[Philosophy's] task is to resolve philosophical problems. The characteristic feature of philosophical problems is their non-empirical, a priori character: no scientific experiment can settle the question of whether the mind is the brain, what the meaning of a word is, whether human beings are responsible for their deeds (have free will), whether trees falling on uninhabited desert islands make any noise, what makes necessary truths necessary. All these, and many hundreds more, are conceptual questions. They are not questions about concepts (philosophy is not a science of concepts). But they are questions that are to be answered, resolved or dissolved by careful scrutiny of the concepts involved. The only way to scrutinize concepts is to examine the use of the words that express them. Conceptual investigations are investigations into what makes sense and what does not. And, of course, questions of sense antecede questions of empirical truth – for if something makes no sense, it can be neither true nor false. It is just nonsense – not silly, but rather: it transgresses the bounds of sense. Philosophy patrols the borders between sense and nonsense; science determines what is empirically true and what is empirically false. What falsehood is for science, nonsense is for philosophy.
Hacker's claims raise many interesting questions:
There's a discussion going on right now over at the Smoker on whether we should discourage students from pursuing a career in philosophy, and I couldn't help but get curious about what you, my fellow Cocooners, think about it and deal with the issue in practice. It is, I think, an important issue to discuss thoughtfully.
I'd like to share some of my thoughts, beginning with some personal history (I'll explain why I've chosen to share so much shortly). I was a Philosophy/Psychology double major at Tufts University in the 1990's. My undergraduate advisor, Dan Dennett, despite being quite complimentary about my philosophical abilities, nevertheless gave me "the talk" when I approached him about graduate school. He told me in no uncertain terms that I should not seek a PhD in philosophy -- not because I couldn't cut it, but because of the job market. There are, he said, just way too many PhDs and not enough jobs.
Of course I paid no heed to Dan's words. I knew I wanted to be a philosopher, so grad school it was. And at first I loved grad school. I did well, and loved the work. Then, however, like (too) many grad students, I struggled. Indeed, for a few years, I grew to hate my career choice. Somehow, though -- thanks in large part to some supportive people and some great advice -- things turned out okay. While I still don't have a tenure-track job -- and so, like many people, face a great deal of residual uncertainty -- I at least made it through grad school, learned to love philosophy again, and wake up every day thankful that I get to do this for a living.
I've chosen to tell my personal story for a few reasons: each individual life is its own sort of thing. Each person has their own strengths and weaknesses, their own values, their own life to live. And many different careers are incredibly risky. My elder brother, for example, has been in the music business for over two decades now -- a business in which I have had some experience as well, and which is at least as risky (in terms of career prospects) as ours. I know there have been many days he has hated the choices he has made. And again, there have been many days that I have hated mine. Further, if I had failed out of graduate school, I might have become bitter. Then again, I might not have. I might have also grown to hate life if I had chosen a more "normal" career. Then again, maybe not. I just don't think there's any way to know any of this stuff beforehand.
Because of this -- because of the great uncertainties attached to everything in life (heck, a "normal" career can be stable but absolutely soul-crushing) -- I don't think it's my place to tell students, "Don't go to grad school in philosophy." Yes, it can be a very hard road (it has been for me). Yes, it can be a disastrous road. But it can also be a wonderful road. Such is life. Here's what I think I do know, and so it's what I tell my students,
"You have to know what you're getting into. Some PhD programs promise applicants they will finish in 5 years. Don't believe it. Everyone thinks they will finish in five years. Almost no one does. A few people -- very few people -- finish in 5-6 years. Some people never finish. Some people take ten years to finish. Then, for those who do finish, some get jobs, some don't. And you can't know which of these people you'll be heading in to graduate school. Everyone thinks they'll be one of those who coast through and be a professor by age 30. But almost no one gets that result, and it's basically impossible to predict which grad students will do well from those who won't. Just about every grad student admitted to any program worth its salt is about as super-smart and hard-working as you are. You know why some people don't make it? Sometimes crap just happens to them: unexpected personal problems (failed relationships, failed marriages), unexpected health problems, loss of confidence -- there are just too many variables to count. Here, then, is the crux of it: if you love philosophy; if you're willing to risk all of this, then go for it. Make no mistake: you may hate it someday, and you may hate yourself. But you may also wake up every day loving the fact that you get to do philosophy for a living. There's really no way of knowing in advance which will be the case. These are the risks. Know them. Do not fool yourself in thinking that you will be a magical exception to them. The choice is yours."
