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Wednesday, February 09, 2011


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As someone who studied and enjoyed philosophy as an undergraduate I could go ahead and recommend it here.

However, I am now asking myself a similar question, mainly because I'm trying to decide whether to pursue philosophy at the graduate level. I am not sure whether it's ironic or merely appropriate that I find myself turning to philosophy to properly consider and answer this question.

For myself, I have found the study useful in my current job which involves a certain amount of programming (and therefore logic) and a certain amount of consideration of arguments when it comes to decision-making (something close to the attentive listening, or slow-reading, and the conceptual processing that philosophy also requires). But I don't deny that it might be possible to attain these skills by other means, either by the study of other subjects (mathematics, economics, law) or by educating oneself in these areas through blogs like this one and regular treks to your local library.

My degree did, however, offer me time, peers, and a certain amount of supervision from academics. I find that in the world of work and casual friendship where all anyone seems to care about is "the bread", I feel my questioning or level of argumentation is often seen as time-wasting pedantry at best. So perhaps I need a more interested (or interesting) social group with which to consider these matters!

On the one hand the study of philosophy has led me to that which others do not seem to value, on the other, I miss that study; I wish I had still more time to engage in what truly feels like one of the highest, if not the highest, pursuit.


Thanks for the thouhgtful comments. And thanks for the link in your post, "Broken Britain.'

The study of philosophy has proven to be useful to you in your current job, but as you appreciate, that is not a reason to study philosophy rather than linguistics or mathematics. Your situation appears to be somewhat different from Bryce's. You seem to be convinced of the non-utilitarian value of philosophy, and you have for the time being solved the 'problem of the belly' (the problem of livelihood); your problem is that you miss the study of philosophy and the company of people who take it seriously.

Years ago, a student in one of my music classes commented to our professor about how overwhelming the study of jazz music could be, to which the professor responded, "You just have to chip away at it."

I earn my bread as a software consultant but chip away at music and philosophy in my spare time. I agree with Bill that double-majoring is a wise choice, especially if you aren't sure about grad school and chasing tenure. Do you love teaching...even Philosophy 101 to a bunch of indifferent freshmen?

Perhaps you love philosophy but don't want a career out of it; it could still be advantageous for you to acquire those tools now rather than later. After your start a career and a family, you might find that you only have an hour or two per day to study philosophy. Question for anyone: how much time per day does the average academic philosopher spend reading and writing essays?

You should look back on your college years and be flabbergasted at how productive you were. Best of luck to you, sir!

Thanks, David. One of the problems with trying to make a living from philosophy is that about the only way to do it is to teach it. But teaching, though it can be deeply rewarding, is mostly the opposite especially when one must face the "indifferent freshmen" you mention. And then there is the general cultural decline and the PC state of the universities today.

>>Question for anyone: how much time per day does the average academic philosopher spend reading and writing essays?<<

I suppose your question is: How much time does the average philosophy teacher spend reading articles and books in philosophy and working on his own contributions to the literature?

Answer: Very little. Most philosophy teachers don't take philosophy seriously at all as an end in itself worth pursuing for its own sake; they merely fill their bellies from it, and if they couldn't fill their bellies from it, they would go into real estate (or something) and forget all about it.

I met a cynic once who said that the journals are nothing but "tenure files." His meaning was that the journals are stuffed with papers that were written only by people up for tenure who published only to avoid perishing. Now that is plainly false. But it would be very interesting to observe what would happen to the journals and all the infrastructure of academic busy-ness were it to become impossible to make a buck from philosophy.

A man who tries to live on the generosity of the Muses, I mean on his poetic gifts, seems to me somewhat to resemble a girl who lives on her charms. Both profane for base profit what ought to be the free gift of their inmost being. Both are liable to become exhausted and both usually come to a shameful end. So do not degrade your Muse to a whore.

Arthur Schopenhauer, Parerga and Paralipomena, 1851 (Essays and Aphorisms, R. J. Hollingdale, trans., London Penguin Books, 1970), p. 162. Emphasis mine.

A bit of hyperbole, perhaps, but nevertheless relevant. I opted for law school with this in mind. (Disclaimer: I dropped out after the first year and am now considering Philosophy grad programs. The Pessimist's words are still haunting me, however.)

Quotations from Schopenhauer always welcome! And don't forget, the Master's birthday is coming up: February 22nd. Mark your calendars!

Boiling it down: Don't pimp your muse.

But we are still left with the problem of the belly which must be solved one way or the other.

Before you ask yourself whether a degree in philosophy is worth pursuing you need to evaluate whether:
a)you love Philosophy as an end in itself
b)you have taken Philosophy into account because it seems as the easy trade to undertake

If (a)then your challenge has to do with the question: is it possible to pursue something that I love in private and make a trade out of it? Of course this entails the odd paradox: loving Philosophy as an end in itself, pursuing Philosophy as means to an end..or is it? Is it a mere bifurcation..?

If (b) then you qualify as a candidate for what Schopenhauer would call 'Phillistine'; you are not interested in Philosophy but instead you seek to actualize a possible living out of sophistry.

Schopenhauer's purism sounds noble, but seems more like a silly misguided residue of romanticism (and liberalism in the narrow dogmatic sense). Ooh, profit is bad, bad, bad. There is nothing wrong with profiting from your muse if you can maintain your artistic (or philosophical) integrity. Not to say this is easy. Is Bob Dylan less an artist because he made a living from his music? Did he "sell out" when he went electric? Boring. It is most probable that any artist you like, and most philosophers you have read have financially profited from their muse. Is their product necessarily any worse? Why can't good philosophy be produced from a variety of motivations, including making a living? Is the denial of this by the purist merely a priori, or does he have any evidence?

Did anyone watch all the muse-whores on the Grammys tonight?

Many goods or pleasures are both intrinsic and instrumental, and philosophy can be both. Philistinism in contrast is smug indifference to culture and a mere desire for possessions and wealth.

If philosophy comes easy to you and you are really good at it professionally, it is possible your work could outshine the work of the less talented noble romantic purist and make him look like an amateur. Similarly, a part of the essential meaning of sophistry is persuasion over truth, but why can't you have a desire for the truth and a desire to make a living teaching and writing in it's pursuit?

Did all this nonsense start with the ultra-purist Socrates? Shall we quaff some hemlock too? So we can not only not live from philosophy, but painfully die on its altar? ;-)

You watched Lady Gaga last night? Say it ain't so, Tony!

That was the price I had to pay not to miss Bob Dylan and Mick Jagger. :-) Dylan's performance was pretty mediocre but Mick Jagger's energy was phenomenal. Running and dancing around the stage, he looked like one of those toy paper skeleton puppets people put out on Halloween. When he flailed and jerked and jumped in his typical fashion, I was afraid his thin bones would snap.

Now there is an artistic purist! Mick has so much money, he doesn't need to work, but still puts on great performances.

If I knew Dylan was going to be on, I would have watched it, Lady Gaga and all. Dylan to Gaga -- now there's cultural decline.

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