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05/09/2019

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Amanda

This was a bit hard for me to follow, as I don't work in the area of philosophy that writes this way. But, one thing I kept thinking, is it is a shame that there is a common attitude amongst philosophers and grad students, that the only form of success is a TT job. Some of my own research focuses on how we ought to be more open to the possibility that those who aren't professional philosophers can have something valuable to add to the profession. Let alone, for goodness sake, professional philosophers or professional academics that simply don't have a TT job. I am frequently disheartened by the amount of pushback I get on this. A lot of people, if I am going to psychoanalyze, probably know at the back of their mind how close they came to "failure", and it makes them feel vindicated to convince themselves that they really are in a different league than others, and/or that there is a merit system in philosophy.

Something else I thought, that Helen has mentioned before, when you don't have a TT job, that seems the marker of success. But many people get that job, are happy at first, and then quickly fallback into feeling like a failure - because they aren't at a "good" enough school, because they aren't one of the people controlling the literature, because very few people read their work, etc. Philosophy has a "star culture" to it, and we all want to the be the star, one of the few in the inside circle, and if we aren't, we feel like failures. And people often spend their entire careers, and careers are often their whole sense of identity, trying to achieve more and more, as a means of fighting agains this constant sense of failure.

Now I am going to contradict what I just said. Although all of the above is common, there is another path. I have friends and acquaintances who fit into the following categories: TT job at small school with few publications, full-time adjunct teaching 12 courses a year, permanent lecturer that goes to a conference 1-2 times a year and publishes every 3, someone who left academia and occasionally publishes. All of these people I know love their jobs, identify as a philosopher, and don't feel like a failure. They just didn't get trapped in the perverse philosophical culture described above. So it is possible to get away from that ugliness, although I am not sure it is possible by effort. Maybe. Or maybe the folks I know who escaped it just happened to have the right natural disposition.

An Anonymous Philosopher

"For, to summarize just one of his piece's many takeaways, our profession seems professionalize the vast majority of its members (the 60+% who do not obtain tenure-track jobs) to regard themselves as failures. We need to (A) stop professionalizing our PhD students into conceiving themselves as failures if a permanent academic job doesn't work out (which I have heard is a very common attitude in PhD programs)"

"it is a shame that there is a common attitude amongst philosophers and grad students, that the only form of success is a TT job."

Marcus and Amanda, while I certainly agree that there's a lot of enculturation at work here, let's get real and also acknowledge that there are objective ways in which one has failed if they miss the mark of a TT job. With the acknowledgement that there are exceptions (permanent full-time jobs), most who fail to get a TT job are in very short temporary, and underpaid, positions. These positions put you in a fairly extreme position of financial insecurity and force you to move around a lot. I think we can all agree that a necessary condition for success in your chosen profession is a modicum of financial independence and security. (And if we philosophers can't agree to that, normal people can.) So the structural conditions of the field --- the pay and contracts offered to most who aren't TT --- seem to keep anyone not on the TT from being a success.

Further, there are subjective conditions of failure apart from the enculturation. Many philosophers got into the field not to teach a 5/5 load, but to read and write original philosophy: to do research. It wasn't inculcated in me that I should want to do philosophical research, I just wanted to do philosophical research. If you spend all your time applying for the next contract position, or teaching a 5/5 load, you aren't in a position to do one of the things which was a marker of success, *by your own lights*. Of course, there are TT jobs out there which involve heavy teaching loads, but this still speaks to the spirit (if not the letter) of the issue.

I guess the point I'm trying to make is that we could radically change the culture of philosophy, and yet still there will be a large component of both objective and subjective failure to not achieving a certain sort of job in the profession. All philosophers could genuinely look at you as a serious peer of merit and that view could be expressed in the various modes of philosophical culture so that not a hint of public shame is felt when palling it up with your friends who do hold TT jobs --- but if you're under a load a credit card debt, you're up at night with panic attacks over how you'll pay bills after the term, and you have no time to do the thing that got you into the field in the first place, then (sorry), you are a professional failure. Also, it's hard to imagine that these objective markers of failure don't at least play a role in the culture: two grad-school friends bump into each other some random June: "How's it going?", "Great! Starting a TT job at decent-liberal-arts-U this September, you?", "eh, okay, finishing up my VAP, no hits yet for next year". There are deep, personal reasons this is an awkward conversation, ones which go well beyond philosophical professional culture.

