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I'm torn. On the one hand I find what you say compelling, Marcus. But on the other, I think there is a really important gendered dimension to this question. As we know, women are socialized to value to relationships primarily, and men are socialized to value professional success more. Philosophy already has so few women - and if women act in the way you suggest acting for yourself (and on their socialization), then we likely end up with even fewer women in philosophy.

I'm really worried by this, and I thought about these issues a lot when I was in my mid-20s. I decided that I owed it to myself and other women to try to stay in philosophy and thrive there, and so decided that at the beginning of any relationship I got into, I would need to make it clear to my partner that I couldn't make significant career sacrifices for the sake of a partner. Anyone who wasn't ok with that wasn't someone I should get serious about. As it happens, I found someone who thinks that it's his obligation as a man in philosophy to try to make things better for women in philosophy - and so he was very supportive of this, and I haven't had to choose between love and career because of it. (That makes it sound like it's the primary reason I'm with him - it certainly isn't, but his commitments and the fact that he actually lives by them are certainly a significant part of why I love him.)

At this point things are a bit different. Now that I love him and have spent 8 years of my life with him, I would prioritize him over my career if I had to - if, say, he became sick and we needed to move for his health. But it was important to me not to fall in love with someone in the first place who would ask me to hold my career back for his.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Rosa: Thanks for weighing in and sharing your perspective and experiences. I think you are absolutely right about the gendered dimensions, and your approach to them seems to me very wise and well put.


I don't think any woman has a duty to sacrifice love for the philosophy profession. If a woman chooses to do that, out of love for philosophy, or a sense of duty, or whatever, that is fine and their choice. Of course, lucky for you Rosa, in the end, you didn't really have to choose. You have a wonderful guy supporting you and a career. But for women who do have to choose, the right choice might very well be love. I don't see how love is of any less value for a woman than it is for a man. And if a woman wants to choose love, I say good for her.

I don't have a relationship. I have a very nice career. I have absolutely no doubts that a relationship would make me happier than my career. For the brief period I had a relationship, it was easily the happiest time in my life. Career successes make me happy, but only briefly and such success does not stop you from being lonely. Of course, one might say happiness is not all that matters.


One more thing, although I don't mean to say you implied this Marcus, I think the comment on daily nous wasn't necessarily about romantic love. Philosophers also sacrifice love in other ways, when they leave their parents, brothers, sisters, friends, etc. Keeping in touch is generally (but not always) much harder than we like to imagine.


Marcus makes an apt comment. Sometimes we love people who do not love us back. This, paradoxically, deepens our commitment to them, and worsens the pain of loss when the relationship ends, as it must. (I was in such a relationship, and in the aftermath read a lot of interesting research on why this is so.)

But if you can keep trudging on, you can find someone who loves you back--and that is well worth doing.

What is professional philosophy like? I think, with Marcus, that it's akin to the former relationship. This is one reason why young scholars have such difficulty leaving the profession, even when that's plainly the right move.


Hi Amanda, I certainly don't think it's necessarily an over-riding duty, but I do think that in unjust circumstances, how we're positioned wrt the injustice gives us unique duties wrt the injustice. I think that women *and* men in philosophy both have obligations to make things better for women in philosophy - one way that women are uniquely positioned to do that is to stick around and try to thrive; one way that men are uniquely positioned to do that is to take hits to their careers for the sake of female partners in philosophy (if they have partners, and they are female, and in philosophy, of course. And whether or not they do, there are surely other ways too). Like I said, I don't think those duties are always over-riding, and I think we probably have some space to privilege our own interests, but it seems absolutely wrong to me to think that all of our obligations here are the same.


I think Rosa gives terrible advice, especially in light of the advantages that women in the philosophy profession now enjoy relative to men. (Hiring/advancement being the largest and most important one.)

Amanda, you do not owe these privileged people ANYTHING. You get this one shot in life to find happiness and meaning. Maybe that's a relationship, maybe it's career, maybe it's something else--but that's for you to decide. Rosa's sentiments illustrate how awful our profession is--that we would try to guilt people into staying in a dysfunctional environment at the expense of love. What an embarrassment.

