). I like that stuff and I still do it in my (tiny tiny amount of) spare time. I went into Philosophy because I like to think about problems that don't have well-defined solution spaces. I'm interested in defining those problems more precisely such that people who do like working on problems with well-defined solution spaces (most people) can go to town on them--this is what happened with the sciences and mathematics, all of which used to be branches of philosophy. But that doesn't mean I go around passive-aggressively disparaging people who like to work on problems in Computer Science or plumbing or engineering, ok? So why can't you do the same?
posted by Kwine at 11:13 AM on February 19, 2007


occhiblu: I'm sorry if I seem jarring. Yeesh, you professors are touchy. But it's not only that "professional philosopher" is a stupid job title. There's a whole complex of issues here.

First, since a "philosophy" is supposed to be "the love and pursuit of wisdom," at least originally, and even contemporarily is taken to mean the attempt to know truth, it seems a fair amount out of place to make the declaration "I am a philosopher." Everyone attempts to know truth; and while I wouldn't say that everyone succeeds equally, and I would say that some people are much greater in this respect than others, "I am a philosopher" is, in truth, a pretty condescending thing to say. My experience is that condescension is preventive of teaching and of discussion. Yet LobsterMitten tells us that "it is completely standard within the field to refer to oneself as a 'professional philosopher.'" You should understand that I spent seven years in academia, and that that condescension is what made me leave.

Second, you've all conceded that the word "professional" confers on philosophy no higher honors, but it seems to me that that point is a bit confused in the popular mind, and you make no effort to change that fact. People call themselves a professional this or a professional that to point out that the pursuit which which they label themselves is an area of their particular expertise and understanding. This makes some sense when one calls oneself "a professional librarian" or "a professional garbage man;" the pursuits are clearly laid out, and there is no confusion as to what they call for. But philosophy, a kind of habitual thoughtfulness aimed at an end, unfortunately lacks a clear and specific curriculum. It's not something that anyone can easily know you're doing, much less pay you for. The closest you can come is some kind of charitable organization designed to give people a place to discuss things in the hopes that philosophy might take place; this was the original intention behind the university.

I'm sorry, once again, if my "screed" offended. But I was trying to convey something which has bothered me a great deal about the present system. You've said that the title "professional philosopher" might well be a "stupid job title," and that I shouldn't complain over something that is "merely words." But philosophy is such that "mere words" are of extreme importance; the phrase "professional philosopher" is contradictory to the very pursuit of philosophy.

On preview:

painquale: "Calling yourself a philosopher to someone not in philosophy is a like calling yourself a prophet... it sounds presumptuous and embarrassing. But I've spent enough time with people who do call themselves philosophers that it's lost most of its squick-factor. As everyone responding to davy's trolling has pointed out, there's no reason to demand that biologists call themselves biology professors. So why do we demand it of philosophers who are more interested in their research than their teaching? I take it that it's because most people don't know that genuine research still goes on in philosophy: they think it's something that ended long ago with people in togas. I still try to avoid calling myself a philosopher when in public because I know it has an air of the ridiculous, but there are plenty of places in academia where no one bats an eye when calling people in the philosophy department 'philosophers'. This is as it should be. But philosophy is going to need a heck of a good marketing campaign in order to change the minds of people like koeselitz, who have no idea what philosophers do and are happy to say all sorts of things about philosophy that are just not true."

First, as I mentioned above, philosophers are the last people who should be so cavalier as to use a meaningless phrase. It wouldn't be "a marketing campaign" if people who believe themselves to be experts in speaking correctly used more accurate terminology. Second, even aside from the aptness of professional shorthand, philosophy professors are (generally) charged with educating, even if they aren't required to teach classes directly. How good is an educator if you have to spend a long time talking to them, as you say you did, to discover that they're not being pretentious? Third, yes, philosophy has "content," but that content is fundamentally different from the content of biology. It is not, as some would have us believe, a cloud of strange terms, but a kind of thoughtfulness, and thoughtfulness about thoughtfulness. As such, I disagree that "research" is possible in this field; yes, I know that lots of professors see themselves this way, but I think they're wrong to do so. Nietzsche once pointed out that, though it would be very convenient if I could assemble a panel of experts to discover little parts of the truth about the world and explain it all to me, that's not really how truth works, unfortunately. Philosophy actually stands over mathematics and biology as the "study of studies;" unlike them, however, it cannot be reduced to a "body of knowledge," since it naturally contains all bodies of knowledge. Fourth, and finally, I'm one of those who's bitter about academia precisely because I've had plenty of experience with it. There are more of us than you probably realize.

Sorry; too long
posted by koeselitz at 11:42 AM on February 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


Ok everyone, I'm willing to concede that, while philosophical questions should be thought of as having answers more than they are, this particular one wasn't phrased in a manner condusive to getting those answers, and it's going to be a rare, general AskMe question that does. In fact, I now believe that I overreacted -- got hit in a sensitive spot and didn't think through enough of the communal implications for opening the flood gates a little more for philosophical questions. Even if they do have answers, that doesn't mean very much for AskMe policy.