An Anonymous Philosopher

To be charitable, Marcus and Amanda, I imagine that your response is that this is precisely why we need to better prepare philosophy PhDs for careers outside philosophy: so they can achieve success along objective financial measures. That's a very good point --- one to add this to this very messy discussion --- although I don't think it totally clears up the issue of subjective failure, which is central. If you trained for a decade of your life to do philosophical research, and by your own lights doing philosophical research is your professional goal, then no matter how you slice it, you've failed (by your own lights) if you end up in a career not doing philosophical research.

Marcus Arvan

Anonymous Philosopher: Thanks, I think that’s right. But I’d also suggest that if there were a culture change—so that grad students did not put 100% of their subjective hopes into an academic job—then that might significantly blunt the subjective let down (especially if the person was well positioned for objective success elsewhere). My spouse’s academic discipline is like this. Many people want to go academic, but their discipline values work in industry and so when people don’t make it in academia they still seem pretty happy. It isn’t “the end of the world” as it so often seems to be treated in philosophy.

An Anonymous Philosopher

But Marcus, there are a lot of relevant differences between philosophy and I/O psychology (the field I believe your spouse is in). There are nonacademic jobs in which one does some form of I/O research. There are (basically no) nonacademic jobs in which someone does philosophical research --- at least, for many philosophical areas, and even for those with some application, the resemblance to actual academic research is much more attenuated.

The point is that there are different ways, in our society, in which someone can be an I/O psychologist, or an engineer, or a mathematician (to take three examples). This isn't the case for philosophy: outside the academy, basically no one will pay me to do philosophical research.

As we've discussed a lot on this blog, those leaving academic philosophy are leaving ... philosophy. Getting a nonacademic job is so hard for philosophers precisely because those nonacademic jobs have (pretty much) nothing to do with philosophy, and (so) philosophy grad students need to essentially run two lines of career prep: their philosophical training, and a second for the alt-ac job they hope to get.

I hate to be overly negative, but I also have a strong aversion to moving the goal posts and redefining success in some attempt to blunt the brutal psychological pain of reality. Can't we all just face the fact that there are far more people who want to do professional philosophy than spots the economy has open, and that people who direct their best years to pursuing one of those spots have in fact failed to achieve something of real value if they don't get one? Lots of people spend their twenties pursuing professional athletic and artistic success, never to achieve it, not because they aren't really good, but because the market won't bear them all. While we can, of course, find much good that might come from such failed pursuits, we can all look at those people as having fundamentally failed at the main aim of their pursuit, no matter how many mitigating factors there might be along the way. That doesn't mean they've failed as people or weren't good at their vocation, but it does mean they failed in an obvious sense we can all see: they didn't achieve their central aim. I don't think it's a healthy coping strategy, when in this position, to dance around that fact or to try to move goalposts.

The phenomenology of professional (philosophical) failure is, of course, deeply shaped by the culture of philosophers and the stories we tell to make sense of the hard economic realities in which we find ourselves. That phenomenology is also shaped by those economic realities and our own personal ambitions. What it's like to professionally fail at philosophy is, at its heart, what it's like to fail at any other pursuit which you pour the best, most formative years of your life into pursuing. At least for me, the cultural shame accruing from (e.g.) the culture of genius and faux meritocracy of the profession are mere accoutrements to the felt loss of not having achieved a life-directing goal (doing philosophical research as one's paid profession).

Marcus Arvan

AAP: Those points are all very well-taken. But I still think our discipline can and should do better when it comes to this stuff. Let me explain.

When I was "failing" (both in graduate school and on the job market), the single biggest thing that terrified me was that I had *no* experience or network outside of philosophy. This, in my view, is because PhD programs in philosophy not only don't encourage their students to get outside experience while working on the degree: they actively *discourage* it, the rationale that it will "get in the way" of research. This not only leaves the grad student (or post-Phd) "alone on a raft without a life-preserver", as it were. It also leads the person to identify 100% of their success with academia--since that is the *only* thing they have done the 5-7+ years they have been in grad school.

Now, you're right: my spouse works in I-O, and there are many easy fits in industry. But here's the thing: people in my wife's PhD program are *encouraged* to get experience in industry (e.g. in internships) while in the program, even if that experience has nothing to do with their research. Not only that: her program has a good "pipeline"--that is, they keep people in touch with students that have entered industry before them, so that their grad students have networking opportunities if they leave academia.