Marcus Arvan

JR: I'm posting your comment, but with the caveat that I do not think it is in line with this blog's mission to assert that someone's sincerely expressed thoughts are "an embarrassment." This blog is intended to be a supportive place. Disagreement is fine--but please try to express your disagreement in a way that better befits the mission of this forum. Thanks.

Assistant Prof

However bad the situation is for women in philosophy, it's made worse, not better, by the kind of advice that Rosa gives, which paints all women who do what is in their best interest (if that is, say, choosing benefits to a relationship over benefits to a career) as gender-betrayers. Do women have a prima facie duty to forgo having children, if they foresee (quite reasonably) that having children would harm their career, and therefore the plight of women in philosophy generally? Are they to choose a more prestigious job far away from family, even if they would prefer a less prestigious job close to family? Etc.


One of the criticisms of hypothetical examples in philosophy, like the trolly example, for instance, is they do not properly take risk into account. The trolly example is designed so we *know* that pulling the lever will save more lives. But in real life, most moral choices involve risk. We do not know for sure whether action X or Y will lead to the better outcome. One of the problems I see with saying that women, or men, or whoever, have a duty to somehow make sure more women stay in philosophy is it is not clear to me any individual instance of this will "make things better for women." I do think we all have a duty to try and do what we can, in various ways, to make the world and our profession a better place. But given all the risks involved, I think there is a lot of leeway in how to go about doing this. And each person is uniquely positioned, in their own life, to see with a clearer purview what actions are likely to lead to what consequences. So I am hesitant to agree with any general rules regarding whether it is moral to choose love or a career. It likely depends. I will say that I suspect in the overwhelming majority of cases (but maybe not all) choosing love will make you happier.


Amanda, I appreciate you engaging with what I was saying, and I think you're right about the riskiness point. I'm also hesitant to agree on general rules about what people should do all things considered - and certainly about what people should do regarding this particular question. I think that we should take seriously the range of (often conflicting) duties and prerogatives that each of us has, and weigh as well the likely effectiveness of various courses of action we could take to try to appropriately balance those. And it's of course really difficult to read off of that what we ought to do all things considered. I definitely don't blame anyone who judges the competing considerations to come out in a different way than I do. I just tend to think that a lot of us treat most of our life choices as if they were purely self-regarding, when many of them aren't, and when our individual choices in those areas collectively make a big difference.

I have to say that I'm pretty disappointed that JR and Assistant Prof - unlike Amanda - seem to have taken what I've said in a willfully uncharitable way. I said that I took myself to owe that course of action to myself and to other women. I didn't say that every other woman in philosophy ought to take that course of action. I certainly didn't say that women who don't are "gender traitors." I said that there is a general duty to make things better for a group who are badly off, and that how we should go about doing that depends on how we are positioned. I clearly said that the duty isn't over-riding, and that I think that people are entitled to privilege their own interests to at least some degree with regards to duties like this.

(That said, Marcus, I appreciate what you've done with the cocoon - it's one of the few blogs where I often read the comments, because I almost always find the discussion constructive and charitable.)


Hey Rosa,

I agree that more people (well all people) should consider the collective impact of their individual actions. And as someone sympathetic to virtue theory, I would say you demonstrate a virtuous disposition in taking those things into consideration :)


On the tension between geography and romance for people in philosophy (as you said so well, Marcus: “whereas in many other lines of work, one can have reasonable career prospects wherever one moves, in academia one is lucky to have one place one can move and have gainful employment”)—for many (not all) LGBTQ+ philosophers, this is frequently experienced as a decision between a job or graduate program and *the possibility of any* committed, loving relationship.