This is just a quick follow-up on David Morrow's earlier reference to RM Hare's claim never to have met an undergraduate who is actually a moral relativist. I had my first day of classes today, and I always start by having my students fill out a survey of their moral views heading into the course. I then had them to get into groups and briefly defend a position to the class on a survey item of their choice (just to get them into the "philosophical game"). Four groups (out of six!) spontaneously, and vehemently, defended moral relativism. When another student who I've had experience with before (and who has quite a bit of background in philosophy) made some of the usual moves against relativism -- pointing out, for instance, that relativism is inconsistent with genuine moral disagreement, genuine moral progress, etc. -- the groups uniformly bit the bullet on every count. They all agreed: there is no genuine moral progress, slaughtering Jews really was right-for-Nazis but wrong-for-us, and all moral disagreement and criticism are really just differences in individual or cultural "taste."
Maybe I'll find, as Hare's remarks suggest, that their relativism isn't genuine. However, I'm not too optimistic. Funny. Last term it was the March of the Divine Command Theorists. Looks like I have my work cut out for me yet again! (Ah, the beginning of a new semester).
I'm curious: what have all of your experiences been?
I know, at least anecdotally, that many people have a policy of not disclosing their own views on philosophical problems when teaching. The aim of such a policy, I take it, is to provide students with an "unbiased" philosophical education. How many of you have this sort of policy? Anyone have a different one?
For my part, I am explicit to my students that I adopt the opposite approach. I tell them that while I will do my best to present each view/argument as strongly and charitably as I can -- and I sincerely do this, often drawing explicit attention to the fact that opposing arguments sometimes appeal to me -- I will not hide my thoughts on where I think the balance of arguments lie. I do this for a couple of reasons: (A) because it's honest, and (B) because I think it tends to excite students in several ways. First, I think it tends to excite them because it presents philosophical research as something not merely to study but to do. They see, in the classroom, that their professor does not just regard arguments as historical artifacts to study but as things to really grapple with (the "beginning" of the story, not the end of it). Second, I think it tends to excite students insofar as many students inevitably see things differently than I. When I see the balance of arguments as favoring one side but a student disagrees, they have an extra incentive: the excitement of "proving the professor wrong."
There are, of course, a number of possible pitfalls to this approach: students feeling as though their professor is "biased", or as though they must "agree" with the professor in order to do well in the course, etc. I think, though, that all of these pitfalls are surmountable. The key, in my experience, is to be equally frank with students on all of these counts. For example, I have passages in my syllabi telling students that I will be frank with them, to challenge me if they think the presentation of views/arguments is biased, and that their grades will in no way be affected by "agreeing/disagreeing" with me. Although I recognize that this approach isn't everyone's cup of tea (which is why I warn students about it up front), the feedback I've gotten has generally been very positive.
Thoughts? Anyone else adopt a similar approach? Anyone think I should change my ways? I'm always happen to entertain dissenting views.
You may have seen this call for abstracts/panels for a conference on diversity in philosophy, to be held 29-31 May, 2013 at the University of Dayton, Dayton, OH.
If you are interested in putting together a proposal for a panel, particularly on issues related to Non-native English speakers in philosophy, please get in touch with me (moti[dot]mizra[at]gmail[dot]com) or let me know how to get in touch with you in the comments below.