Philosophy programs *could* do something like this. They could not only permit but encourage students to get outside experience while in the program--and do more to build networks among students who left their program to go into industry. But, my sense is that philosophy PhD programs typically don't do any of this. They treat philosophy as the end-all and be-all, and so when a PhD student or job-marketeer doesn't make it in academia, they are left hanging and terrified that they not only didn't achieve their dream, but have *no* obvious path to a well-paying alt-ac career. I think this is unconscionable--and that the profession should expect programs do to more. Maybe there is only so much they can do, but given the human cost, I think the profession needs to have a more serious conversation about how to address these matters. For example, I think the APA could probably do a heck of a lot more to build alt-ac networks. I also think grad directors of individual programs could also be expected to keep a list of past graduates in industry, and keep in touch with them from time to time to help PhD students network and (potentially) get internship experience while in the grad program.

An Anonymous Philosopher

Here is a final thought. Like Amanda, I don't know the philosophical traditional in which Ben Sheredos writes, but I know Aristotle and Plato.

Professional academic cultures (in and outside philosophy) might inculcate in me a sense that only "pure" research in the academy is of value. To the extent that people might feel like failures because they've failed to meet this socially constructed norm, we can help them psychologically by changing the culture. But its very hard to make the case that valuing a career is a mere matter of enculturation. Given the role careers play in our lives, they are a near essential component of the good life. Hence, aiming at a career and failing at it, especially when this involves substantial personal cost, is bad. While failing to become a professional philosopher certainly isn't "the end of the world", given the objective importance of careers in lived human lives, personal subjective interest in philosophy as a career, and the immense and life-shaping costs of pursuing it, failing to become a professional philosopher is a very real personal harm and failure. And, the three biggest factors (the role of careers, subjective interests, and the costs of the pursuit) which make it a personal harm have nothing to do with philosophical professional culture.

Just to be clear Marcus, I don't say this all out of hostility towards you.

A second caveat: I know, of course, that many people in all walks of life face all sorts of personal and professional failures, on the same scope or much larger than, those faced by philosophers. The world is tough and there's a lot of failure to go around, but the obvious reply is that just because lots of people suffer failure doesn't mean clever comparisons or redefinitions of success will wash away the way those failures keep people from thriving.

An Anonymous Philosopher

Marcus, I apologize if I've harped on my points too long. I mostly agree with what you say. Specifically, I agree that much of the way the culture now goes encourages young, impressionable grad students to put even *more* of their hopes and dreams in one basket than they otherwise would have. Thus, the issues I raise aren't as independent from culture as I suggest. I think you'd agree with me that they aren't totally tied together either, and hence that no amount of culture change will completely erase the pain of professional failure. But I agree we do, but shouldn't, exacerbate it.

Marcus Arvan

AAP: thanks for following up! Here are just a few thoughts in reply.

You write: "To the extent that people might feel like failures because they've failed to meet this socially constructed norm, we can help them psychologically by changing the culture. But its very hard to make the case that valuing a career is a mere matter of enculturation."

Absolutely - but I think part of the problem here is that philosophy's enculturation seems pretty extreme, and in many cases almost cult-like. One is encultured to identify 100% of oneself with one's worth as an academic, such that anything less than a research job is regarded as a failure. Example: I have a friend who told her advisor she got a TT job-offer with a heavy teaching load. His response was something to the effect of "I'm so sorry." Like, really? *That's* how you respond to someone getting a job offer. And what about people who want to get a job in industry? Are they treated with respect? In my wife's field, they are. But in philosophy, my sense is that everyone around you--your grad faculty, fellow grad students--will look at you again as a failure. In which case it's pretty hard not to regard oneself as a failure. Sure, people grapple with failure in other parts of life: for example, in acting or the music business, or whatever. But my experience (I was for a long time a semi-professional musician) is that in these cases, people typically have other stuff in their lives: like side-jobs, friends, daily enjoyment, etc.--such that a person can fairly easily move onto something else and not feel like a *total*, *abject* failure (which is the phenomenology Sheredos so aptly captures).

This is why I think you are absolutely right when you write: "Thus, the issues I raise aren't as independent from culture as I suggest. I think you'd agree with me that they aren't totally tied together either, and hence that no amount of culture change will completely erase the pain of professional failure. But I agree we do, but shouldn't, exacerbate it."