As a gay man in philosophy, I’ve spent pretty much the first half of my 20’s living in regions where my chances of meeting someone are low only because those were the areas in which I had opportunities to pursue a career in philosophy. The absolute last thing I want to do in the comments section of philosopherscocoon.typepad.com is challenge anyone to a spirited round of misery poker, but I also don’t want to be silent about the fact that to me, a queer philosophy graduate student, the dilemma under discussion here, a philosophy job or the *continuation* of a loving relationship, sounds delectable. My experience with the graduate school application process has convinced me that I can’t be unique in this respect:

I’ve been fortunate enough to receive and except a PhD offer somewhere in California, where I will have the opportunity to focus on my graduate degree and enjoy fairly normal romantic prospects. (If anyone wants to comment with a hot-take about how it shouldn't matter where I live because it’s easier for gay men to meet each other in college towns or on campuses or in graduate programs. ... Please. Don’t. Many of us don’t want to date in our cohorts or on campus, for the same reasons you wouldn’t want to.) However, I received this treasured somewhere-in-California offer at the last minute, and, for the duration of the decision-making phase of Graduate Application Season, I had the following two things going on:

1) I was pondering the option of accepting my one offer in a region where my dating prospects were effectively nil, and

2) I had managed, somehow, to wind up in a relationship that, for a variety of reasons, had no long-term potential--after two years of trying to meet people, as I was able to while living up to the demands of philosophy grad school.

The thing is: It was so nice not be alone anymore that I was seriously considering declining my PhD offer in order to keep my dead-end relationship alive for as long as possible. The tension culminated when I burst out in tears in front of the nurse practictioner at my local CVS Minute Clinic, while I was trying to get my cholesterol and blood pressure checked. And on the day I did nothing but watch Hulu in bed and then rolled over once, to lick the salt lamp I had bought in a completely illogical (I consider myself an aspiring logician) attempt to remove some of the negative vibrations from my apartment--in order to see if it was really made out of salt because it obviously wasn’t doing j***k s**t.

I want to stress that this isn’t an attempt to say I’m worse off or that I suffer more in this respect (the tension between love and philosophy) than others who have shared their testimony here. I know--because I have seen it happen—that I enjoy some (but definitely not all) of the advantages that other (straight...or maybe just more butchy...who am I to say...I think the way gay men are treated in academia has a lot to do with “how they wear it”) men in philosophy enjoy. I also don’t face extreme societal pressure to choose a family or a relationship over my career.

Taking this comment back to the point where Marcus's original post begins, where ‘Old Prof’ says: “If I could say anything to a grad student, it would be this: that the only thing that is worth anything in this world is love,” I’m floored.

For one thing, that advice—which sounds right to me—implies, in conjunction with the situation for gay men as it strikes me (Maybe other LGBTQ+ philosophers as well? I don’t want to speak on anyone’s behalf, and that includes other gay men; if you’re a gay male philosopher reading this and thinking ‘Wow, this queen is so worked up. My run through philosophy grad school was nothing like this,’ then I’m definitely happy for you), that my people and I are ill-advised choosing to join the profession as it is--not because of any overarching structure of oppression in professional philosophy, but because of the way things are in large swathes of the US *together with* a brutal job market that gives newly-minted PhD’s no say in where they get work. In other words, no amount of consciousness raising or discussions or other efforts to improve the atmosphere for LGBTQ+ people in philosophy would correct this situation. Also, I can’t imagine discussing any of this in even a slightly candid way with any faculty member from whom I might want advice or support (i.e., a faculty member I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to impress on a routine basis).

Last thing, I wouldn't have shared this if I weren't *just* *fine* for the foreseeable future, having made it into a PhD program in California. But, of course, I wonder how many salt lamps I'll buy when the job market comes around, especially if I have a boyfriend at that point.


Flaming, my heart goes out to you - that is a shitty, structural problem. FWIW, in my small college town in the midwest, the same-sex couples I know seem pretty happy here. I suspect it would definitely be harder to meet someone at a place like this, but if you find someone wonderful with a portable career, maybe life would be pretty good if you could bring him with you?

And Amanda - ha! I am often tempted by virtue ethics, but I end up depressed because it seems so *hard* and I feel like I constantly fail with regards to virtuous dispositions!