I've heard time and time again that "our undergraduate students" are by and large disinterested, lazy, and looking to coast by on as little effort as possible. Indeed, I've often been quite explicitly warned of this (though, for obvious reasons, I won't go into detail about who has warned me, or where).
My experience with undergraduate students has, however, been quite different (albeit complicated, as I'll begin describing shortly). Having been a teacher for a number of years now -- I was a TA all throughout grad school, regularly taught summer courses in grad school, taught a couple of courses at a community college, and have been full-time faculty at two institutions, one a large research institution and the other an SLAC -- I've had a great deal of experience with undergraduate students from many walks of life. Because my experience with students has, over time, diverged quite a great deal from the "lazy student" narrative, I'd like to share my experiences with you all. Because, in relating these experiences, I will describe some of the teaching strategies I've adopted for engaging students, I want to express before I proceed any further that this post is in no way, shape, or form intended to be self-congratulatory. Although I am proud of some of the advances I believe I've made as a teacher, my aim in writing this post is not to present myself as "an awesome teacher." My aim is to simply relate to you all why I profoundly disagree with the narrative that our students are lazy and disengaged -- and in order to do this I need to tell my story.
My attitude toward teaching has always been somewhat idealistic in the following sense: I've always wanted to do it right (as I understand it), and to accept what comes along with doing it that way. In other words, I've never attempted to "satisfy students." I assign a ton of reading, a ton of work both inside and outside the classroom (short daily reading responses, in-class group exercises, and multiple term-papers), and I grade like a beast (C's, D's, and F's on assignments and term papers are common) -- things I've always been warned will lead to student uprisings and terrible evaluations.
Now, when I first started teaching this way several years ago, they did lead to student uprisings and terrible evaluations. I had a least one student come into my office and accuse me of incompetence, student after student complain about their grades, and my evaluations were well below my university norms. At this point, I faced a choice: I could either change my ways by "going easy" on them -- which I know some people do -- or I could try to find another way. I chose to try to find another way, and the other way I tried, surprisingly (and cheesily) enough, came to me while I was watching The Karate Kid (the original 80's version) with my wife.
I couldn't help but notice while watching the movie how similar the character Daniel was to "our students." Daniel was kind of like most teenagers and young adults are: he kind of did want things to come easy. When he didn't see the point of doing what his teacher, Mr. Miyagi, was having him do -- namely, wax his cars, paint his fence, etc. -- Daniel lashed out, complained and threatened to go home. But Mr. Miyagi ultimately got through to him. How? Just as Daniel was about to quit, Miyagi showed him that the tiresome things he was having him do were teaching him how to do stuff in karate, like block kicks and punches. Now, of course the details here are quite silly. But the overall point stuck with me. Young people want to put in effort and learn, but only when they see the point of what they are doing and see actual, tangible benefits of the often tiresome routines a teacher challenges them with.
That, at any rate, is what I started to believe. Maybe I was foolish to believe it -- I had gotten it from a movie! -- but it seemed to cohere with my own experiences in life; so I ran with it. I made a couple simple changes to how I taught.
First, I let my students rewrite their first term-papers as many times as they wish for a higher grade. The first thought here was that since I'm an incredibly tough grader, and students hate terrible grades, they would be motivated to rewrite their papers. The second thought was that, as long as I gave them good comments, as they rewrote their papers, their work would improve. They would actually start writing grammatical sentences, organized paragraphs, summarize philosophical material correctly, raise cogent objections, and more generally, get into the philosophical game. The final thought -- and I had to take this somewhat as a matter of faith the first couple of semesters I adopted this practices -- was that, as students worked hard to improve their work and actually did so, they would begin to appreciate what it is all about; that is, that they would actually appreciate having to work so damn hard, because the results were tangible.