But onto more pressing concerns.

davy: The point is that there is no such paid job as "philosopher": a philosphy professor one is paid to be a professor not a philosopher.

I've been ignoring you up to this point because I doubt that you're arguing in good faith here, but this statement is simply false. I am paid to teach classes, I am also paid to do advanced research -- in philosophy. Not in British literature as a professional literary scholar might, not in Central American history as a professional historian might, but in philosophy. That makes me paid to be a philosopher. We have journals, we have findings, we even sometimes get grants from the United States government. In fact, my appointment has very specific percentages of how much research I have to do and how much teaching I have to do. And you know what, I'm pretty damn good at it. Of course Camus and Sartre and Nietzsche and Spinoza were philosophers -- who in their right mind would argue otherwise? Maybe society didn't see fit to pay them, so they didn't have the chance to be professional philosophers. Big deal. That doesn't mean the term amounts to nothing now that society can spend more money on it.

koeselitz: You don't think there aren't such things as professional philosophers, you're just mad at them. I'm sorry. There's not much I can do to convince you that what you really hold up as the true philosophy might not be all there is to philosophy -- that there might be something over and above "thoughtfulness" that rises to the level of a skill which I employ daily and teach my students to use. You'll never learn from the great amount of knowledge and wisdom being created by the second-rate amateurs you casually write-off, and there's nothing much I can do about that either. I'm dumb-founded by the claim that what philosophy seems to be about to you is "depth and seriousness". I have no doubt that there are janitors and fishermen and professional athletes that could hold their own in discussions with professional philosophers, just as there are reclusive mathematical and scientific geniuses out there. But it seems the height of prejudice to think just because someone is in academia makes them less of a philosopher.
posted by ontic at 11:50 AM on February 19, 2007


For the record, I'm not in academia. I don't even like philosophy all that much as a discipline, and I've been on record here stating the problems I've had with it. I just think that attacking particular people because you don't like their job title, or that they get paid for doing something you think is useless, is ridiculous.

We're all writers, yes? We're writing words that are appearing on a screen. Yet I am also a professional writer, in that people pay me to write words that appear on other screens. My getting paid in that context does not mean that what people are doing here is not considered writing, nor does it mean I think I'm automatically a better writer than any of you. I call myself a professional writer simply because I get paid to do writing.
posted by occhiblu at 11:58 AM on February 19, 2007


Er, should have ended with: I don't see how this is any different, unless you simply have a huge bone to pick with philosophy, in which case that's not ontic's (or LobsterMitten's or painquale's) fault.
posted by occhiblu at 11:59 AM on February 19, 2007


Professional. See also.

And Kwine, you are totally missing my point. Some adorable pips I guess to be half my age popped up to squeak "I'm a professional philosopher!" as if that's something we should be impressed by, moreso than if they were professional engineers or plumbers. Furthermore they equated "professional philosopher" and "philosophy professor"; I just separated the two (see above). Nor am I disparaging their fields or their job titles (though I bet their official titles are not "Professional Philosopher").

What am I doing? It's too bad you don't know "taking pompous kids down a peg" when you see it either. The obvious comeback (which I ain't used yet) to "I'm a professional philosopher!" is "Maybe the other boys weren't just jealous of your geniosity, maybe you were an annoying little twerp." (I certainly was, d00d!)

By the way, I myself am a philosopher, even a kind of prophet, though I've no scholastic qualifications for it nor is it what I'm paid for. Can you guess what they do pay me for?

To ontic I say this: AGAIN, I didn't say the term "philosopher" was or is meaningless, whether it's a paid position or not. I said, essentially, you're paid to profess, not to philosophize. As physics professor is paid to profess in her field.

(Whaddaya call that thing physicists do that makes 'em physicists? Writers write, plumbers plumb, monsters monst, and physicists...?)
posted by davy at 12:06 PM on February 19, 2007


So: how many professional philosophers (suck it, davy) do we have on here, anyway? There's me and ontic and LobsterMitten and mdn and Kwine and a few others, I think.
posted by painquale at 12:08 PM on February 19, 2007


painquale: "So: how many professional philosophers (suck it, davy) do we have on here, anyway? There's me and ontic and LobsterMitten and mdn and Kwine and a few others, I think."

Well, I'm supposed to be in civil engineering, but I just spent half of my morning working on my thesis on Plato and Homer here at work. So I guess you can count me.
posted by koeselitz at 12:19 PM on February 19, 2007


And students spend all of their time on it, so they should count, too. Any other philosophy undergrads or grad students out there?
posted by koeselitz at 12:22 PM on February 19, 2007


Like I said, I call myself a philosopher. Though admittedly I'm a dilettante, a rank amateur, a mere hobbyist, nowhere near as geniosical as Ol' Freddy N.
posted by davy at 12:24 PM on February 19, 2007


Well, I'm quietly following this and other threads, though I am not a professional. I just finished my BS in Philosophy and am considering my next move. (Philosophy? Law? Plumbing?)

