Friday, January 25, 2013

The Job Market Bums Me Out

... in a big way, and not just because of the way that it always kicks my ass. It's bad for the discipline. It's bad for philosophy.

I've been here for a few years now, and in that time I've seen a lot of undergraduate students come through our major program. I've had the opportunity to watch a number of them over their entire undergraduate careers: I see them in their first, introductory-level philosophy classes, and then their second or third, then in upper-division classes that are required for the major, and in department functions and extracurricular activities. I get to know them and their work. I see their ideas get more sophisticated. I see them develop an enthusiasm--a "passion," I guess, even though it sounds corny--for philosophy. Finally, they graduate, and sometimes they ask me to serve as an employment reference or write them a letter of recommendation for law school or something. Usually they let me know where they end up going, and sometimes we keep in touch after that. It's a nice thing to see, and it's one of my favorite parts of this job.

A lot of them are really sharp, clever people who really love philosophy. They tend to be good readers and writers. They tend to be clear-thinkers who have been well-served by the philosophical education they got here. Some of them would, at least potentially, make good philosophers. It's hard to say, obviously, how they'd handle grad school, or whether they'd finish the dissertation, or how they'd fare at writing for a professional audience rather than their professors. I can't see the future. But I've had at least two students whose grad-school recommendation letters would basically write themselves, and maybe two or three more who I could see being highly successful in the program I come from. I don't know if that's a "good number" or whatever; I'm really just thinking about the particular people, not the numbers. But it's about one a year, give or take.

But none of these students, however enthusiastic, have indicated to me a substantial interest in a philosophical career, and I don't try to talk them into it. Once in a while someone will express a casual, not intense, interest, and I give the same "don't do it if you can think of anything else" speech my undergraduate professors gave me, and it's always dissuasive. If we've sent anybody to philosophy grad school in the time I've been here, I didn't hear about it. They all go into other fields, which I can't imagine are remotely as interesting as philosophy.

The thing that bums me out is, I want to feel like that's a mistake. I want to feel like they've cheated themselves. I want to feel like they've blown the chance to pursue an incredibly interesting, and fulfilling, and fucking amazingly fun way to make a living, in exchange for a career that has no chance of being close to as good or rewarding or whatever. But that's not how I feel. I feel like not going into philosophy probably wasn't a bad idea. I feel like they're probably better off where they are.

This does not reflect how I feel about my own choices. I love my job and I can't believe I'm able to make a living this way. It's incredible to me that I can spend the day doing the things my job consists of and call it a solid day's work. I almost feel like I'm getting away with something.

But I don't feel like I can recommend this career to my students, even if I think they'd be good at it; even if I think they'd be deserving of success; even if I think that, if they found success, they'd be happier with this career than the thing I wrote them a recommendation for. I wish I could encourage them to continue their studies--to try to make a life out of doing philosophy. Like I did. And philosophy is missing out on their contributions. I wish that the prospects for a career in this discipline were such that I could recommend it in good conscience to my students. But they're not, and I can't. And that bums me out.

--Mr. Zero


50 comments:

Anonymous said...

I have had this feeling as well.

For me, when I feel this way, though, it's a reminder that philosophy is not a discipline that is growing rapidly or even respected in the modern university system the way other fields are like the sciences.

From a professional point of view, I very much wish I could feel like I was a part of a discipline that was growing rapidly, respected, and well financed in the modern university system the way that fields in the sciences are.

Unfortunately, though, I do not feel like I can look at the field of philosophy and feel that way and that bothers me - a lot. I do not like feeling like I am a part of a field that is not valued or respected in the modern university system. For me at least, there is at least some connection between how I feel about myself as a person and the way I feel about how the discipline from which I make a living is perceived by the world around me, and when I feel like the discipline I am a part of is not respected or valued by the world around me, it makes me feel bad about msyelf.

Anonymous said...

I hear you Zero. I have the same conversations with students and am hesitant to recommend a career in philosophy. Still, I often advise them not to think of graduate school as a career path, but as a chance to experience the opportunities and pleasures you've listed. Whether they will or should pursue a career in philosophy at the end is a different question. In the last few years I've had two students go to MA programs in philosophy, neither of whom desired a career in our field. One finished the MA and went to a very good law school. Another is about to finish and has been admitted to dental school. Both took two years away from their chosen career path to study philosophy to enrich their lives. What better reason is there?

Anonymous said...

"They all go into other fields, which I can't imagine are remotely as interesting as philosophy."

