a working philosopher

I am considering quitting my PhD studies and getting a real job. I can explain this forthcoming decision in two ways. First: in accordance with my previous post on experimental ethics (and the whole flavor of my philosophy here), it would behoove me to not theorize about society and political economy from within the confines of my 12-square-meter ivory tower in Tübingen, but rather to find employment in the area about which i am spinning my philosophical tales. In effect, i need somewhere to test my theories so that i can improve upon them as well as actualize them. A personal ethics can, of course, be practiced anywhere and under all circumstances; a political philosophy cannot. And since my political philosophy is, at the moment, heavily leaning towards a restructuring of the economy through something similar to insurance companies, i believe it might prove most useful for me to find a job (as a software engineer) in an insurance company. I could then move up through the ranks while improving upon my theories through observation before i get far enough to start trying to implement them.

My second justification runs thus: two of my strongest and most present characters are the philosopher and the engineer. As one might well imagine, they rarely hit it off too well, and usually end up on opposite corners of my poor little mind, shaking their tiny little fists at one another. Sequentially dividing up my time between them doesn’t seem fair to either one, as both would much prefer to be first in line. It therefore seems that i must resort to some sort of compromise to keep them from keeping me awake late every night. One compromise would be to work part-time while writing the PhD part-time. However, since the philosopher doesn’t even really care about the diploma (he’s more of a romantic visionary than an academic analyst) and would much rather be at liberty to think whatever needs to be thought, whenever it needs to be thought about, a second compromise might fit even more snugly between these two cerebral protagonists: to work full-time in an appropriate industry and philosophize during the remaining hours, using the work as a tool in service of the philosophizing. I would be a working philosopher!

Now, i can already hear the distant rumor of a splattering of objections, the first on the horizon being that, well, as consistent as i have proven in the past, you’ll just wait and see. And frankly, that is exactly what i plan on doing myself (while actively looking for a job). A second objection should also be straightway addressed. What will happen if, a few weeks or months into my new job, i realize that my philosophy has drifted in a very different direction so that my current position is no longer relevant to my endeavour? The answer is that i’ll move on to another job. The most basic injunction underlying my philosophy is: examine your life so as to improve upon it. That means that wherever i find myself, however far off in left field i stand (wow, i just used a baseball metaphor!), i can always move forward (so much for the metaphor). I won’t try to answer your multitudinous other objections before you even get around to formulating them, but will leave that to one-on-one encounters in the comments, should the need arise. Speaking of which, that same comments section is now very much open.

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4 Comments to “a working philosopher”

  1. Being in left field is being in the action, catching many fly balls for ‘The Team’ (given the preponderance of right-handed hitters). Right field is where it is very “quiet”.

    About moving through the ranks: It reminds me of someone I knew who thought he could change the institution of the military (making it less violent) so he enlisted in the air force (he also wanted to become a pilot, of course) I don’t know if he became a general, but by the looks of it he didn’t; if he did he was gobbled up.

    The philosopher can change things by being on the outside, unencumbered by compromises and enthrenched power structures. Also, if you get your doctorate form Tubingen, people will be more apt to listen to you. Otherwise, you will have to wait for one of your followers (when you are old or dead) to write about you (if you had much to say in a powerful way), which would increase your credence (if they are talented).

    Paridigm shifting is usually starts (though, not always) from the outside.

  2. sorry about the typos… should have read it again before sending.

  3. I will grant you that expecting to change the world is about as foolish as one can get and i certainly hope to have moved beyond that youthful exuberance by now. I only want to _try_ to change the world, of course. My goal is to learn from my mistakes, so as to come up with a better _theory_ over time. I am well aware that i am not the entrepreneur type and certainly don’t want to try to be such a person (in this life at least).

    The ‘deep’ reason is, however, purely psychological. I don’t seem able to spend full days philosophizing about boring secondary literature. I need some kind of activity, and work is among the healthier options at hand.

    Finally i’ll note that i am still very much wary of talking about moral philosophy without doing it at the same time. It just sounds suspicious… 🙂

  4. Perhaps wanting to change the world isn’t so foolish. We all do to a greater or lesser degree, even if it is in little ways that accumulate to have a greater positive effect. How one treats a stranger (especially enemies), how one eats, transports oneself, talks to a child… Isn’t all of this moral philosophy? Yes, of course, some change it profoundly — a surprising by-product of being true to their deepest self…

    Yes, the balance and bridge between the abstract and the concrete is essential. As an old carpenter I knew once told an architect after seeing his drawings, “yaknow, I can draw a space craft, but that doesn’t mean it will fly!” Theory must be tested in the world.

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