Second, I started communicating with my students about all this. When I hand back my first term-papers, I show them a couple of clips from The Karate Kid and give them a brief lecture on their paper grades, my comments, and the value of failure. I have this line I like to throw out there. I say, "I am not here to make you happy; I am here to make you better." I tell them that many college students can't read effectively or write a grammatical sentence, and I tell them when they are done with my class they will. But I tell them it will take failure. Just like one cannot learn to shoot a basketball well without shooting, and missing, a ton of times, so too, I tell them, can they not expect to learn how to read, write, speak, and argue effectively without a lot of work. I tell them that I have faith in them, and that I believe that if they work at it -- if they take their paper grades and my comments not as punishment, but as a challenge to do better -- they will see the results for themselves.
I started doing these two things exactly one year ago, that is, two semesters ago. I worried each time that it would all blow up in my face -- that my students would hate me. But they didn't. I was shocked at how hard most of them worked, how much most of them improved, and how much most of them appreciated the hard work and challenge. They were not lazy or disengaged, not most of them anyway. They may not have even known it when they walked in the door (many of my students take my classes just to "get a core requirement out of the way"), but the reality was, somewhere deep down, most of them wanted to be challenged to become better. I take it that few, if any, of them wanted to know the truth: namely, that when most of them walked in the first day, few of them could consistently write a grammatical sentence or a coherent paragraph or summary, let alone develop a halfway decent philosophical argument. But here's what I had faith in: few people want to suck, and most people want to take pride in themselves. And the funny thing is: time and again (the past two semesters at least), this faith has been repayed. My students have worked hard, improved their work markedly, and most of them are explicit in their evaluations about appreciating it.
Again, I hope this post hasn't come across as, "Look at what an awesome teacher I am!". That, sincerely, was/is not its intent. I am just sick of hearing about how terrible, and lazy, our students are, and I don't know any better way to explain my deep disagreement with this view without telling my own personal story. Yes, finding a way to get through to students can be difficult. Have young people ever been any different? They are typically short-sighted and immature, and yet it is precisely now -- when they are in college -- that they can begin to learn to be otherwise. It is, I think, our job as teachers to find a way to get through to them. And it has been my experience -- after a lot of hard work -- that it is possible to do so.
I am happy to announce that The Philosophers' Cocoon now has several new features (see side-bars):
I'd like to thank Moti for suggestiong them. Hope everyone finds them useful!
Hi everyone. I'm currently trying to publish my first article and I have a couple of questions. First, does one have to be affiliated with an institution in order to publish? And second, the journal I would like to publish in states this on their site:
Authors wishing to include figures, tables, or text passages that have already been published elsewhere are required to obtain permission from the copyright owner(s) for both the print and online format and to include evidence that such permission has been granted when submitting their papers.
Does this mean that I have to obtain permission from the original author even if I just quote them?
Thanks so much!
In “Philosophy’s shameful love for the swastika,” Alasdair Palmer offers an explanation for why some German philosophers “enthusiastically espoused Nazi ideology.” His explanation goes like this:
John Maynard Keynes once said of a man that “he has his ear so close to the ground that he cannot hear what an upright man says”. These philosophers suffered from the opposite problem: their heads were so far up in the clouds that they could not recognise the blindingly obvious fact that Nazism meant torture, persecution and genocide. They became astonishingly stupid as a consequence.
Philosophers are particularly vulnerable to this form of idiocy, because there is so little content to their subject. It does not consist in the discovery of new facts, and philosophical theories are only seldom decisively refuted by anything. Fashion is often the most important factor in explaining which doctrines come to be accepted by any group of academic philosophers.
Call these claims the “Ivory Tower” hypothesis:
Palmer thinks that the Ivory Tower hypothesis is the best explanation for why some German philosophers espoused Nazism.
What do you make of his claims about philosophy? Does the Ivory Tower hypothesis strike you as plausible/probable/true? If not, why would anyone think that it is?
The results of a poll on my blog suggest that the method of assessment undergraduate students feel most comfortable with is multiple-choice exams in class. The results also suggest that the method of assessment undergraduate students feel the least comfortable with is long essays (which is probably the method of assessment most often used in philosophy courses).