Assistant Prof

I'm sorry if I was being uncharitable. But it really does seem strange to say that somehow I am morally obligated to consider the good of women in philosophy generally when making personal life decisions. This is clearly what you said. Maybe we have some prima facie general (imperfect) duty to consider some wider impacts when making personal decisions. For instance, I might consider how much I would be able to give to charity given salary and cost of living considerations, and this would be one manner of fulfilling such a duty. But why in the world would I have a duty to consider the good of women in philosophy, an extremely privileged group of people in absolute terms? I have absolutely no obligation --overriding or not-- to bring the injustices done to women in philosophy to bear on my personal decision making. To assert that I do is bizarre. It places a burden on women to sacrifice themselves for some abstract greater good, to which they can't even be sure their actions will contribute positively.

Moreover, such a duty would have implications, which I mentioned above. If I have a duty to thrive in the profession for the sake of women, then I have a prima facie duty to remain childless, or to have fewer children than I would otherwise have. Maybe you think this? Or I have a moral reason to pass on a less prestigious job closer to family.

So this claim is both false (I have no such duty) and harmful. It is harmful because it might induce someone to harm themselves for a dubious future good, and it also is harmful for women, since insofar as I fail to consider the situation of women in philosophy in my decision making, I am failing morally. What would we call such a sin? Maybe you don't prefer the term gender-traitor, but it's a moral failing nonetheless, according to you. So it pits women with familial priorities against those with more professional priorities. That's harmful.

Finally, I have had several friends who sacrifice their careers for their families (Take a job that has little to no possibility of advancement, typically, or leave the profession entirely). Also, I've had friends who sacrifice a relationship for their career (live states or countries away from a spouse, foreseeing that the relationship, which would otherwise be fine, will likely fail, and it does). It's awful to be faced with such choices, and terrible that universities aren't more supportive of families and partners. Attitudes like Rosa's may make things worse in this regard, in that they capitulate to the toxic culture of "career comes first, personal relationships be damned".

Marcus Arvan

Thanks for the kind words about the blog, Rosa. I share some of the concerns others have raised--though I am also sympathetic with your perspective, as I noted (this is one of those normative areas I'm torn in two directions and think we need to negotiate with those around us given the totality of our situation, viz. the costs of injustice and the costs of personal sacrifice to combat it). Regardless, I agree we should carry on these kinds of conversations--and conversations more generally--with charity, even when we disagree.


Assistant Prof, it looks like we have substantive disagreements here. You say that "I have absolutely no obligation --overriding or not-- to bring the injustices done to women in philosophy to bear on my personal decision making. To assert that I do is bizarre." I think that this is not only not bizarre, but also true insofar as our personal decisions and our professional decisions often overlap. You wouldn't have that obligation if you were - say - an actor, but I think that you'd in that case have other obligations related to your particular case (say, to work to decrease disparities between the wages paid to paid and non-white actors) that involved trying to right injustices towards people who are all things considered advantaged but are unjustly disadvantaged within your profession. Similarly, I do think that a woman plausibly has a moral reason to pass on a less prestigious job closer to family. And I think that men have related duties - to pass on a prestigious job if it's incompatible with taking on their fair share of familial duties, for instance, or to pass on a less prestigious job if it means making their spouse take a hit to their career.

But as I said above, I don't think these kind of duties are over-riding, so it doesn't follow that one has failed morally if you - say - are a woman and take the less prestigious job close to your family. Perhaps given the family you're in you have caring duties to aging parents, or you're very close emotionally and want to be close geographically. Perhaps looking at your duties and prerogatives in their entirety, the right thing for you to do is to take the job. I do think that you've done something morally wrong if you take those considerations to play no role in your decision, though - and perhaps you continue to think it's bizarre that they should play any role at all. But again, I think it's right that individual decisions collectively form systems that place unjust pressures on others, and given that, I think that we have an obligation to make our decisions in light of the ways that they support or subvert those larger structures.


Sorry, I meant *more* prestigious job at the end of the first pp of my last post.