The problem, it seems to me, is that the culture in academic philosophy does exacerbate it, and in the worst possible way. It's this--in addition to the job-market itself--that I think we most need to change.

postdoc

Two things. First, I wonder how much of the culture isn't due to the kind of people who pursue philosophy. We're probably by nature less capitalist and materialistic than the average modern person. We value truth and knowledge over material things and so see more value in the abstract than the concrete. I know that I got into philosophy, because other worldly careers didn't interest me. This is probably true for many who end up in philosophy. I was just a mediocre student in high school and the first year of college, showing no real intellectual ability. Then I discovered philosophy and for the first time in my life I got excited about a career. I was good at philosophy too, which was the first time in my life that I felt genuinely good at something. In a narrow sense, I did very well in philosophy. I made mainly A's. I had no trouble writing a dissertation for my PhD. Publishing was very taxing--all the rejections hurt my ego a lot--but I ended up figuring the system out and amassed a strong publication record. This made me identify with philosophy even more. I don't think the academic culture made me think this way. I think I thought this way, because of the fact that the subject resonated so much with me and was the only subject to have done so in my life.

Second, there is no industry of philosophy. Outside of academia, you really can't be paid to do philosophy. I mean there are exceptions, but they're really rare. Also, the kinds of alternative careers that are open to a philosopher without a STEM background are limited, and they are not intellectual in the way philosophy is. So, it's not surprising to me that PhD programs don't emphasize industry and a plan B. There is no obvious plan B for which philosophy prepares you. There is no such thing as outside experience in the industry of philosophy. Maybe in a less materialistic society people would pay to go to philosophical discussions instead of to movies, but that just ain't going to happen in our world in the numbers needed. So, all a philosophy program could do really is to increase the number of years it takes to finish so that students can also pursue a degree in engineering or computers or whatever, but it's unclear that's a good idea. The expression, 'a jack of all trades; a master at none' comes to mind. Also, not everyone has a talent or interest in computers or engineering or whatever. In fact, the most obvious pairings with philosophy are careers that are either precarious themselves or require much more training. Journalism (not much of it left!) is an obvious pairing but try to make it in this industry! Law is another obvious pairing but this requires 4 more years of legal training. Law also isn't what it used to be and is also prestige obsessed.

So, it's just not obvious to me what can be done other than this. Bright eyed and bushy tailed young men and women who fall in love with philosophy need to be told the truth: the philosophy job market is horrible--worse than middle class 20 year olds can fathom--and your pursuit of this career has dire consequences on your mental and physical well being. They need to be told that the profession is corrupt and values prestige and demographics and other things too much. They need to be sat down and given a stern talk, an intervention of sorts. We need to actively discourage people from pursuing PhDs in philosophy. That's not to say that we shouldn't have PhDs or that we should disallow people from pursuing their dreams. It's just to say that we should ensure that people pursue those dreams with full knowledge of what they're getting into. They need to be given failure stories and not just success stories. It's good to motivate the young: they need motivation and without it wouldn't accomplish all they could. However, we also need to discourage certain pursuits. It seems we understand this. We wouldn't encourage just anyone to be an actor or a movie star. We understand how much pain such a pursuit is likely to bring. (My cousin became an alcoholic trying to pursue an acting career.) Only those in the right position should pursue these careers. We need to treat philosophy the same. Philosophy isn't like computer science or engineering. It's more like the field of acting. Having talent and passion isn't enough of a reason to go into philosophy. I wouldn't want to say that only the best make it--that's false on many interpretations. But in philosophy, I think, you need more than passion and philosophical ability. What else do you need? Arguably, you need prestige, you need connections--to be the kind of person who knows how to stand out--and you need to be very flexible, tenacious, and willing to go to the ends of the earth.

postdoc

Somewhat unrelated to my last post, but I do take issue with identifying a career and money with success, and no career and little money with failure. That's a very modern, capitalist way of looking at success and failure. There are other ways to be a success. For example, one could be a success in that one always tried to do the right thing and treat people well. One could be a success in that one has a good marriage, or well-behaved kids, or wonderful friends. Even if not recognized by the profession, one could also be a success in pursuing the truth and in educating oneself. I realize that money and recognition are important to so so many people. But arguably there is another perspective in which perpetuating an unjust system makes you a failure. For example, is prestigious philosopher x who only hires based on prestigious networks and scoffs at those from 'no-name' schools a success? Or is he really, morally speaking, a failure? Success and failure are value judgements that are caught up with morality and our sense of obligation. The idea that success is a career is just propaganda.