Isn't this part of the problem that was identified in the Plan B discussion? Part of the problem, as I see it, is that too few philosophers have the imagination needed to guide students into interesting and fulfilling careers - careers that can employ the knowledge and skills learned as a Philosophy student - that are not somehow associated with academic positions. That you can't imagine it tells me more about your lack of imagination than it does about anything else.

"I want to feel like they've blown the chance to pursue an incredibly interesting, and fulfilling, and fucking amazingly fun way to make a living."

It's great that you feel this way. But of course, there are many, many other ways to make a living that is interesting, fun, fulfilling, etc. Philosophy faculty could do a world of good by accepting this, and helping students find those alternate routes.

One of the biggest issues faced by Philosophy grads searching for a Plan B is the notion that anything less than "professional Philosophy" is a step down, a disappointment, a refusal to live up to one's potential. I do see hints of that here, and that's too bad.

Anonymous said...

"or even respected in the modern university system the way other fields are"

And have you given any thought as to why this might be? I mean, serious thought? Far too many philosophers spend their careers badmouthing anything that isn't academic philosophy, and then we wonder why it's neither popular nor respected?

Philosophy is the hipster standing in the corner, convinced of his own coolness, snarkily commenting on the flaws of others...and then goes home wondering why it has no friends.

Anonymous said...

I hate the advice that some people (apparently including Zero) give to undergraduates: "Don't go to philosophy graduate school unless you cannot imagine doing anything else with your life than studying philosophy." Isn't that the advice? Not only do I hate that advice to students, I hate that kind of comment from professional philosophers ("I went into philosophy because it was the only thing I could imagine doing with my life.")

This kind of talk makes philosophy into a cult, not a profession. The people who go into philosophy with these thoughts in their minds cannot imagine that the world outside the ivory tower is worth very much. Yet philosophers make their living commenting on and critiquing the non-philosophical world (science, government, business, literature, etc.). There's something wrong with a bunch of people critiquing things that they couldn't imagine taking seriously on their own level.

Here's the advice that we should be giving to undergraduates: "Don't go to philosophy graduate school unless you can imagine yourself being very happy with that decision even if you do not secure academic employment afterwards." In other words, go to philosophy grad school if you can imagine yourself becoming a happy business person (with a PhD in philosophy) or a happy lawyer (with a PhD in philosophy) or a happy anything-other-than-a-TT-professor (with a PhD in philosophy).

We'd have a lot less grumbling from PhDs in philosophy, and a much richer "Plan B" thread, if this had been the advice that we had all received...

Anonymous said...

These are good points, Zero. I have been thinking the same thing, however, about promising graduate students or young philosophers who try for several years to secure TT jobs and then decide to call it a day and pursue some of the plans B. What will the field look like, if things continue as they are, in ten or fifteen years if promising, but perhaps not superstar-right-out-of-graduate-school, philosophers go and do other things? I worry that the discipline is soon going to start hemorrhaging solid philosophers, in which case the only ones left will be the superstars writing on obscure topics and artifacts of the pre-2008 era. This result will be compounded if those of us who counsel undergraduates begin to dissuade them from going to graduate school because of the job market (which is the correct thing to do right now, I think). True, the market will probably eventually correct itself, but how many talented scholars will have left the field and how many students with great potential to become talented scholars will have decided to pursue education in other disciplines?

Anonymous said...

"Far too many philosophers spend their careers badmouthing anything that isn't academic philosophy . . . "

I've met a lot of academic philosophers, in many different areas of philosophy, and this doesn't describe any of them.

Anonymous said...

The advice to go to graduate school in any non-science field "only if you can't imagine doing anything else" would not have worked with me. I really couldn't imagine doing anything else. My profs were more encouraging than that, actually - they said, "Well, it's tough out there, but if you get into a top program with full funding, you'll be fine." I did both. I still never got a TT job. It's good that your students are dissuaded, Zero. The first time I ever heard the even blunter "just don't go to graduate school, period" stuff was when I was already a grad student. But I ignored this, for the most part, since all of the people who were saying it were people who themselves had academic jobs. I just figured that these naysayers thought they deserved nicer jobs than the ones they actually had. Yes, a lot of talented people are being lost, but better now than years down the road, as the depressing Plan B thread indicates.

Anonymous said...

"I've met a lot of academic philosophers, in many different areas of philosophy, and this doesn't describe any of them."

In general, it doesn't describe many of them. Until one of their grad students wonders aloud about a non-academic job.

"You're excellent at Philosophy and would be a gift to any university's Philosophy department, but I think you would be best suited to a non-academic job," said no advisor ever.

Anonymous said...