I hope that we can find a way to discuss philosophical issues around here, though. First, out of my own need to listen to and participate in philosophical discussions. Trust me, my girlfriend does not want to hear my critiques of Kripke or my interest in Quine. I'm at a little bit of a loss.

Second, I think there is a need for certain philosophical discussions to happen in public forums like metafilter. It seems that many misunderstand the practice of philosophy (as seen above.) Perhaps a bit more transparency would help clarify what philosophy is doing today.
posted by elwoodwiles at 12:25 PM on February 19, 2007


occhiblu: "I just think that attacking particular people because you don't like their job title, or that they get paid for doing something you think is useless, is ridiculous."

One more time: no personal attacks intended. I was airing out grievances with the system; I don't have any problems with people, only with condescension and a system that doesn't work. As I've said recently here, I guess it just comes as a shock to me how seriously people take there "careers." I'll try to take that into account next time.

posted by koeselitz at 12:25 PM on February 19, 2007


I said, essentially, you're paid to profess, not to philosophize.

Philosophers both teach and do research. You want to know which one is actually paying the bills? No one gets tenure or moves up a notch in the pay ladder on the basis of their teaching... pay is directly correlated with how seriously other philosophers receive your work. And the more you get paid, the less you have to teach. This is a pretty clear indication you've got things backwards.

Ah, koeselitz reveals his true nature!

And students spend all of their time on it, so they should count, too. Any other philosophy undergrads or grad students out there?

I'm a grad student; sorry, didn't mean to intimate otherwise.
posted by painquale at 12:27 PM on February 19, 2007


Would you deny that a physicis professor is a professional scientist as well as being a professor? It's that sense in which philosophy professors are professional philosophers.
posted by ontic at 12:28 PM on February 19, 2007


That's funny. I was getting paid to work on my thesis on Plato and Homer this morning, but I spend a few hours having thoughts about civil engineering for which I was not and will not be monetarily compensated instead. We're both professional civil-engineer/philosophers, koselitz!
posted by Kwine at 12:30 PM on February 19, 2007


"Philosopher " defined. The relevant Wikipedia article.

And painquale admits tenure is sinecure!
posted by davy at 12:31 PM on February 19, 2007


Okay ontic, but you'd still be a philosopher if you had to drive a cab for a living, right?
posted by davy at 12:35 PM on February 19, 2007


(By the way, my part on this thread pretty illustrates what I get paid for, though it's the way I do it more than the substance of my doings.)
posted by davy at 12:38 PM on February 19, 2007


koeselitz: I should have been more delicate in my tone with my last comment addressed to you. Believe it or not, I teach at what is primarily an engineering schools (mainly ethics for engineers and business students, but the odd class on political philosophy and the meaning of life). It's a regular professional battle here for engineers to take philosophers seriously as a discipline (which I view as not altogether different from engineering in the problem-solving sense), and I'm sorry if some of that war-weariness spilled out into this thread directed at you or others.
posted by ontic at 12:38 PM on February 19, 2007


Er, pretty much illustrates.
posted by davy at 12:39 PM on February 19, 2007


Also a grad student, if that wasn't clear.

Hey davy, could you link to a few more dictionary definitions to help us understand what ontic means when he says that he is a professional philosopher? I think those of us in the profession are all still a bit confused despite being immersed in the field every day; surely if answers.com and wikipedia can't help us, nothing can.
posted by Kwine at 12:40 PM on February 19, 2007


If I had to guess, davy, I'd say you were a criminal defense attorney.
posted by Kwine at 12:42 PM on February 19, 2007


As a side question: when I mention I've studied philosophy, everyone I meet wants to talk about Nietzsche, Derrida or other continental influenced stuff. Meanwhile I'm more interested in the empiricist/analytic traditions. It seems like very few people read Quine, much less know of his work. In terms of being professional , doesn't it seem like the skillset involved comes from analytic rather than continental philosophy?
posted by elwoodwiles at 12:43 PM on February 19, 2007


Okay ontic, but you'd still be a philosopher if you had to drive a cab for a living, right?

To the extent that I still spent time trying to solve philosophical problems, yes. But it would be hard for me to claim that if I didn't -- if I decided to just think about why Britney shaved her head for instance. I wouldn't be a professional one, but big deal. You see journal articles from people like this every once in a while with the affiliation listed as "independent scholar". Same thing with the physicist who started driving a cab. If he was no longer designing or conducting experiments (or models, I suppose, for string theory), I'd be reluctant to say he was still a scientist.
posted by ontic at 12:43 PM on February 19, 2007


which is not to say that continental philosophy is without value.
posted by elwoodwiles at 12:45 PM on February 19, 2007


Ah. That makes some sense, ontic. I empathize with your position; I know it's difficult to convince people who don't like to take such things seriously that philosophy is important.