Assistant Prof

Of course my *individual* decisions can often contribute to some collective structures of injustice, and of course it is good to reflect upon that, and considering the wider context of one's individual decisions sounds like a plausible candidate for a duty. But my *personal* decisions (whom to marry, where to live, how many kids to have) are so tenuously and indirectly connected to the collective well-being of women in philosophy as to make it nearly impossible to discern the effects of such decisions on this collective well-being. Moreover, why *women* in philosophy? Why should I not consider the way my decisions would affect adjuncts or other contingent faculty? What about gay philosophers, or trans philosophers? International philosophers, especially those whose first language is not English, or underpaid philosophers, or philosophers without access to adequate health care? In fact, I think all of these people suffer more grave injustices than women philosophers qua women philosophers. If we take your view seriously (that we have a duty consider the wider context of our personal decisions, specifically as it relates to our profession) then we get a wild proliferation of duties, which would require an impossible sort of calculus in personal decision making.

Something like the following might be more plausible: It is important to instantiate justice in one's personal life. Or: Gender equity in the workplace starts with gender equity in the home. Still, even then, I think such a duty would not be one that derives from my relation to women-in-general, but rather, is one that derives from my relationship to my spouse and children, or perhaps is a duty to oneself (e.g., I will not partner up with anyone whose general disposition would require that we instantiate structures of injustice in our personal lives). Moreover, such a duty would *not* entail that I have a prima facie moral duty to thrive in the profession for the good of women generally, and it would not entail that I have moral reasons to forgo children or to take the more prestigious job. Such implications put a terrible pressure (even if overridable) on a woman to sacrifice some of the best things that life has to offer, because maybe it will make women in general look better when she's "thriving", i.e., succeeding professionally.

Assistant Prof

Also, and this may get back more to the original point—perhaps the problem is not so much that women are socialized to or for whatever reason tend to prioritize relationships over career, but rather that men often don’t. And encouraging women to change their priorities to match the messed-up ones that are more typically “masculine”, so as to better compete in the profession, in fact is a step toward making us all a little more miserable.

Naive Squirrel

I agree with Assistant Prof @ 10:49. Why ask women to react to certain social conditioning in a way that abandons what might actually be a *good* thing compared to the opposing conditioning of men? A call for some kind of duty to negate a certain training for approaching conflicts between love and a career for the sake of equalizing and evening out what is obviously a trend of disproportionately pressuring women into one choice over another is only to remain complicit in the social practices of pressuring subjectivities to behave and commit to values in a certain way *purely* based on one's assigned gender. And isn't that the very thing we wish to avoid?

On the whole, I also agree with the comment that love is not necessary meant to be "romantic" - but I will say that it might not even have to do with interpersonal loves for friends, family, etc. For example, the philosophy profession is notorious for being overly focused on menial production, stifling profoundly creative minds for the sake of publication requirements (which I truly do not understand) and plausibly, one's love for their own self (or for a certain valued method of doing philosophy) could trump a promising career move, and this love would be something solely to do with the individual and their personal commitments to themselves (without directly involving any other individuals).

A main point is that I do not see an immediate connection from "love is most important" to "love is more important than a career" (but I'm perhaps missing something about the context). In fact the idea could imply, for example, that truly loving one's career is more important than merely advancing a career because one can, or is simply following through with their narrative inertia. So my question is, could not the original comment about love's importance be simply to always follow genuine (and perhaps your greatest) love in all cases? And that if you love your career more than being close to another human, or if you love being around your children more than advancing your career, or WHATEVER the options are in front of you - that you follow what you love the most deeply? And when there's a conflict of loves and one can't figure out which one must be sacrificed, then we're talking about a problem about conflicting values and commitments, and decision making in general - not a problem specific to academia or any career or life goal, but rather a problem that we all face in all our activities: it's called the problem of ordering our values, and learning what it is we truly love, i.e., what gives us the greatest joy and fulfillment in life, and learning how to act to satisfy that love, and thus satisfy ourselves ultimately. This is the true problem as I see it that underlies this discussion.

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