You can review the results here in PDF format: Download Assessment_Method_Survey_Fall2012.
What do you make of these results? Do undergraduate students have good reasons to prefer multiple-choice exams? If so, what are those reasons? Or do they simply think that multiple-choice questions are easier than, say, essay questions?
Given the success of our new Working Paper Group (e.g. see here, here, here, and here), I'd like to propose that we begin a Dossier Group along the same lines: a group that reads and constructively discusses one another's cover letters, CVs, teaching portfolios, writing samples, etc. The group, at least as I envision it, would run something like this:
Although I know the main job season has sort of passed, the spring market is still to come. In any case I think this could be a very nice and useful group! Anyone interested? (If not, we can always pursue it next job season).
I'd like to ask for your thoughts, fellow Cocooners, about one comment in particular, made by Anon SLAC #2 who says that "At some point, graduate departments and advisors really need to face up to the reality that most jobs are *teaching* jobs."
As a graduate student, were/are you trained in "teaching" as much as you were/are trained in scholarship and research? Or did/do you have to figure out the "teaching" aspect of the profession on your own?
Those who commented on the Leiter post so far, even those from SLACs and state universities, seem to be putting a lot of emphasis on writing samples. If they are really looking for good teachers, then why are they putting so much emphasis on writing samples? What can a writing sample tell you about a candidate's teaching skills?
There seems to be something of a consensus emerging over at the Smoker that job-market candidates without any publications are gaining far more interviews than people with publications, including people with many publications and top-20 journal publications. This apparent trend seems not only well-supported by the data people are sharing over there (in a few different threads) about their own publication/interview rates; it also fits well with my (admittedly anecdotal) experience (I met quite a few people at the Eastern with no pubs but lots of interviews, compared to people with pubs, who seemed to have few to none).
A propos my previous post, I'm not writing to complain about this (apparent) trend. I mean merely to report it, and to solicit discussion about it. What do you all make of it? I suspect (though I want to emphasize that this is really only off-the-cuff speculation) that it has something to do with the perceived "promise" of someone who doesn't have publications yet. Someone who has published is something of a known quantity. Someone who hasn't published, on the other hand, could be "the next big star." But again, this is mere speculation. Anyone else have any illuminating thoughts?
MOVED TO FRONT
Our newest member, Paul Gowder, has uploaded his paper, "Equal Law in an Unequal World", for discussion in our Working Paper Group. Here is brief paper blurb that Paul sent me (followed by the group rules and guidelines):
This paper, "Equal Law in an Unequal World," will be a bit different from what you're used to. First, it's intended for a legal academic audience (and, per the unfortunate practice of law journals, is rather long), although I am equally concerned to have philosophers and political/legal theorists be able to accept the argument. So far, it's only had legal audiences in various workshops and such.
It's also a follow-on to a previous paper of mine, entitled "The Rule of Law and Equality," forthcoming in Law & Philosophy. If anyone is infected with a burning curiosity, the previous paper can be found in pre-print at:http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10982-012-9161-2 , or in a very-slightly pre-final version on SSRN at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1918742.
The current paper is, in essence, about what it would take to fulfill the ideal of legal equality, in light of the fact that a) for reasons I give, formally equal law (i.e., law that treats everyone the same) is impossible, and b) even law that approximates formal equality can exacerbate real-world inequalities.
I'm particularly interested in being screamed at as necessary about the doubtless-gross deficiencies in my account of how we might find the social meaning, or expressive content (and I really need to do a better job of determining if those can be different) of a law.
Thanks so much!
Abstract: This paper develops the egalitarian conception of the rule of law. Its object is to further clarify how we determine whether a society has or does not have the rule of law, and use these clarifications to show that the regulative idea of the rule of law is an important tool in the fight for economic justice.