Also, about tone: don't worry a bit. If anybody could stand to be more considerate about wording, it's me.
posted by koeselitz at 12:47 PM on February 19, 2007


elwoodwiles: "In terms of being professional , doesn't it seem like the skillset involved comes from analytic rather than continental philosophy?"

I think that's a very good point.
posted by koeselitz at 12:51 PM on February 19, 2007


So Kwine, you're a professional student then, eh? Cool! How do you keep from being homeless and starving?

As for "what ontic means when he says that he is a professional philosopher", I now damn well what he means, I'm just saying It's NOT his bloody job title. Got that yet?

And yes ontic, I will agree that one advantage to philosophy as a field (or job, hobby, whatever) is that you don't need heavy equipment to do it with or special buildings to do it in.

And I apologize for nothing. I'm not the one who stepped up to announce "I'm a supergenius!"
posted by davy at 12:52 PM on February 19, 2007


Add me as another philosophy grad student (for whoever's keeping count)
posted by chndrcks at 12:54 PM on February 19, 2007


I'm not a professional philosopher; I'm something like an apprentice professional philosopher. I am a teaching assistant for philosophy courses half time and a computer geek quarter time over in the English department, which, just barely, together suffice to keep me from being homeless and starving. No one pays me for doing philosophy because my philosophical work isn't yet worth paying for (and frankly, may never be worth paying for).

It's not clear to me what the big deal is about job titles. My job title over in the English department isn't really "computer geek", it's "Technical Assistant." Sorry if that confused you momentarily. Does that ipso facto mean that I don't get paid for being a computer geek? Doesn't seem like it--seems like "computer geek" is as good a description for the skills that earn my paycheck over there. Anyway, I've got a paper to read, for which-to be clear-I am not being paid, but one day hope to be.
posted by Kwine at 1:28 PM on February 19, 2007


popped up to squeak "I'm a professional philosopher!" as if that's something we should be impressed by

I'm not the one who stepped up to announce "I'm a supergenius!"
posted by davy at 2:52 PM CST on February 19


Feel the bitterness and reflexive insecurity....
posted by dios at 1:32 PM on February 19, 2007


elwoodwiles, yes, most university philosophy departments in the US are analytic-focused. In fact, it's hard to get a good graduate degree in continental in the US -- but there are relatively many jobs for continental specialists at small colleges in the US (that is, there are few such jobs at high-ranking universities but proportionally more at smaller places). Some continental stuff gets done in comparative literature and associated departments in the US, as well.


koeselitz, I'm confused, are you a grad student in philosophy as well as an engineer? I took it from your profile that you were previously a library worker at a university who was interested in philosophy, not a grad student.


[ontic said] "I'm a professional philosopher!" as if that's something we should be impressed by, moreso than if they were professional engineers or plumbers.

No. As several of us have tried to explain, using that term is not supposed to be impressive - it's just supposed to be a pain description of the facts. In fact as I said above, it's (often) meant with a sense of modesty: The point of saying "professional" as opposed to merely "philosopher" is to acknowledge that most people think about philosophical questions and some even have very complex philosophical views - but they don't get paid for it. That is, we're conceding that there may be lots of people properly called "philosophers" out there, just they don't get paid. And using the term "philosopher" is just meant to be a plain description of our work, like "mathematician". It's not meant to be pretentious or impressive. We really do get paid to think and write about topics like "do we have free will?" and "is it ethical for a doctor to help a terminally ill patient commit suicide?" and so on; we get paid to do philosophy (as well as to teach it).
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:32 PM on February 19, 2007


In terms of being professional , doesn't it seem like the skillset involved comes from analytic rather than continental philosophy?

What I'm referring to as the skill associated with philosophy is mainly thinking of philosophy as problem-solving, which is a very analytic way of thinking about it. I do think learning to work in both the analytic and continental traditions is valuable, but since I'm not really a continentalist so I don't know whether they'd claim philosophy is a skill or a body of knowledge or koeselitz's ideal of thoughtfulness. When I discuss traditionally continental authors with my classes, I emphasize the aim as more of personal or social transformation and the method as more historical. There is definitely more concentration on broader themes than the details. I don't know if I'd go so far as to say there aren't professional Continental philosophers, though I'd expect them to be less fond of the term in general.

One of the more interesting trends in analytic philosophy nowadays is the analysis of what are more traditionally Continental authors. Love him or hate him, Brian Leiter is a big mover in this field. Check out his essay in his Future of Philosophy book about reclaiming Freud, Nietzsche, and Marx. I also know of a "Derrida as Analytic Philosophy" book out there. Being able to speak well from each tradition really builds credibility for getting people interested in all the great things the analytic tradition has to offer.
posted by ontic at 1:33 PM on February 19, 2007


Excuse me, but I have a number of quips I need to set free into the world

I hate random people, they're so allovertheplace.