You should feel bad when your intro students end up doing the philosophy major. A vast majority of it they could learn on their own or get for free elsewhere, without having to pay hundreds if not thousands of dollars per credit, esp. when they could be paying for other valuable courses such as bioinformatics and synthetic biology (which are, incidentally, far more interesting and will almost certainly benefit the world more than any ethics classes we have ever taught will--a course which, again, they could have done for free).

Anonymous said...

Um, WTF, 7:02?

Anonymous said...

Although 7:02 may be correct, I'd like to offer an anecdote.

A couple of years ago, I taught an intro class and had a student who was already very interested in philosophy when he came in. He had already read lots of stuff and was naturally talented. At the end of the semester when he came to pick up his final exam, he told me how much he loved philosophy and that he had been interested in it before taking the class (of course, I knew this just by interacting with him in class). He also remarked that reading this stuff and thinking about it on one's own just isn't the same as having a professor guide students through the ideas, pointing out difficulties and interesting details. I immediately know what he was talking about because I felt the same way as an undergrad. So I'm not sure how easy it is to educate oneself in philosophy on one's own.

Anonymous said...

How about this? Every philosophy professor over 55 should retire now. Hopefully this would give most of the talented but currently unemployed philosophers a job. Perhaps then advising a talented student to do a phd in philosophy would be not so bad. But wait, after about 7 years when the new students get their phd's it's now the turn of those who are just over 55 to retire to make room for the new phd's and so on and on and on...

Perhaps the simple fact is that compared to other careers, even those in the sciences, an academic career in philosophy is just so good that too many people want it. What does a philosopher do? Read, teach, and write and be your own boss most of the time as you do it. Don't have to worry about labwork, grants, not even publications. Isn't it true that there are many philosophers who have not published in years and got to keep their jobs? Hell, they still keep their jobs even if the newest stuff they teach is Hempel or Herbert Simon! Is there anything better for someone interested in philosophy? Of course, not! Perhaps we should take turns living this wonderful life...

I've been adjuncting for almost two years, this field has not been nice to me, but I still love it so much. However, we the people who love philosophy and want to make a living doing it are just a tiny minority in society and the rest of the society just does not value philosophy that much, one of the reasons why there aren't enough jobs. This is of course just one of the reasons for the sorry state of the job market and consequentially our field. The economy, the attitudes of university administrations, the bureacracy, obtuse SC's etc. are all reasons for this horrible mess...

As I see it, there just is not going to be a solution to the job market problem. Whatever remedy one may suggest, it will only be partial even if it may be on the right track. Having admitted that there's no way the market will improve, advising any student to study philosophy in grad school, or even to major it, would be a great disservice to them if not outright ill-will!

Anonymous said...

To 6:03 a.m. 55 will come faster than you think. I am 43, and have had my TT job for 8 years. So, in 12 years you will want me to retire? I won't even have my house paid off.

The problem isn't old philosophers; the problem is philosophers who are old aren't expanding the job pools for philosophy. If the undergraduate major isn't something that people understand is good and useful, then there won't be a need for philosophers at the university other than teaching a few GenEd classes, and you don't need a lot of them to do that.

Administrators who are dealing with money issues and are addicted to adjuncts are the problem.

Anonymous said...

Look people, it's a long way to the top if you wanna Rock N' Roll!

Same for philosophy!

Enjoy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b9iOk8PqkKs

Anonymous said...

I assume 6:03 is joking about philosophers being forced to retire when they turn 55. (Perhaps my sarcasm-meter needs tuning.) Would everyone here really be writing endless blog postings about their difficulties entering the profession if it was a profession that forcibly kicked people out at the age of 55 - an age at which most academics are hardly in a position to retire? (Bear in mind that most academics don't even begin to make a living wage until well into their 30s or beyond, and retiring is very expensive.)

I am tenured at a highly ranked department, and I have to admit that I feel absolutely no moral obligation at all to retire early in order to address a supply/demand imbalance in the profession. In addition, I have always felt that there is something slightly disingenuous in the arguments I hear every now and again that I should think otherwise.

Anonymous said...

Everyone competing with me for jobs should commit suicide. That would really help to solve the current job crisis. The fact that all of you asses are still alive shows that you just don't care about solving this problem.

Anonymous said...

6:03 here. Of course, I was joking! I thought that was obvious... I'm 36 myself and still don't have a job, do you think I want to work only for 19 years? For 8:08: LOL! You're joking, too, right? Or, are you?

Anywho, part of what I wanted to express was that for people like us there is nothing as good as a tenure track job in philosophy. It is only natural that so many people want this life... It is also true that the problem is not going to go away anytime soon or even in the next decade or so. How can anyone in this climate advise a young student to go into philosophy with a straight face? Unless, of course, they wish them ill...