So, one way to get over not having a career in philosophy is to stop caring about careers and material things and money. It's all indoctrination anyway. Material things don't make you happy, and ambitious people after fame and money are seldom happy or content. Millionaires compete with each other buying jets and million dollar watches. The guy worth 10 million will feel like a failure compared to guy worth a 100 million, and that guy a failure compared to the billionaire. Likewise, the ambitious philosopher is always judging himself in relation to his peers and will probably never be content with his level of fame. If you're after recognition and money and material things, then you'll never be happy. A good life is one in which you hold firm to what's right and practice it when engaging with yourself, others, and with society. Thus, many successful people make little money--sacrificing money for what's right. They live life according to a set of good moral principles and not according to capitalist principles involving the accumulation of fame and money. So, one way to look at failing in your career is this: you now have an opportunity to be a real success.

One may reply that in our society money is not a luxury but a necessity. This is true. Money is needed to put a roof over your head. I admit that I'm speaking from a relatively privileged position that allows me to consider such lofty notions as right and wrong. This said, you don't need as much money as you think to meet the basic necessities of life. You don't need a fancy career. You don't need fame and recognition of your peers. In many places in America, for example, you can still live very cheaply. Also, to the extent that you need to make a certain amount of money, this can just be to meet your needs and obligations; it doesn't need to define you as a human being, and it doesn't have to be something that you value in and of itself. It's better to find value in living a moral life than in a career or in a job. I think it's important to remember that many people have been massive successes who have never made much money or had much recognition. And there are countless very rich and famous people who should be ashamed.

Marcus Arvan

Postdoc: many of your points are very well taken. But I want to push back on one thing that I think is important to get straight on.

You write: “Second, there is no industry of philosophy. Outside of academia, you really can't be paid to do philosophy. I mean there are exceptions, but they're really rare. Also, the kinds of alternative careers that are open to a philosopher without a STEM background are limited...So, it's not surprising to me that PhD programs don't emphasize industry and a plan B. There is no obvious plan B for which philosophy prepares you.”

One of the things that drives me batty about discussions of alt-ac opportunities for philosophers is the seemingly widespread assumption (which your remarks here suggest) one must somehow be *prepared*—with some specialized skills—to get a well paying alt-ac career. This is nonsense. The alt-ac world is not any more of a meritocracy than philosophy is. Success in the alt-ac world is often not about having any special skills. I know many people outside of academia who make a ton of money, for example in the beverage and natural gas industries. Many of these people have no special skills at all. They did not get a degree in beverage management or whatever. They are just all-around smart, personable people who networked effectively.

This is often *all* it takes to have robust career opportunities across a variety of fields. The problem is that grad students and grad programs often appear to do next to nothing to foster these kinds of opportunities. For example, a question for every grad student out there: does your grad program’s placement director even have a *list* of people and their contact information who got the PHD but entered industry from the past 5-15 years? I am willing to bet that the number of placement directors who have bothered to collect this information, let alone help grad students use it, is approximately 0%. If true, that’s a scandal. And what about the APA? Does it have a readily available list of philosophy MA’s and PHDs who went into industry? Not as far as I am aware. Given that 80% of jobs are found through networking—and given that philosophers might plausibly help each other out—this too is a huge missed opportunity. These are the things our discipline needs to do...so that PhDs who want to go alt-ac don’t fall into the trap of thinking you need all kinds of special skills to get alt-ac jobs. Again, you don’t. You need *connections*—and programs and professional associations can and should bear responsibility for building them.

An Anonymous Philosopher

"Somewhat unrelated to my last post, but I do take issue with identifying a career and money with success, and no career and little money with failure. That's a very modern, capitalist way of looking at success and failure. ... [and the rest of the following post]"

This post is interpreting what I said in a very uncharitable way. I'm honestly baffled at how anyone could have read what I wrote and responded with this post. It should have been clear that I was not claiming that a necessary (or sufficient) condition of success is a high-prestige career with a large salary. It should also be clear that a sufficient condition for failure is literally not having enough money to meet the basic necessities of life. This is not a modern, capitalist way of looking at success and failure, it's Aristotelian. I agree that what makes life worth living are all the moralistic and intellectual things you mention, but if you think you can still live the good life while unemployed with thousands in debt and up at night anxious over paying bills, rent, and for food, then you've never been in that position and we simply have nothing to talk about. (Yes, I get that you raise this response in your last paragraph, but you quickly slide back into equating the two positions and don't take it seriously.) Again, I can't stress enough what a weird response this was to my post.

