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What I have done is default to explaining the interest of something which is much broader than just "my work" as I describe it to philosophers.

So, for a dissertation about the metaphysics of X, where a philosopher would be interested in how and why my account differs from the other accounts, I wouldn't mention any of that. I would just say that I write about X, which is exciting/important because [...].

Sebastian Lutz

I usually use examples to describe my work: For empirical significance, I talk about the worries that, say, psychoanalysis or statements about God's love might say nothing or are note testable. For conventions I give the example of the Fahrenheit and Celsius conventions on the one hand, electrons on the other, and ask where the dividing line between things like the Celsius scale and things like electrons is (and whether there is such a dividing line).


One suggestion is to just try to explain the problem you're working on, not your solution to it: https://drmaciver.substack.com/p/being-deep-in-an-abstraction-stack


A wacky technique is to use only examples they are interested in, which will work if the point is to have fun and engaging conversations. Like explaining metaphysics of relations through romantic relationships, structuralism through bitcoin and digital art, spacetime stuff through black holes, etc.

UK Postdoc

Kind of similar to what Vaughn says, I usually limit myself to explaining the central problems/arguments in my area, rather than my own contribution to it. At the point where it gets to my specific take, you'd already need to much background that you basically need to be a philosopher yourself. So I might say for instance that there are these two opposing takes on X, and explain the motivation for both in a schematic way; and then I'll gesture at the fact that I aim to provide a view that accommodates both intuitions, without the attending disadvantages. Usually, at that point the listener will already have absorbed enough background knowledge that they won't question further what exactly my own detailed view is.


In my experience non-philosophers often associate philosophy with the historical figures they've heard of (Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Hobbes...) and if you can connect an idea you're working on with a quick summary of how that idea features into the historical dialectic (especially in terms of myths/metaphors) people get interested! For example, people love Plato's allegory of the cave. You can start with that to segue into discussion of various epistemological/metaphysical issues.


I left academic philosophy nearly a decade ago, after finishing a dissertation on esoteric issues in meta-ethics, and adopted the approach the first anon describes in my non-academic job interviews: take a few steps back, and just sketch the big-picture philosophical question that animates the debate. This has gone over a lot better than the few attempts I undertook to explain what my dissertation was about. Occasionally, you run into to someone who wants to know something more specific, but you find that out quickly enough after giving your “intro to philosophy”-level answer. (One job interview I did was with a judge who, it turned out, had written an honors thesis under Rawls; we talked philosophy for a good bit, but still did not land the job).


This is exactly what I also struggle with. I try to avoid topics that spark philosophical discourses but it doesn't work all the time. Because people love a good philosophy talk. I now just recommend my blog HTTP://fouaad.com.

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