The paper carries out three tasks. It clarifies what it takes for the state to satisfy the rule of law demand that the laws must be general, that is, they treat all citizens equally. It shows that the evaluation of whether a society comports with the rule of law does not depend solely on facts about the legal system, but also on a host of other non-legal social facts, particularly, the extent to which some members of society are the victims of (non-legal) injustice. And, it shows that the rule of law generates a critique of economic injustice. It follows that the traditional association of the rule of law with the political right, and its critique from the left, are misguided.
Here, finally, are the group's rules and guidelines:
Thanks, in advance, to everyone who participates!
One of our regular readers, Jenny S, requested that I post a link to this website, which lists articles written by women, organized by topic, that are suitable for undergraduate teaching. Jenny also asked that I note that the website was compiled a few years ago and may not be well maintained. In any case, I'd like to thank Jenny for the link, and encourage readers to post additional articles and books by women philosophers suitable for undergrads.
There has been a lot of discussion recently about underrepresented groups in the profession. A recent conversation with a friend got me thinking about an underrepresented group in philosophy that hasn't received much attention. That group is non-native English speakers or people for whom English is a second language.
Looking at my Alma mater, for example, out of 46 full-time faculty members, it appears that only five (10.86%) are non-native English speakers. For the sake of comparison, out of 46 full-time faculty members, nine (19.56%) are women. On the other hand, out of 29 full-time faculty members in the PhD program in biochemistry (with a specialization in structural biology), it appears that eleven (37.93%) are non-native English speakers.
At NYU, out of 22 full-time faculty members, it appears that only one (4.54%) is a non-native English speaker. For the sake of comparison, out of 22 full-time faculty members, three (13.63%) are women. On the other hand, out of 30 full-time faculty members in the department of biochemistry (at the NYU school of medicine), it appears that ten (33.33%) are non-native English speakers.
And at Rutgers, out of 30 full-time faculty members, it appears that only one (3.33%) is a non-native English speaker. For the sake of comparison, out of 30 full-time faculty members, five (16.66%) are women. On the other hand, out of 24 full-time faculty members in the department of molecular biology and biochemistry, it appears that ten (41.66%) are non-native English speakers.
Should these numbers worry us? At first I didn't think so. But then I had the aforementioned conversation with a friend. That friend suggested a potential explanation for the low percentages of non-native English speakers in philosophy departments that goes something like this: since some philosophers think of philosophy as essentially conceptual analysis using formal logic and/or ordinary language, and since most philosophy in the analytic tradition is done in English, they might also think that doing conceptual analysis well requires being proficient in English. Now, if they also think that non-native English speakers do not (or cannot) attain the requisite level of proficiency, they might harbor prejudice against non-native English speakers.
This explanation seems plausible. But I am still not sure it’s the best explanation for the low percentages of non-native English speakers in philosophy. What do you think? Could there be such a bias (either explicit or implicit) among some philosophers against non-native English speakers? If so, what can/should we do about it?
I'd like to share what I take to be three interesting experiences I had at the Eastern APA, along with some reflections upon them. Each of the experiences was simultaneously somewhat heartening, somewhat disheartening, and puzzling (to me, at any rate).
My first experience was sharing an airport can with a grad student from Rutgers, who I quickly learned was on the market but had no interviews. Not surprisingly, this shocked me, and I said as much. He told me he knew "many" people from top "Leiterrific" programs -- he named Princeton specifically -- who had no interviews. This was both heartening and disheartening: heartening in that those without interviews are by no means alone, but disheartening in that, if people from *these* places aren't getting interviews, what are the chances for the rest of us?
