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I don't know...most people work all year. With 2 weeks of vacation -something to keep in mind.

What I think is problematic about the "culture of productivity" is not the hours working, but that it is all about a certain kind of productivity: publishing papers few people ever read. I can imagine working just as many hours, but spending more time engaged in philosophical discussion, conferences, public philosophy, improving my teaching, gaining a new philosophical skill like acquiring a language, coaching summer debate teams, etc. I think publishing is important, very important. But we seem to have a corrupt culture where academics spend years of their life writing things that hardly engage with others at all. When I got into philosophy, I thought philosophical engagement was the point.

Random comment on work hours. I find it interesting that so many philosophers seem to work a typical 9 to 5. Ugh. I shudder just thinking about it. I love the freedom philosophy gives me to work early mornings, late evening, basically anything other than normal banking hours. Of course, if one has a spouse who does normal 9 to 5 it might be hard to have my completely random schedule.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Amanda: thanks for weighing in! Most of the time, I agree with you. However, in this case I think we differ.

I don’t see what’s so bad about working from 9-5, provided you’re actually doing something you enjoy! A primary reason I never wanted a “9-5 job” is that I didn’t want to spend my life toiling away on job-tasks I don’t enjoy or find intrinsically valuable. But working 9-5 on stuff one enjoys can be fun. Imagine saying to an artist, “I don’t see why you paint from 9-5 every day. I shudder to think of that!” To which the artist is likely to say, “Yeah, but I’m making art. I get to spend all day painting. What could be better than that!”

I also have a different take on what the “point” of all our (or at least my) work should be. I very much enjoy philosophical engagement (viz. talking shop, conferences, etc). But I didn’t get into philosophy for engagement. It's at most a nice side-benefit of why I got into it. I got into philosophy because I enjoy *creating* it. An analogy: I also do music. While I enjoy “music engagement” (talking about music, sharing it, etc), I don’t do music for that reason either. I do it because I enjoy creating and playing it—even just in my practice room or home studio. In both cases (music and philosophy), the thing I enjoy most is the activity itself, the act of creating something new.

Now I realize you and I may just be different here. But I guess my point here is that I don’t see anything “corrupt” about wanting to sit and write philosophy all day (and get paid for it), even if few people read it. I don’t see anything corrupt about that any more than I think it is corrupt for an artist to want to sit and do art all day, even if few people view it. Now, of course, I myself don’t just sit around writing philosophy all day: I also blog, etc. And of course I very much like it when my work gets read and engaged with. I’m just resistant to the idea that spending a lot of time writing stuff that few people are likely to read is necessarily a problematic thing. Maybe you didn't mean to imply that. Maybe you just meant that writing all day just to publish (for careerist reasons) is the issue. I guess I'm more sympathetic there, but wonder how many philosophers conceive themselves as doing that. I certainly don't!

Finally, I am a bit more skeptical than you are that philosophical work is unlikely to get read enough. Many artists (painters, storytellers) have a small audience, but care very much about that audience. And of course many keep at it because of the *chance* they may get a wider audience. I suspect something is similar of a good number of philosophers!


Hey Marcus,

As for the 9 to 5 thing...just to be clear I wasn't making a normative statement. What is great about the profession is there is freedom to work a 9 to 5 if you want, and a different schedule if you want that. I don't know...I wouldn't tell someone who likes working 9 to 5 that they should do anything different, anymore than I would try to convince someone who doesn't like ice cream (the best food, ever) that they should really try to like it. Whatever schedule works for someone, go for it.

Okay as for creating philosophy. I think the problem is the assumption that writing philosophy is the only way to create it. I agree with you 100% that creating philosophy is why I am in the profession. I consider engagement creation. When I am sitting around talking about philosophical ideas, and engaging them with others, I am *doing* philosophy: coming up with new ideas bouncing those ideas of others etc, refining my ideas. Simply because it was never written down (cough Socrates) does not mean one did not do or create philosophy. Now I think writing is a part of the process, i.e. it is *one* way to create philosophy. Just not the only way. And perhaps not even the best way.