Philosophy didn't end with people in togas, but with people in kneesocks and wigs (if you assumed I was gonna quip about linen tunics and petasos I doff my woolen cap to you).

Tolstoy wasn't a philosopher so much as a fullofitoser. Great novelist, terrible social thinker.



I had written a fairly extensive comment that explained:

a) why assuming koeselitz (who takes his username from Nietzche's bestest bud, fer chrissakes) was anti-philosophy was misguided.

b) why the formulation "professional philosopher" is jarring, much like, say, "professional poet."

But in the time it took me to write the damn thing, those points had already been made by other commenters.
posted by Kattullus at 1:53 PM on February 19, 2007


LobsterMitten: "koeselitz, I'm confused, are you a grad student in philosophy as well as an engineer? I took it from your profile that you were previously a library worker at a university who was interested in philosophy, not a grad student."

I started the library schtick when I was a sophomore at St. John's College in Santa Fe. (That was for a degree in something interestingly titled "Western Civilization.") I did it for three years, including summers, and then graduated. After two years of working as a bellboy, I went back to school, to Boston College in the theory wing of the Political Science department. (This was mostly so I could read Plato and Aristotle with Christopher Bruell.) I did library work there, too. After I finished my coursework, I moved back to Colorado, where I grew up, planning on settling down and getting married. I'm still finishing my Master's thesis, which I mentioned before.

ontic: "One of the more interesting trends in analytic philosophy nowadays is the analysis of what are more traditionally Continental authors. Love him or hate him, Brian Leiter is a big mover in this field. Check out his essay in his Future of Philosophy book about reclaiming Freud, Nietzsche, and Marx."

I've always been interested in Nietzsche, but I've always disliked Leiter. However, I've been meaning to read a bit more of his; I know that he has a body of work outside of what he's done with Nietzsche, so I feel as though I ought to give him a chance there. I'll check this out. Thanks.w
posted by koeselitz at 1:54 PM on February 19, 2007


ontic: "Being able to speak well from each tradition really builds credibility for getting people interested in all the great things the analytic tradition has to offer."

On the other side of the coin, being unable to muster much interest in books written within the last hundred years ("analytic" and "continental" alike) has made it difficult for me to convince people that I ought to get paid to read the books I love.
posted by koeselitz at 2:03 PM on February 19, 2007


As for what tenured full professors do (as opposed to the Associate Professors I had more contact with), admittedly, must rely on the reports of others. On the one hand I doubt that Noam Chomsky has done much research and/or lecturing in linguistics in the past decade or two, it may be true that at least during my adulthood his professorship amounted to a sinecure.

Well, Chomsky's a pretty bad example in many ways. First of all he actually has been doing research, of a sort, and in fact has (during the 90s) more or less set the agenda for research in syntax for some time to come. The field might be better off if his job really were a sinecure, though. Also, he's continued advising grad students up until very recently, and teaching some, though he hasn't chaired a dissertation in a while. Also, Chomsky is not representative because he makes tons and tons of money on the lecture circuit, and has his interests split between linguistics and politics in a way that is not very common at all for academics.

(And associate professors are usually tenured.)
posted by advil at 2:11 PM on February 19, 2007


while we're all here, what are some good forums, etc for discussions of philosophy?
posted by elwoodwiles at 2:37 PM on February 19, 2007


Hey dios, it's part of my gaygenda for world conquest, y'know. Next thing ya know I'll be requiring straight men to marry billy goats.

"Professor of philosophy" or "philosophy professor" sounds like nice work if you an get it. (I'd go "What's your concentration? Do you do applied ethics, disassemble medieval theology, argue with Kant, or what?") I've got no objection to to the job or to academia itself; somebody's got to load up JStor.

What I'm objecting to is "Professional Philosopher". Not that "professional" is a bad word, I'd rather have my house rewired by a certified professional electrician than a moonlighting cab driver, nor does "professional electrician" sound pompous -- it differentiates one from some guy like me who can rewire a desk lamp if given explicit instructions. It's just that something about "Professional Philosopher", yes, does sound as jarring to me as "Professional Poet". Maybe to spare yourselves from running afoul of shoulder- chipped autodidact curmudgeons you'd do better to say "philosophy professor" instead. (I quit caling myself a "white nigger" when I realized everybody kept taking it wrong.)

And advil, I stand corrected.
posted by davy at 2:41 PM on February 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


The red hot ire appears to be cooling into a warm collegiality, so it would be impolite of me as a newcomer to stoke the smouldering coals. Let me just say that a freelance copywriter and Stephen King are both professional writers; Herman Melville was a customs inspector. Make of that what you will.

If we're still doing roll call, you can put me down as a political philosophy grad student, retired. But I have no qualms about continuing to refer to myself as a student of philosophy, for that is what I will always be.

mostly so I could read Plato and Aristotle with Christopher Bruell

I am envious that you got to study with such a teacher (and I assume with a fair degree of confidence that Professor Bruell never referred to himself as a philosopher, professional or otherwise).

posted by Urban Hermit at 2:51 PM on February 19, 2007


Urban Hermit: "I am envious that you got to study with such a teacher (and I assume with a fair degree of confidence that Professor Bruell never referred to himself as a philosopher, professional or otherwise)."

