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Just to commiserate with the OP.
When I was in graduate school, if a thought experiment came to my head, I could ask people what they thought. If I had a clever argument, there was someone I could share it with. I could even get validation from pretty important people, telling me it was a clever argument. I could get feedback and criticism almost instantly or the next day. I had a social life (and an SO) made of people I just did philosophy with all the time. If I read a paper, I could explain it to someone and has out ideas about it quicly and see how it could contribute to my own project.
My point is that there was a community and people who I shared philosophy with. Now, I have a TT job. Even before the pandemic the two philosophers in my dept are far more concerned with the Faculty Senate Committee and school governenace than philosophy and my SO is not a philosopher. There is no communal way to be a philosopher and I find that incredibly frustrating. It is hard to motivate myself to care about a philosophy paper or argument or thought experiment by myself. I can't imagine how hard it is to be a philosopher without a partner or a community with which one shares their intellectual life.
I have never cared much for any particular philosophical problem, but I loved the intellectual life where they mattered to us all. Philosophy IS a game. But like many games, it is who you play it with that matters more than the rules themselves.
I wish I could help.
One think I learned from the pandemic is that a virtual community is no substitute for daily face to face interaction. And since I am really shy, I am not going to offer to be part of a virtual community, but perhaps others will.
I'd bet (presumptuously, though I know you not) that therapy will tell you what you already know, that you need people to share with, perhaps philosophy, perhaps whatever else you enjoy, and you need people to force, motivate, or encourage you to actually do what you like.


Just FWIW, many times a big problem like TT blues can be amplified greatly (and partly caused) by seemingly unrelated things.

For example, if you have 10 projects underway and are very active on social media, it's easy to not know how to proceed and, well, to proceed.

Finding a simpler, clearer plan alleviates much stress. It probably won't eliminate TT blues, but it might help at least a bit, giving one a richer sense of the pleasure of pursuing manageable research projects.


I think referring to the OP's query as 'the TT blues' greatly trivializes their actual predicament. the nature of the OP's predicament is not occupational, but rather familial, social and even spiritual. It is a real shame when someone learns the hard way that career isn't more important than family/community. It's a very sad position to be in, whether of a person's own choosing or for reasons out of their control- the latter here seems to be more the issue with the current question. There simply is no easy solution to this problem.

Marcus Arvan

Tom: It certainly wasn't my intention to trivialize the OP's predicament, but in fairness, I think we also need to recognize that the true nature of a predicament like this isn't always clear. Moreover, the author did ask for advice on how to "move on from this and care about philosophy again". So, although I could be wrong, it seems to me what the OP was looking for here is an outside perspective on what their predicament is and how to grapple with it.

This is where I was coming from when referring to this as a case of 'tenure-track blues.' As the links I gave in the OP indicate, the OP is *far* from alone from having experiences in this general vicinity. Many academics seem to run into similar familial, social, and spiritual crises. Indeed, as I tried to allude to, I'm one of them! Much of what the OP says resonates with me. There have been *many* times during my own path in this field where I've felt lost and alone, as though what I/we do is just a game with little meaning, and so on. These are, it seems to me, natural and difficult questions that human beings of all sorts (not just academics) grapple with in our lives.

Now, the issues that the OP is facing *could* be something "deeper than the mere blues"--something that cannot be overcome. But this, it seems to me from the OP's presentation of their query, is not what the OP is looking for. They want to know whether the blues (or whatever you want to call them) that they are facing can be overcome. And fortunately, though I may be wrong, my sense here is that it may be possible. Maybe, as I suggested in my reply, the OP might benefit from changing their perspective on things (i.e. on how they approach research or work-life balance). Or maybe, as their final sentences indicate, they just need love. That, I think, is not to be discounted either. So, if that's really what's at the heart of their predicament, maybe the best path forward is something different: prioritizing a healthy dating life while they work toward tenure. I don't know. What I do know, both in my own case and from speaking to friends, is that all too many of us have gone through similar-sounding things. I empathize with the OP because, again, their story sounds in many ways familiar to me. My response, then--for what it is worth--wasn't to trivialize their situation but rather to provide the kind of help they claimed to be seeking. But perhaps my way of framing the issue could have been better.


I did not mean to trivialize it either, as my post explicitly indicates:

". . . many times a big problem like TT blues . . ."




To address the philosophy part of the question only:

It seems like their are four obvious remedies to worrying that philosophy, or at least the area you work in, is just a game:

1. Change your focus: if you feel like metaphysics is just a game, go work on ethics. If you feel like ethics is just a game, go work on logic.

2. Change the literature: if you feel like your area of specialization is just a game, refuse to play it. Focus instead on just doing good work. Don't worry so much about getting published and worry about actually getting closer to the truth.

3. Be more critical about your view: I hear this sentiment, that philosophy is just a game, expressed a lot, but I don't see much evidence for it. It seems to me that lots of good work is being done in philosophy at the moment, even if there is so much work being done that it can be hard to find the gems. Read Daniel Stoljar's recent book on philosophical progress.

4. Be more charitable: Perhaps lots of philosophical work is just game playing. But it seems most likely, to me, that it is because people face such high pressure to publish and get jobs, not because they don't care about philosophy. Try to be charitable and assume that what you are reading is trying to make a difference, even if that is sometimes compromised for other necessities like getting on the tenure track.

5. Surround yourself with positive, serious philosophers: perhaps you feel that philosophy is just a game because you are talking to the wrong people. You might not be able to interact in person with different people, but you zoom or email or write a good old fashioned letter. Try to reach out to people whose work you respect and ask them to discuss ideas. Since you're on the tenure track I'm sure you've got enough of a name to get people to respond. Ignore the people you don't like and work with people you do.

It can get better

I just got tenure, immediately after moving to a new job, and completely seriously, my project is now my life. I've been in therapy for about 6 months working on figuring out how to be motivated less by external fear of not being good enough, and more by the joy of thinking about problems I actually care about. I'm actively working to cultivate friendships with non-philosophers (although my department is wonderful and collegial and accomplished and relatively large, so no shade on them at all!) and to take time to do other things that make me happy and are not at all philosophy-related - gardening, bike riding, reading fiction, trying my hand at writing some fiction and some creative non-fiction. I'm spending more time being with and appreciating my partner and toddler. And somehow in the background a new philosophy project has come together that I actually think matters deeply for problems in the world and problems I personally grapple with, and that I' m really, really excited to work on.

Basically, all of this is to say - I don't know where OP is on the tenure track, but if you can bring yourself to play the game a little bit longer, then maybe tenure can be an opportunity to set your own standards and live a fuller life outside of work. That is, it can be a means, not an end. (And 100% in the meantime I agree with Marcus - prioritizing dating and making friends alongside work seems like a great idea!) I wish you so much luck working through this.


I've been through some similar experiences. I'm still on the tenure track, after having been in non-TT positions for a while. During that time I had two kids and battled late-stage cancer—a battle that has left me physically and psychologically injured, to say the least. Ironically, the tumult in my life made philosophy a refuge. In addition to offering a kind of escape from the trauma of life, one thing that kept me from falling out of love with philosophy was collaborative work. While it can be very difficult to motivate yourself to do solo work, especially when there are few philosophers in your social circle, writing and thinking with a colleague, and better yet, a friend, even long-distance (as mine have been) makes the activity much more enjoyable—like playing in a band. I'd encourage you to explore collaborative opportunities if you can.


Congratulations! You are an example of the triumph of the human spirit. I hate to think of the great suffering you and your family must have endured. But it is truly inspirational to hear about your strong positive feelings.

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