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Rationality and strategy are defined in terms of one's preferences and goals. If you change the goals, then you change the strategy. If your primary goal isn't a TT job, then what you ought to do changes.

You have different goals, so what you ought to do is different.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Rachel,

I guess that sort of sounds right to me, but also sort of not. I don't think it's right to say that my primary goal isn't a TT job (I certainly *consider* it a primary goal of mine).

I think the thought I have is this: even *if* getting a TT job is one's single, primary goal, it doesn't follow straightforwardly that one should minimize risk.

Given that everything has risks -- and taking a risk can also have big rewards (playing it safe has risks too) -- one must decide what kind of risks one wants to take for the end goal. After all, one is looking for *one* department to hire you! So, even if something is risky (e.g. taking time off the market to improve as a researcher, teacher, etc.), that risk can be one worth taking.


Rachel: fair enough. But I think Marcus’s post gets at a deeper point. Assuming a TT track job is the ‘consensus’ view of philosophical success, we might ask whether this is good. What about holding a TT jobs makes it the case that you are philosophically successful? There are the job security comforts. But that can’t explain everything. After all, there are plenty of secure (usually government) jobs out there that are much easier to get, require less work, and so on.

I know two individuals who are considering giving up a job search. Here are their situations:

(1)A few publications, ABD, mid-ranked school. This person is happy with their location and community. He/she lives in a state where adjunct work pays quite well and comes with benefits. Furthermore, there is job security: after 3 years as an adjunct you get something like a mini tenure. (Yes, I promise this is a real state in the US!) Although he/she does enjoy research, he/she knows there is really nothing preventing him/her from doing research as an adjunct. Yes, time is limited. But there is about the same amount of time as many TT teaching school positions. (Adjuncting requires no committee work, advising, faculty meetings, etc.)

(2)Similar CV to (1). This person’s spouse landed a TT position, and it came with a lectureship spousal hire. They have enough money and benefits. There is time for research. Yet, this person is considering going on a search and living apart from their spouse for the sake of being viewed as ‘successful’.

It is hard for me to see why either person above should want a TT job. Yet, they tell me every advisor they have is horrified at the thought of them not going on the market. Is this the sort of attitude our discipline ought to encourage?

We like to pretend that philosophy has risen above trying to define ‘the good life’. That’s false. We are in the same place as the Greeks. The difference is the good life is not about virtue but a publication in JOP.


I'm making a very simple decision-theory claim (it's essentially an axiom). Nothing more. Marcus, if you have multiple goals, of which one is to get a TT job, then what you ought to to do maximize your outcomes will be different than for someone whose only goal is to get a TT job.

Moreover, you might think that maximizing isn't what one ought to do (or isn't what you ought to do). You might think, for example, that one ought to satisfice (this is what I think, anyway). In either case, change the goals, change what one ought to do in light of those goals.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Rachel: fair enough. I think our disagreement stems from the fact that we are working with different conceptions of rationality. You're working with an instrumental, decision-theoretic one. I am working with a different conception that I defend in the book that I'm working on. I don't think purely instrumental reasoning is rational, and so I don't think one's goals or preferences define what's rational. If/when the book/articles come out, my reasoning here will make clearer sense. But I don't want to blow the surprise (I still have to worry about blind review!). ;)


Well good luck, I look forward to reading about it. (Although, book refereeing isn't anonymous: the referee knows who the author is.)


Excellent post Marcus. I'm really glad to hear that you've found real satisfaction in your work. Success in philosophy has something to do with wisdom, right?

Rachel: If you are making an axiomatic point, what is the point of that point? I see nothing in Marcus's post that runs contrary to the truism that strategies vary with goals. He's challenging the idea that we should value this particular goal so highly.

Marcus Arvan

Thanks for your comment, Ambrose. I don't know about wisdom. I'm just doing my best trying to figure out how to live well *and* succeed at philosophy! ;)

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