"Study with," meh. I shouldn't have even implied that I "read with" him. I sat in the back of his incredible classes and took in what I could, and asked one or two good questions over the course of a couple years. I got to go through his courses in Plato's Laws, Spinoza's Theo-Philosophical Treatise, and Aristotle's On The Soul. I'd been told by a bunch of my teachers at St. John's College that he was the best teacher around, and I wasn't let down; it was indeed a distinguished pleasure.

And Bruell? He's not even in the philosophy department. (The BC Philosophy Grad Students always used to make fun of us "fake philosophy students.") I was never quick enough to be learning a great deal, but I did pick up one thing: care and rigor. I've never met anybody who was that rigorous and careful with the texts he read; I went to a fair number of lectures by analytical thinkers while I was in beantown, but his logic and rationality was beyond anything I've seen. He's also incredibly humble. I'll probably be trying to goad him into helping me with my thesis in a while.

One of my old teachers at St. John's wrote her thesis at BC with Bruell on Plato and Homer. She told me that he knew more about Homer than almost anybody she knew. When I mentioned to him a while ago that I'd like to have his input on the thesis I'm writing, he said, "well, I'm not really an expert on Homer, but I'll do what I can."
posted by koeselitz at 3:14 PM on February 19, 2007


Gah, it was the Theo-Political Treatise. Sorry, Benedict.
posted by koeselitz at 3:15 PM on February 19, 2007


And unlike koeselitz, I do think that philosophy is more than "a habit of thoughtfulness," that it is both an art and a skill. There is something "special" about philosophy, it's not something that just anybody can do (however long they spend in grad school). Like, not everybody, not even every doctor, not even every surgeon, can be a brain surgeon.

And ontic, you're a professional ethicist. I'm a professional fruitcake. Neither of us is a professional philosopher.
posted by davy at 3:23 PM on February 19, 2007


koeselitz: I've never heard of Bruell before. Is his Socratic Dialogue book a fair enough taste?

davy: Booga Booga!
posted by ontic at 4:57 PM on February 19, 2007


mdn, I guess I was thinking of the evolutionary biological angle on "why do we have inner turmoil" when I said the question has a factual answer.

personally, I'm not convinced evolutionary biology answers are anything further than post-hoc descriptions that infuse random accidents with meaning - we could have survived any number of ways; the fact that we survived this particular way does not necessitate its being the best of all possible worlds, so to speak... which again, depends somewhat on whether knowledge is an absolute or relative state, which I think is the real underlying difficulty w/ rationalist v empiricist (and possibly even with analytic v continental).

So: how many professional philosophers (suck it, davy) do we have on here, anyway? There's me and ontic and LobsterMitten and mdn and Kwine and a few others, I think.

I'm still ABD, but I teach adjunct in my spare time & expect to go pro within the next couple years. I was very anti-professional when I first returned to grad school and also cringed at the notion of referring to myself as a "philosopher".

However, after 5 years of study, I am only just beginning to see the depth of my own ignorance. That's one thing Socrates really got right (well, Aristotle says it too - you cannot untie a knot you're unaware of) - it takes real commitment to even come to appreciate the difficulties, let alone approach new insights, so it is actually more self-important to presume you're just as much a philosopher as a professor since you think about meaning, too. It's like saying you're a botanist because you keep houseplants. It is not by any means that people who work as philosophers are naturally more attuned to the questions of the world. It is simply that they have chosen to devote a huge portion of their lives to seriously grappling with these issues. All human beings think about questions of meaning and being in passing, but those who take it up as a profession are choosing to concentrate as a specialist. It does not take a special person, I don't think; it just takes someone who, for whatever reason, convinces herself it's a worthwhile pursuit. Whether you judge it small-minded or brave or indulgent or hard-working to spend your life in contemplation, the fact is that doing it does alter your perspective.

I'm not saying all philosophers are insightful, or that no laymen are (philosophically) insightful. But I do think taking the pursuit seriously enough to commit your life to it is a non-random data point. Understanding is work. It is not a question of just being "the kind of guy who gets it". We all think we're that to some extent, and we really have to strip away so many assumptions (which we always think we've already done, of course...)to recognize and embrace our own ignorance. The hard part is not having an aptitude for philosophy - any human being can stare at the sky and wonder why we're all here. The hard part is taking these questions seriously, professionally, as a rigorous pursuit rather than a momentary daydream.
posted by mdn at 4:59 PM on February 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


mdn: I was thinking the ev. bio. answer would be just the actual-world causal history of how we got to have the psychology we do. I didn't mean that such a history shows this to be the best of all worlds (how could it?!), or that it infuses anything with meaning.
posted by LobsterMitten at 6:30 PM on February 19, 2007