postdoc

Good point Marcus. I agree. Connections are vital and are perhaps the most important component to getting a job. Nevertheless, people leave their PhD's in philosophy not knowing anyone who isn't an academic philosopher (or academic job seeker). When I gave up on the academic job market I knew 4 people who weren't academic philosophers in total, besides my family members. There was no way really to get into contact with other philosophers who left academia. If philosophers looked after each other better and maintained networks, even with people who leave academia, that would benefit students massively. Instead, as you've pointed out, academia views those who leave as failures and pretends they don't exist. I think those who leave sometimes want to pretend they don't exist themselves. It's an unfortunate situation.

However, I suspect that part of the problem has to do with identity. I suspect many who leave academia stop identifying as philosophers and so break the connections with their former departments and with other philosophers. If we're going to maintain networks, we need to maintain identity. How to consider yourself a philosopher who works at Exxon or T-Mobile or Coca-Cola or whatever is a question I don't know the answer too. I suspect that philosophy is in some way intrinsically incompatible with these jobs, because these jobs require a kind of non-reflective personality to be content and happy with the moral and ethical issues surrounding them. I guess this might sound elitist. Maybe it's just anti-capitalist. But I suspect that it's true. If so, the issue may be insurmountable.

What philosophers need is an industry that's philosophical like psychologists have clinical psychology. We need to start clinical philosophy for those struggling with philosophical problems that just won't go away. I'm actually serious about this. I don't know if this is true, but I suspect many who got into philosophy did so because of personal philosophical issues that tormented them. Many do philosophy out of a deep human need to make sense of the world. Thus, philosophy is different from, say, engineering or business. These fields arose due to practical problems that needed solving. But philosophy is more personal. Philosophical problems involve your identity, worldview, and place in reality in a way that engineering problems do not. So, I could see a clinical philosophy for people with existential problems or with other philosophical concerns that keep them up at night. Psychology can help you sleep or help you to control your thoughts, but it can't help you find answers to any philosophical concerns--what's a good life?--that might be bothering you. Maybe there aren't enough people out there with philosophical problems that nag them, but there may be more than we realize.

postdoc

'This post is interpreting what I said in a very uncharitable way. I'm honestly baffled at how anyone could have read what I wrote and responded with this post. It should have been clear that I was not claiming that a necessary (or sufficient) condition of success is a high-prestige career with a large salary. It should also be clear that a sufficient condition for failure is literally not having enough money to meet the basic necessities of life. This is not a modern, capitalist way of looking at success and failure, it's Aristotelian. I agree that what makes life worth living are all the moralistic and intellectual things you mention, but if you think you can still live the good life while unemployed with thousands in debt and up at night anxious over paying bills, rent, and for food, then you've never been in that position and we simply have nothing to talk about. (Yes, I get that you raise this response in your last paragraph, but you quickly slide back into equating the two positions and don't take it seriously.) Again, I can't stress enough what a weird response this was to my post.'

I wasn't responding to your post per say but just to the general way that people often use the words 'success' and 'failure.'

I don't think I disagree with anything you just wrote. Nor did I ever suggest that you could live the good life up at night anxious over bills or rent or food.

I guess I have similar problem to you: I struggle to see how you could read me in those ways. But hey, communication is hard.

Postdoc1

Kudos to Marcus for broaching the topic. Failure, and the fear of it, is simply too human an experience for philosophers to care nothing about. And high five to Amanda. Very refreshing thoughts.

An Anonymous Philosopher

Hi postdoc, thanks for clearing that up. Sorry about the miscommunication. I guess I took things too personally.

Regarding your clinical philosophy idea, there is something like this. It's usually called "philosophical counseling". Some Googling should turn up a few practitioner's websites. I think there's even a professional association and certificates or something you can get. Since you haven't heard of it and it never really comes up in these discussions, you can probably guess that it's not really a viable thing. My impression from glancing at a few sites is that there's no real market of people with existential crises needing to talk to a philosopher. (And, also, most of those people probably have needs that bleed into clinical therapy, and so any philosophical counselor has to walk a fine line to avoid illegally practicing therapy or psychiatry.) My impression was that most philosophical counseling turns into life coaching for people trying to quite smoking or lose weight or something. Philosophy may provide some unique angles for a life coach, but being a life coach doesn't require engaging in philosophy in any substantive way. Also, the life coach market itself is really small. I know a person or two who have tried this angle and failed.