Lastly, I think we will have to agree to disagree about the number of people reading work, and how much that matters. I know some persons honestly would be happy if they sat around writing philosophy everyday and no one read it. I don't see the point in that, nor do I see the point in painting a masterpiece that you keep in basement. I know others disagree. There is something pure about truly loving the work "in itself." But I don't know. I just see humanity as a bunch of social creatures, and things humans do increase in value insofar as they are shared with other humans. I have never kept a journal for that reason. Whey would I write something that nobody ever saw (and if I wrote a journal I wouldn't want anyone to see it.0

Okay so...what if a few people read it? This *might* be enough (for me to find the process meaningful). The reason why I question if it is enough, is I am not confident that the few people who read a philosophy paper read it in the right way. So if I publish a paper and 3 people read it, there are two different circumstances I might describe, one I would find meaningful, the other not. The meaningful situation is that the three people who read it, read it very carefully, and it has some sort of impact on their own thoughts or their own work. The other possibility is 3 people read it as say, a means of keeping up with the literature. However, the paper has little impact on them. This kind of situation (which I believe happens with my work) makes me feel like writing is a waste of time.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Amanda: I see. In that case we may not disagree as much as I thought!

I agree it's bad to assume that writing philosophy is the only way to create it - and that too many people at least appear to think this way.

I'm also not sure we disagree that much on whether--at least ideally--most of us would like our work to be read. I don't know many philosophers (myself included) who would deny that, or many musicians who wouldn't love it if people heard and appreciated their music, etc. Indeed, I know many struggling artists and musicians (and philosophers!) who get really down because their work doesn't seem to be appreciated. That being said, many of them keep creating anyway, in part because they love it, and in part because they hold out hope that their work may *become* appreciated in time.

Further, I don't think this is necessarily a vain or irrational hope. As you probably know as a long-time reader of the blog, I read a *lot* of intellectual history - and one of the most common things I've encountered is just how many great figures in history (artists, scientists, philosophers, etc.) toiled away in obscurity for much of their lives, having their work either ignored or trashed by their contemporaries, only for the work to become wildly influential after a great deal of time (in some cases, decades later).

Anyway, while some philosophers may be out for short-term kudos (viz. to have their work read and appreciated now), I suspect many people who toil away in short-term obscurity continue to write and publish because they truly believe in what they are doing philosophically and hope it will generate greater appreciation time. When I write and publish papers, I don't go into it believing only three people will read it. Insofar as I hope the work actually has lasting value, I hope more people may come to appreciate it in time. Of course, I may be dead wrong, my work may be worthless - but I suspect my reasons are shared by others: we don't regard our writing as "a waste of time" even if few people read it in the short run. We keep on creating because we like creating, believe in what we're creating, hope others will come to appreciate it in time, and hope our faith will eventually be borne out. Call me a hopeless optimist - I think the world could use more of us, not fewer!


Yes the hope for future appreciation is something I should think about more. One of my life long vices is I am very impatient, and so I want my work noticed now, not out of vanity, but because I hate to wait! Alas, philosophy is a bad discipline for impatience.

Trevor Hedberg

My summer doesn't really seem to have a pattern anymore. It used to be that I'd work hard through May and June and then devote most of July to vacation time. But lately, I've been too exhausted at the end of May to not take a week or two away from work. The only real constant is that I prioritize coming back mentally fresh in the fall, which is probably why my fall semesters are usually more productive than my spring semesters.

recent grad

I make sure to get a few things under review in May/early June and to apply to a few conferences, but then I spend most of the summer doing non-work things. I do this for a few reasons. First, I need to re-charge to retain my enthusiasm. Second, I find that getting away really helps my research and teaching, e.g., by combating tunnel vision, reading widely, being well rounded, etc. Finally, I have other interests outside philosophy and I like to dedicate myself to them during the summer.


Another thing to keep in mind is that for those with a heavy teaching load, summer might be the only time to do serious research.

Marcus Arvan

Amanda: Everyone hates to wait. Being a human being is to be impatient. ;)

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