What makes the formulations "professional philosopher"so jarring is that 'philosopher' and 'professional' are both honorifics, but from completely different contexts. Philosopher has Romantic connotations, both in the sense of romance and as pertaining to the artistic movement. It is a common cultural assumption that philosophers are exalted human beings who are more in touch with the spirit of the universe than us mere mortals. 'Professional' on the other hand, comes from the speech of the professional world (natch). It means someone who's studied his craft and mastered it. Think of the phrase "professional job," it means a task has been performed with a certain quality of craftsmanship. What we have here is two different honorifics from radically different sets of discourse colliding with a thunk. 'Professional' isn't even particularly at home in the world of science and academia. Biology professors don't refer to themselves as "professional biologists" and philology professors don't refer to themselves as "professional philologists" or that hasn't been my experience with scientists and academians.

Philosophy is, of course, a craft that one can become more "professional" in. However, in our culture, it is the spark of originality that is valued above all else in philosophy. 'Philosopher' is thus an honorific that implies originality of thought and a certain wildness. 'Professional,' conversely, implies solidity, sturdiness and trustworthiness. You'd lend money to a professional fully expecting to get paid back. You'd lend money to a poet or a philosopher expecting that you were facilitating genius, not necessarily thinking you'd get your money back. For better of worse, people associate Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Nietzche, Derrida etc. with the word 'philosopher,' so, for them, someone being a philosopher means that they're better than your average bear, but also eccentric, and possibly mad. And so "professional philosopher" has the whiff of "professional genius," which would be a risible title.

The same goes if you substitute the word 'poet' for 'philosopher' in all that.

I don't agree with all these assumption, I think all poets and philopsophers (and scientists and explorers and and and), no matter how great their achievement, were human beings, no better than anyone else. Having been raised by university professors and spent quite a while in the academy, I'm well aware of the roles of philosophers in modern academia. I just wanted to explain why 'philosopher,' like 'poet,' is not a mere job title. Both words have millenia of baggage attached to them. I doubt anyone agrees with all the connotations, but they're still there.
posted by Kattullus at 7:56 PM on February 19, 2007 [2 favorites]


I was thinking the ev. bio. answer would be just the actual-world causal history of how we got to have the psychology we do.

yeah, I'm just saying I'm not convinced at this stage that we can do that. Ev bio answers are speculative interpretations of utility, where we are hoping for deterministic answers to what are actually not deterministic questions. what I meant by "best of all worlds, so to speak" was the notion that by showing the evolutionary advantage of a certain trait we can claim it was necessary rather than just the one which happened to survive. We attribute meaning to what may be mere chance, and we think that because the "meaning" is limited to a materialistic goal of reproduction, that it's legitimate. But it seems to me an even more artificially teleological model than old theories of substance...
posted by mdn at 8:16 PM on February 19, 2007


Kattullus: That is exceptionally well put. I wish I could have been as clear and as right in what I have been saying throughout this thread. It really does get at the heart of the matter.
posted by ontic at 8:25 PM on February 19, 2007


I'm sorry mdn, I don't think devoting one's adult life to doing a thing for money necessarily elevates the thing or its practicioners. Islam has no paid official clergy (or it's not supposed to anyway) and some Jewish sects require their rabbis to do "honest" work during the week; some cultures and/or "philosophical schools" regard doing a worthy thing for money as akin to prostitution and/or as debasing to the activity and the doer. I understand that having devoted so much time and effort to a thing you might think there's no turning back and so you must convince yourself it's still worthwhile, especially when you've still got all the work of the dissertation coming up (with a chance of failure that might show you up), but that says no more about the profession's validity and the superiority of those who do it than does a Mormon's burning heart of faith prove the worthiness of Mormonism's doctrines and Saints. As I'm under no obligation to bow to a Professional Philosopher's appeal to (his own) authority, I'm under no obligation to define your field according to your emotional needs and sanctify your approach to it.
posted by davy at 9:16 PM on February 19, 2007


As I'm under no obligation to bow to a Professional Philosopher's appeal to (his own) authority, I'm under no obligation to define your field according to your emotional needs and sanctify your approach to it.

Who the hell is asking you to? You came in here, guns blazing. No one dragged you in, or made doubtful digs at non-philosophy professors that had to be defended against, or in any way forced a response from anyone that included agreeing with definitions of the field of philosophy or sanctifying anyone's emotional approach to such.
posted by occhiblu at 10:19 PM on February 19, 2007


Oh occhiblu, still touchy? At least it's on someone else's behalf; I warm to chivalry. And you're cute when you're angry.

Anyway, mdn "testified" regarding her gospel of Professional Philosophy and I responded as I usually want to to people who "witness" at me.

You might ask mdn what's so wrong with Professional Philosophy that it took a smart person like her five years to begin to see the Light -- er I mean "the depth of [her] own ignorance."

