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03/06/2018

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NK

I've been anxious and depressed (depranxious, I like to say) for as long as I can remember. I've learned to externalize the anxiety pretty well––when it gets bad, I just tell myself I drank too much coffee (which is often true, making it easier to believe). That has worked less well––much less well––since I've been on the job market and trying to publish. But it helps. The depression is harder. Medication helped for a while. Lately, much less so.

Mostly, I try to focus on just doing philosophy, and generally learning new things. Which means trying to ignore the sociology of the discipline. (The fact that I check this blog daily should tell you something about how that's going.) But it's hard.

One thing that increasingly drives me crazy, though, that's connected to imposter syndrome, is philosophers making quick and sweeping judgments about other philosophers' ability––often on the basis of astonishingly little evidence. Some of my colleagues will see a visiting speaker give one talk and then, apparently, judge their quality as a philosopher entirely on the basis of that single exchange. And it's almost always extreme: basically, either the person is a genius, or they aren't worth listening to. And if these are the options, it seems pretty clear that I'm not worth listening to. So why do I keep talking? Well, because I have to make a living somehow.

And what makes it all really difficult is that so much hangs on these impressions people have of you and your work. The impression I make on this person this one day might determine whether or not I ever land a TT job. Which, for me, means I withdraw. Which probably I don't get the job.

Renn Dennis

"One thing that increasingly drives me crazy, though, that's connected to imposter syndrome, is philosophers making quick and sweeping judgments about other philosophers' ability––often on the basis of astonishingly little evidence. Some of my colleagues will see a visiting speaker give one talk and then, apparently, judge their quality as a philosopher entirely on the basis of that single exchange. And it's almost always extreme: basically, either the person is a genius, or they aren't worth listening to. And if these are the options, it seems pretty clear that I'm not worth listening to. So why do I keep talking? Well, because I have to make a living somehow."

Why do any of us keep talking?

I feel entirely for your situation as I've been there before. What you are describing is called 'The Iceberg Effect'. It's a very common social phenomenon wherein individuals are evaluated for what you might call surface level reasons. There is a reason why we are encouraged to utilise the principle of charity in our writing. Really, it should be applied everywhere our professions take us.

You will obviously be aware, that on those occasions where individuals are saying "This person isn't worth listening to" it may be less to do with the work of the speaker but on the understanding, ideology or bias of the audience.

Then we have the all to common, Great idea with a bad lecture dynamic.

All that being said; the responsibility of making a good lecture or presentation still resides mostly on the person giving the talk. If you give 100 presentations on the same topic, chances are you had at least one bad one.

The best way around this is to know your audience; if you are giving a presentation on arguments for some form of substance dualism and your audience are mostly physicalists, then apply the principle of charity to physicalist arguments and give them their fairest, strongest form before your rebuttal.

At the end of the day, you're a philosopher so you are devoted to the truth. By all means listen to and engage your critics, but if you believe you are speaking a truth that other people just aren't agreeing with, keep speaking it as your friendly audience may be 200 years away.

Hell, just look at Albert Schweitzer, up and coming for a while in his time but fell out of favour due to his pessimistic predictions for the future. Yet anyone who reads those predictions now, will have no choice but to say "My god! He was right!".

Thank you for this amazing discussion! Imposter Syndrome is something I have to deal with. It never really goes away, but you can turn it into a strength if you know how.


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