Because of all this, it is true that our field is losing a lot of promise. Hell, much more sadly it is losing people with talent and a damn phd, let alone gifted young students!.. Honestly, I don't understand how it is that some can be concerned for gifted young students who may go into philosophy but don't because of the job market while there are fine and established young philosophers with phd's and publications who have to consider going into law or who the hell knows what else! Do you not feel any sympathy for those people? What about them? What about the damn field which is losing proven young philosophers? Which is worse?

Anonymous said...

As I see it, there just is not going to be a solution to the job market problem.
.

we need to stop calling it a problem. the reality is that the current market represents roughly how many philosophers are needed, given the existing demand. There are too many people wanting these jobs, but that doesn't do anything to increase the number of positions.

The golden age is over. Sure, in some utopian world there would be an ever increasing need for philosophers, and every PhD would get a job. But that's not this world. We need to accept that we drew the short straw by entering grad school when we did. This is the new normal.

Anonymous said...

What if we tell interested students that getting a job in philosophy is kind of like going pro in one's preferred sport. The chances of success are very slim. But that shouldn't dissuade anyone from playing in college (which would be analogous, I guess, to grad school) and trying one's luck. But like a smart athelete, one should also develop a more realistic "Plan B" given the likelihood that one doesn't reach the "majors". It might not be a perfect analogy, but it gives us a way to encourage talented students while still acknolwedging the realities of the job market.

P.S. I'm currently in a non-TT contract position, so I don't mean the analogy to be self-aggrandizing. Perhaps this is akin to the minors, or arena football or something.

Anonymous said...

10:42,

Once upon a time, the NCAA ran ads that noted that 99% of all scholarship athletes will go professional in something other than athletics. (Of course, part of this has to do with some sports lacking a professional league, at least in the US.)

And I like your analogy because it makes a point I've tried to make on earlier posts, which I will state here pretty damn strongly: the single most important thing that Philosophy, as a field, can do right now is to actively develop non-academic career paths. The longer the field waits on this, the smaller the field will become. Eventually, universities will - not might, but will - cut Philosophy programs. Anyone in the field not helping to solve this problem, is part of this problem.

Anonymous said...

The "only do it if you wouldn't be happy doing anything else" advice bothers me. I am glad that I went into philosophy, but I would not have done so if I had heard (and heeded) that advice. I also suspect that this advice would turn away women more often than it would turn away men.

It seems to me that students should be given as much information about the risks as possible, without any sugar-coating. They should also be given a candid assessment of how we perceive their abilities and why our assessment might be under-informed or inaccurate. But we should trust them to make their own life decisions.

Anonymous said...

"What if we tell interested students that getting a job in philosophy is kind of like going pro in one's preferred sport. The chances of success are very slim."

I think this is the best analogy. Unfortunately, when we compare the two endeavors, we see how foolhardy we are. In order to get a TT job, one must get a BA (four years), usually an MA (2 years), sometimes a second MA (2 years), and a PhD (average: 5-8 years). 9 years preparation minimum, as many as 12 years, plus A LOT of work, for jobs that pay ... $60,000 a year to start at best! Sure, that's nothing to sneeze at, but as a result of 9 years? And with chances at somewhere around 1 out of 5? At least in sports, the payoff is big--salaries in the majors are much higher than professor wages. I personally can't think of any other field in which (a) the minimum qualifications are so robust, (b) the chances of success so slim, (c) and the reward of success so disproportionately small compared to (a) and (b). This is what we should be stressing to students--that even if we are happy if/when we get to the goal, the path to it hardly seems worth it. I'm sure someone will take this as just whinging, but it's more than that. We need to be honest in this way with undergrads.

pangloss said...

we need to stop calling it a problem. the reality is that the current market represents roughly how many philosophers are needed, given the existing demand.

Exactly.
If the market creates a certain situation, then by definition the situation is not a 'problem'. The market is perfect, Candide.

Anonymous said...

12:50: The 'only do it if you wouldn't be happy doing anything else' advice bothers me...I also suspect that this advice would turn away women more often than it would turn away men."

Why women more than men? I don't see what the advice has to do with gender at all. Please explain.

Anonymous said...

@1:00

"I personally can't think of any other field in which (a) the minimum qualifications are so robust, (b) the chances of success so slim, (c) and the reward of success so disproportionately small compared to (a) and (b)."

I often tell students it's like pursuing a career in acting. Not only do the vast majority fail, but the vast majority of "successful" working actors eek by on low-prestige, low-pay work like commercials and bit parts. (This is true of the entertainment industry and arts in general--music too--where a tiny percentage reap huge rewards, but the majority barely make a living.)