This brings me to my second experience, which was with a senior mentor of mine in the field who I treated to coffee. After asking this person for some (rather specific) advice on how to improve my chances on the job market, this person related a conversation he had just had with two other very well-known senior people (whose names anyone reading this blog would presumably recognize). The gist of their conversation was this: it had taken them all several years to secure a TT job after grad school, with a great deal of scratching and clawing their way up in one years and post-docs (specifically, *seven* years for the person I was having coffee with). Interestingly, I've met many people in my career of whom this is true. It took one of my colleagues seven or eight years to get a TT job (he told me it was his last year on the market -- he was about to have given up). I also knew several senior people at my first job (UBC) who took a circuitous path (one of whom was even unemployed for a year before getting a TT). The individual I was having coffee with then shared the following little nugget of wisdom with me (one that pertains to recent conversations here and elsewhere about "staleness"): for every search committee out there looking for the next young brilliant mind directly out of grad school, there is a search committee looking for people who have been out (albeit productive) for several years -- for people who have a track record publishing and teaching. This is particularly true, he said, of search committees that are more risk averse: committees that can't risk hiring someone directly out of grad school (such people sometimes sink, though they sometimes swim). This was heartening and disheartening too. It was heartening insofar as the message was there are search committees out there looking for people like me, disheartening insofar as there are many that aren't.
This brings me to my third experience, which in many ways was the most striking to me: the air of confidence exuded by the grad students I knew who had interviews. I say this was very striking to me because it felt very much as though I could pick them out of a line-up at just a first glance. Many of them seemed impossibly young and even more impossibly self-assured. Having been one of them once upon a time, I had (understandably, I think) mixed feelings about seeing them. On the one hand, I couldn't help but feel, "Good for them." On the other hand, I couldn't help but get down. I couldn't help but feel, after having spent the last few years busting my tail to publish and become a great teacher -- and after seeing how difficult it was to transition from grad school to professional life as full time faculty -- that there is something terribly unfair about people who have no publications and no teaching experience getting interviews when there are many others out there with track records and experience who do not.
Finally, however, I'd like to share why, as tempting as these feelings are, I do my best to suppress them. First, and most obviously, it is pointless to cry about perceived injustices like these. There's little that complaining will do to change these situations. There will always be search committees out there looking for the next brilliant young mind fresh out of (or still in!) graduate school over people like me. More importantly, however, I am convinced the several year long struggle to find a TT job -- unpleasant though it may be -- can be *good*, all things considered. Although I expect some may attribute these thoughts to self-rationalization (perhaps with some justification), my feelings are these. One of the most interesting things I've noticed as I've gone along in my professional life is that the people I've gravitated toward -- the people who seem to me the most supportive and understanding -- turn out, to be precisely those who struggled themselves. In one sense, this isn't very surprising to me. If I reflect back to my grad school self, I can honestly say that I think that a TT job right then would have been to my detriment, if not as a philosopher, at least as a person, colleague, and (probably) as a teacher. For, I think, like many people in that sort of position, I had quite an ego. Getting a TT job out of grad school would have probably made me feel like quite a bad-ass, and I expect I might have acted like it -- as one of those egotistical people who behaves as though the Sun shines out of their you-know-what. I don't think I'm particularly uncommon in this regard. Human egos being what they are, success obtained too easily has (in my experience at least) an all-too-strong ability to corrupt and coarsen. So, while there have been many parts of the several year struggle to obtain a TT job that I have not enjoyed (though there have been some parts that I *have* enjoyed -- more on this in a future post), in the end I think the struggle is deeply beneficial, provided (perhaps) that everything turns out okay in the end (i.e. the goal of a TT job is eventually realized). For it is, again, little surprise to me that the people I've found who are the most supportive and understanding -- people I want and strive to be like -- went through these struggles themselves. Struggling for success is deeply humbling, and humility tends, I think, to breed good will and appreciation. None of this is to say, of course, that grad students can't come into a TT job with humility, good will, and appreciation. It is only to say that a several year struggle for a TT job, as unpleasant as it may be, can be the best thing to happen to some people.