But I know, I know, I should defer to my betters. Do forgive me for being so presumptuous as to voice an opinion I'm so obviously unqualified to have.
posted by davy at 1:31 AM on February 20, 2007


That last paragraph was the most sensible thing you've said in this whole thread, davy. Please stop advertising your ignorance and detailing your prejudices.
posted by gleuschk at 4:37 AM on February 20, 2007


I'm sorry mdn, I don't think devoting one's adult life to doing a thing for money necessarily elevates the thing or its practicioners.

I thought I made it clear, it's not about elevation. There are plenty of people committed to philosophy who have very little of interest to say, and there are plenty of people who spend their lives in other pursuits who have valuable insights. I just said it was a non-random data point. Basically, to be capable of teaching this material, to be able to pass comp exams, to be ready to write peer-reviewed papers on these topics, means you really have to work through to understand the arguments, and it turns out you learn stuff along the way. It is absolutely not a judgment about someone being better or more naturally endowed with the light of reason or something.

The hardest part about philosophy is consistency. It is easy to draw conclusions you think are right because they "make sense". The trouble starts when you realize that your various conclusions seem irreconcilable (eg, that the world exists objectively as it seems and that the world is known only by sensory perception, which is relative). Expressing consistency is a task of details. It is easy to avoid the difficulties by just not facing them, but then it is a mistake to call oneself a philosopher. Now, in my opinion some philosophers become overly focused on the details and lose track of the bigger picture, but that's kind of a whole 'nother discussion. The point here is just that a shared community committed to understanding the same difficulties has the opportunity to make progress

Anyway, mdn "testified" regarding her gospel of Professional Philosophy and I responded as I usually want to to people who "witness" at me.

ok, sorry if I came across like that. I was just trying to explain how my perspective shifted.

You might ask mdn what's so wrong with Professional Philosophy that it took a smart person like her five years to begin to see the Light -- er I mean "the depth of [her] own ignorance."

I think you're misunderstanding me if you think I meant that I know see the light - "I once was blind but now I see" - that's not what I was going for at all. I honestly mean, it took a lot of work to realize just what a small portion of human knowledge I am familiar with, and just what a small portion of possible knowledge humanity has attained. The more I learn, the more I become aware of what I don't know.

Basically it's like getting thrown into a bigger pond. Not every fish that gets thrown in a bigger pond will grow that much, and there will be some large-by-any-standard fish in small ponds from time to time, but at the end of the day, peer discourse, advisor demands, student expectations, and your own official commitment, challenge you to work harder and take things further.
posted by mdn at 6:43 AM on February 20, 2007


I'm not much interested in the argument about titles, but I do want to say something about philosophical AskMe questions. Specifically, ontic makes a great point about the potential for clarifying murky or chatty questions in a way that might make them answerable.

Religious and philosophical questions have this quality: they are easier to ask with practice, but at first many people will be forced to phrase them in the language of potheads and new age types, because these are the publically available vocabularies of philosophy. Since many people come to the internet, and to AskMe, looking for answers but without even the capacity to frame the question, it seems fair to ask for a lighter touch from the moderators when it comes to questions in that category. Instead of clarity and ease of answerability, it seems we might prefer heartfelt-ness or importance.

It would be quite easy for AskMe to rival the other philosophical questioning sites on the internet.... There are enough of us here, both professionals and advanced amateurs, who've got the Phil 101 answers at our fingertips to quickly solve the average person's existential crisis or skeptical vertigo. Beyond that, the various encyclopedias of the discipline are available online, wikipedia keeps getting better, and a lot of classic philosophical texts can be found through Project Gutenberg or its mirrors. After a while it would be simple to refer askers to prior questions where the discussion had raged and settled in some useful way. Frankly, this is the sort of thing that AskMe is good at, and I don't see why we should restrict it.

I take this to be ontic's point, and I hope that any moderators still reading (a long shot, I know) will consider it. I've got an rss subscription to the Philosophy and Religion category, but it's still pretty infrequent that I get to practice my trade on metafilter. What's the harm?
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:18 PM on February 20, 2007


Oh occhiblu, still touchy? At least it's on someone else's behalf; I warm to chivalry. And you're cute when you're angry.

I think occhiblu's characterization of your initial reaction in this thread is pretty objectively accurate. (That's why it annoyed me, at least, and I'm not even a philosopher.) It was like the words "professional philosophy" (where all they meant was that they hold about the only job in our society where you can get paid to do philosophy) set of the davy-signal.

You might ask mdn what's so wrong with Professional Philosophy that it took a smart person like her five years to begin to see the Light -- er I mean "the depth of [her] own ignorance."

mdn is referring to a process that happens to basically everyone who spends enough time studying one particular thing in a very focused way. For most professional academics it starts happening at some point during their phd program, and it is not an easy or simple realization to come to. So if that makes something wrong with professional philosophy, it makes something wrong with basically every field of inquiry there is.
posted by advil at 1:02 PM on February 20, 2007


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