I can't remember when it was, this Lent or last Lent, when philosopher of religion that I am facebook friends with (whose identity I will not reveal, as the post wasn't public) wrote (paraphrasing): "I'd like us to pray for our profession during this period, especially with all the ugly things that have come to light." I found this striking (and a beautiful intention too) and it sheds some light how, for this person, philosophy and personal beliefs interrelate.
I am currently in the process of writing up a paper on a qualitative survey I conducted with philosophers of religion, which indicates how one's metaphysical outlook can affect one's philosophical work. Discussions on how faith or lack of faith might influence one's philosophical work aren't new. The PhilPaper survey revealed strong correlations between theism and philosophy of religion as an area of specialization, and theism and a number of other views, such as libertarian free will. However, there is another way in which religion and philosophy interact. Not only does one's religious belief - or lack thereof - influence one's work in philosophy of religion and other areas of philosophy. One's work as a philosopher also has an influence on how we like to conduct and present ourselves as persons in the world. This is not only the case for Christian philosophers, but for philosophers more generally.
Michael Rea, in a forthcoming paper, provides the following sobering observations:
One of the most important job skills of an analytic philosopher is strongly correlated with whatever skill is involved in successfully rationalizing bad behavior, deceiving oneself, putting a positive spin on bad circumstances, and so on. Also, there are certain modes of behavior—ways of being ambitious, or arrogant, or disrespectful to others, for example—that seem much easier to fall into in professions (like philosophy) where reputation, and having oneʼs own reputation elevated over the reputations of people with whom one works, is often correlated with promotions, job security, pay raises, and the like.
I've often worried whether something like this is true. Are we as philosophers more prone to rationalizing things after the fact? Eric Schwitzgebel's work on moral philosophers suggests so. The other things, like jockeying for positions, tenure, promotion, etcs, that Michael Rea suggests are of course, rampant in academia in general. He continues:
To this extent, I find that being a philosopher (or being an academic generally) poses certain obstacles, or challenges, to my own moral and spiritual development as a Christian. Accordingly, I see a variety of ways in which being a Christian can, or should, enable one to achieve a degree of critical distance from certain kinds of widespread but dysfunctional norms and values in the profession. This is, of course, not to say that being a Christian is the only way of achieving such distance; but it is, or should be, a way of doing so.
I think Michael Rea is right that some form of personal identity, other than being a philosopher, can help one achieve a critical distance from dysfunctional norms and values in the profession, as he puts it, and that being a Christian isn't the only way of doing so. But if that is true, I am curious to hear what other ways we have to put our feet back on the ground, so to speak. For instance, several of the parents I interviewed said that being a parent helped them to achieve this reflective distance. As a parent, you need to balance the needs of your child with your professional development.
If it is the case that some reflective form of personal identity other than being a professional philosopher helps to achieve this distance, and that it could protect us from some of the excesses of the profession (the dysfunctional norms and values, as Rea puts it), we should think about not neglecting to cultivate those aspects of our identity. Something to keep in mind as we work in a high-stake game with few winners that requires a lot of time and energy. I think this applies also to early-career people without a tenured or tenure track position, where one sometimes feels guilty (at least I do), for not doing more towards one's career.