Anyway, these are my three anecdotes. I wanted to share them because I know there are a lot of people out there struggling on the job market -- people who may or may not have interviews, and who may or may not be frustrated by perceived injustices in the hiring process. Believe you me, I know all too well how soul crushing of an experience it can be. All the same, I hope some of you find the anecdotes heartening. I do. As much as I would have loved a TT job out of grad school -- and as frustrating as it can be even today to see myself being passed over for interviews in favor of people in that position -- I truly, deeply believe that a protracted struggle for a TT job can be for the best. Not that I *like* it any more, for all that, but still, it's good to hear (at least anecdotally) that the struggle can turn out very well in the end indeed. For now, however, back to the grindstone...
I had a surprisingly good time at the Eastern. Of course this was mostly due to (A) running into and catching up with a lot of people, and (B) our little CocoonFest. In fact, that was sort of my takeaway lesson of the weekend. Aside from the horrors that are the job market, the real reason why these things are worth going to is the people. There are, as we all know, some real jerks in our discipline. Fortunately, there are a lot of good people, too. Get to know them, and try to develop and nurture friendships. It's totally worth it. Whereas once I went to these things feeling totally alone, I now go looking forward to seeing and talking to people I've missed. Good stuff. :)
The other thing I'd like to reflect a bit on are interviews. I, for one, got the distinct impression that there were far fewer schools interviewing at the Eastern than in past years. Further, only three were taking on-site interview requests. These both strike me as very good developments. By my lights, whatever epistemic advantages EAPA interviews have for hiring committees -- and I am skeptical (more on this in a moment) -- those advantages are more than outweighed by the (moral) disadvantages imposed on everyone involved. Let me explain.
First, I'm very skeptical about the evidential value of interviews. I've been on the market a few times, and in my experience just about everyone recognizes, at an abstract level, that interviews are kind of a crapshoot. Some very good people have "bad days" and not so good people "good days." The reasons why this is the case are innumerable. First, we all have good and bad days. Some days I wake up on the top of my game; other days I wake up groggy and stumble over my words. I expect this is true of most people. Second, EAPA interviews just throw all kinds of monkey-wrenches into the mix: people traveling in from far away, often with travel delays, time-zone changes, etc. Indeed, just consider time-zone changes. Jet-lag is a real killer. It can totally turn an otherwise sharp individual into a discombobulated zombie for a few days. I've seen it happen. These are just some of the reasons why I'm skeptical about interviews. There are all kinds of other, better evidence of whether someone is the kind of person a search committee is looking for: (A) philosophical acumen, (B) teaching ability, and (C) personal/professional qualities. If you want to know whether someone is a good philosopher, read their papers. If you want to know whether someone is a good teacher, look at their student reviews, faculty evaluations, and (say) a video-taped class session. And if you want to know whether someone is a total jerk, just ask around. I'm sure you'll find out (jerk-hood is all too easy for experienced jerks to hide in an interview; it's much tougher to hide over time!). As far as I'm concerned, interviews basically tell you this much: how a person who might otherwise be a great philosopher, great teacher, and great person functions over a randomly selected half-hour after a day or two of hectic traveling, time changes, stress, etc., in a highly artificial environment. In other words, I'm not convinced interviews are worth much of anything. I've seen brilliant, good people bomb interviews (and fly-outs) and half-wits absolutely nail them. Just sayin'.
Now let's turn to the costs of EAPA interviews. Everyone I ran into at the Eastern -- committee members, candidates, and finally, those without interviews -- said the whole process is horrible. EAPA interviews are:
Skype interviews may not be perfect. Still, I think, given the overall epistemic limitations of interviews in general, and the costs that EAPA interviews impose on everyone, Skype interviews seem to me far preferable. That, at least, is how I see it. I expect others will disagree. Anyway, given how nice it was seeing people at the Eastern, I can only imagine how much nicer it would be if the practice of interviewing there became a thing of the past.
This funny sketch, performed by John Cleese and Jonathan Miller, nicely illustrates the common stereotype of the absentminded, detached, and eccentric philosopher.
Is this stereotype bad for philosophy (as a profession)? If so, what can/should we do about it?