For what it's worth, I also just checked some old links I had bookmarked for various philosophical counseling organizations, and for a few philosophical counselors, and most of them are now dead. Those links were only 2-3 years old, if that gives you any idea of economic viability of the idea. There are a few dozen philosophers who at one point or another launched philosophy-based consulting practices, but a lot of my bookmarks for those are dead too.

While here and there a particularly charismatic individual might be able to pull off a (temporally) successful clinical philosophical practice or consulting firm of some sort, the evidence suggests there's no real market for it.

sc member

I know Sheredos didn't ask for validation, but I'll offer some anyway:

He made the short-list for a job I was on a search committee for. Everyone was impressed with his application and we thought he was a great fit. I fought to get him an interview, but institutional pressures of various sorts prevented that. I wished we could have interviewed him, and not merely in the sense that we can't interview everyone we want to. I think we made a *mistake* not to have interviewed him. I know this is a small consolation. But it's all I have. He was, in my eyes, a professional success.

postdoc

I do suspect that we live in a relatively unreflective time. However, I'm not convinced that philosophical counseling couldn't take off, obviously as a luxury for those who have the time and money to pay for it (which also applies to psychology for a lot of people). No, I had never heard of philosophical counseling. However, philosophers, e.g. Wittgenstein, have characterized philosophy as the struggle to resolve confusions--the purpose of philosophy is to stop doing philosophy. So, I do think our discipline has the foundation for a clinical practice. I'm not sure if there is any market for it. And honestly I think you're probably right that there isn't.

However, perhaps there is if we knew who to market it to. Arguably, half the people getting PhDs in philosophy should instead be seeing a philosophical counselor and getting a degree in something more employable. I know that throughout my life I've struggled with all sorts of philosophical problems, and I think if I hadn't done a PhD, I would have loved to have someone to pay to talk to about them, especially if I could get it covered by health insurance one day! HAHAHAHA! What a world I'm dreaming up!

But just maybe a decent number of the people who today are seeing psychologists have problems that are really philosophical. In fact, this isn't that weird to say. What if I'm depressed for rational reasons; e.g. I've thought about life and reality and come to some pretty negative conclusions. Surely, it's at least possible to be unhappy for philosophical reasons--I mean maybe you've thought about it and come to the conclusion that 'every existent thing is born without reason, prolongs itself out of weakness, and dies by chance.' It would be kind of absurd to think that everyone who is unhappy is unhappy due to a psychological problem, given the absolutely agonizing philosophical quandary that life presents to us rational beings.

Anyway, psychology has become really popular, but I suspect that a lot of people who see psychologists don't really have psychological problems--they have philosophical problems. For example, problems coping with a world without clear meaning or purpose and with the inevitability of death. I think religion plays this philosophical role for a lot of people, but atheists, which are increasingly common (I'm an atheist) don't have that. So, I don't know, but it seems to me that philosophy could play a role in society for atheists similar to the role religion plays for theists. Lots of money in religion! So, if we could pull it off, there'd be tons of jobs for every PhD we could produce. I suspect a lot of people grapple with philosophical problems silently at the moment or try to talk about them with psychologists who can't really talk about philosophy or worse yet they're medicated for them.

Anyway, I'm probably just nuts! I should see a psychologist. :) haha!

An(other) anonymous philosopher

@sc member:
I daresay that the interview (or the job) would have been the relevant validation, not an anonymous comment on a blog. Perennial job-candidates are all very familiar with the form-letters that departments send out: "We're not hiring you, but it looks like your career [sic] is off to a very promising start!" (Those are the nice ones, anyway). This sounds similar.

And I daresay that if your entire search committee was impressed by a candidate but could not manage to interview them due to "institutional pressures", then your institution is officially part of the problem.

And so I daresay that your comments are likely no consolation at all.

The flipside of Sheredos' claims regarding failure is a feeling of *guilt* on the part of the profession --- something that I think Marcus' original post brought out well. Guilt for failing to support and find a place for early career [sic] people that arguably deserved it. In effect you suggest that your committee was not trusted to conduct the interviews without institutional oversight. Does this kind of thing actually happen, or is it one of the things lucky academics tell themselves to avoid a feeling of guilt?

I have seen it

An(other) anon. phil.
Sorry to say, this thing actually happens. Certainly at regional state colleges, some administrators are very heavy handed ... deans, and HR departments (who work through people higher up the system). I have seen long lists changed - people being told to add someone or take another look at their file. At some point, some people in the department begin to cave in.

Marcus Arvan

Postdoc: Just to underscore my point above about philosophers not needing special skills to succeed in industry, here's a short autobiographical note by a former philosophy major turned Microsoft executive posted at Daily Nous today:

After leaving Pacific in 1992, I moved to Seattle and joined a company I’d barely heard of called Microsoft. A humble starting point on the customer service ‘hotlines’ as a temp worker while I continued to look for a permanent position. “Thank you for calling Microsoft, this is Sean, how can I help you?” Sixteen years later I left Microsoft as an executive. It turned out this industry leading Software company didn’t just need coders, but it needed people who could think, problem solve and build consensus. It needed leaders and, fortunately for me, had a culture that deeply valued critical thinking and a discipline referred to inside the company as ‘precision questioning’—no doubt familiar territories for philosophy.

— Sean O’Driscoll, management consultant

http://dailynous.com/2019/05/13/varied-careers-philosophy-majors/

Amanda

Wow - sure has been a lot of discussion since i've been gone.

Some thoughts:

1. Of course there is a basic sense that if one had a goal of becoming a professional philosopher, or a philosopher on the TT, or whatever, and one doesn't achieve this goal - then they have failed. But we fail in this way all the time. I wanted to publish a paper in journal X, they rejected me, I failed. The problem is seeing this type of failure as, (1) a failure in respect to who you are as a person, (2) a failure as a philosopher.

2.I don't agree with all the claims that there is no way to be a philosopher outside of academia. If you look at some of the most famous and respected philosophers of history, they had day jobs. They weren't "professional" philosophers. To me, what it means to be a philosophers is to live a life in a certain type of way - challenging assumptions, thinking critically, caring about living a good life. You can do all these things in any career.

Most people probably don't have it in them to spend all their free time writing. But why don't they spend *some* of their free time writing and publishing? There are, by the way, a few people with alt-ac careers who publish in philosophy journals, and good ones. I strongly suspect the reason why this is so rare, is that even if you publish in an atl-ac career, the cult of professional philosophy doesn't take you seriously. They don't see you as a philosopher - and so you don't see yourself as one either. Or it seems pointless to play a game when no one wants you on their team. So I get it. But there isn't any reason why, in principle, (1) people in alt-ac careers couldn't do things like *occasionally* publish, and go to conferences, etc, (and with the teaching load of many professional philosophers, the occasional doing of these things is all they do, either)(2) why people in alt-ac careers couldn't live their life as a philosopher, regardless of not being a professional academic.

3. Marcus is right about how embarrassing it is that philosophers don't build a network of people in alt-ac jobs. So frustrating.

4. Philosophers don't need to do "philosophy" therapy in particular. It takes 2 years to get a certificate to be a therapist, and there is a *huge* demand. One can simply be a therapist and take a philosophical approach. Having a PhD will very likely help one get clients.

5. There is unquestionably far more talented philosophers than there is permanent, reasonably well-paying jobs. So if PhD programs are to continue to take in loads of students, there should be some sort of culture of encouraging alt-ac work.

6. I think anonymous philosopher is underestimating the number of long-term permanent academic philosophers who don't have TT jobs but are reasonably well-paid and happy. The majority of people who left my (reasonably well ranked) grad program are in this position, either adjuncts or lecturers. The situation for adjuncts is sadly very bad for many, but there are some places that pay well with good benefits.

7. I have a good job and make decent money - but still have awful issues with credit-card debt and student loans.

8. The following does not sound like a contradiction to me, but maybe it does to many: "Sean decided to skip the academic job market and took a job at Google, but he is still one of the most talented philosophers I know..."

9. I don't think living the good life, the life of the mind, etc. is any more comparatively difficult when in a "capitalistic" job as opposed to a job in academia, with a culture that cares about so many things just as worthless as money: prestige, publishing for the sake of publishing, in-groups, looking down on outsiders, etc. Oh, and plenty of philosophers make a pretty decent pay check thanks to the university, who makes money from charging absurd tuition, opening Burger kings, sells inflated-priced basketball tickets, etc.

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