OP:
"an incredibly interesting, and fulfilling, and fucking amazingly fun way to make a living, in exchange for a career that has no chance of being close to as good or rewarding or whatever."

While I understand some of us feel this way about philosophy, I think it's a bit misleading as a way to view students, whose interest in philosophy may fall anywhere on a spectrum from head-over-heels enthusiasm-everything-else-sucks to prefer-it-to-alternatives to like-it-but-too-poor-in-imagination-to-think-of-better-alternatives.

I think most students I dissuade from grad school--even the most enthusiastic and talented--fall into the latter category. They will likely find careers just as fulfilling, probably more so.

Frankly, I'd rather the world have a few more philosophy-studying comedians (Woody Allen, Steve Allen, Steven Martin, Ricky Gervais), filmmakers/artists (Terrence Malick, Ethan Coen, Wes Anderson, Haneke, Philip Glass), journalists (Rachel Maddow), writers (Sontag, Solzhenitsin, Murdoch, Eco, David Foster Wallace, Eli Wiesel, Philip K Dick), politicians and activists (Havel, MLK Jr, Pierre Trudeau, Jefferson, Al Gore), or all-around awesome bad-asses (Bruce Lee), than another academic in the world. There are so many better things to do with a philosophical mind and education--namely, *anything* done thoughtfully, intelligently, and creatively.

We need these people more than philosophers, and I guarantee you their jobs are more "fucking amazingly fun" than glorified Intro to Philosophy exam-grader for life.

Anonymous said...

"The 'only do it if you wouldn't be happy doing anything else' advice bothers me...I also suspect that this advice would turn away women more often than it would turn away men."

-I suspect more women would be given this advice than men.

Anonymous said...

I guess I just don't share Zero's bummed out feeling about majors going off to do other things after getting a B.A. First, perhaps many of them don't want to teach at all (whether 2/2 or 4/4 loads, etc.). Or perhaps they don't want or like to write.

Furthermore, it's not like they have to stop doing philosophy. Maybe they don't keep up with high-tech academic lit, but perhaps they continue reading, discussing, etc., the classics or various new books that come out.

Finally, I want philosophers (broadly construed) out there in the non-academic world. I don't have time to teach my four classes per semester AND govern the Republic...

Anonymous said...

12:16PM wrote:
"One of the biggest issues faced by Philosophy grads searching for a Plan B is the notion that anything less than "professional Philosophy" is a step down, a disappointment, a refusal to live up to one's potential. I do see hints of that here, and that's too bad."

As a current grad student, this hits very close to home. Despite having conversations with my mentors from undergrad to the contrary, I still feel this way and I cannot seem to shake it. I feel as though, despite how rational pursuing an alternate career path would be, I would be giving up/stepping down/settling/failing/trading the opportunity of the Good life for the opportunity of a steady paycheck, etc.

I wonder if other Smokers would weigh in: do you think these feelings stem from the nature of academic philosophy (i.e. the attitudes of our professors, peers, colleagues, etc.) or by subjective narratives we tell ourselves?

Anonymous said...

One reason that the 'only do it if you can't imagine doing anything else' advice is so absolutely terrible is that your average high performing student has spent decades doing well in education - and being praised for it - and had no other relevant experience to put them in a position to be able to imagine doing anything else.

Anonymous said...

"The 'only do it if you wouldn't be happy doing anything else' advice bothers me...I also suspect that this advice would turn away women more often than it would turn away men."

This line is offensive, suggesting women are less likely to be exclusively and hopelessly into philosophy than men. That's just the sort of stereotype that already hurts women in the profession. Or am I misreading??

Anonymous said...

I expect it's probably more effective against women than men because they already face so many other overt and implicit dissuading factors. Cherry on the (shit-) sundae.

BunnyHugger said...

I think I may have sleep-written the 1/25 12:04 PM comment. At least, it sounds like what goes through my head a lot.

Anonymous said...

Amen, 10:24.

Also, not for nothing, but Philosophy needs to do a damn better job of becoming an integral part of every university's gen-ed program. The smartest thing Literature departments did was convince university administrations of the following:
1) Every student needs at least one writing class, and
2) Literature departments are the best equipped to teach those classes.
Every student in my university takes at least one English class, as a gen-ed requirement. Most take more than one, in part because the faculty recruit for other classes in those writing classes.

It's no accident that English departments are massive compared to (most) Philosophy departments, and that their position in the gen-ed programs are pretty secure. PhD-granting institutions fund an army of grad students to teach these courses, which also couldn't hurt. And graduates of English programs tend to have lots of Plan B options in the work force, selling their skills as writers.

Philosophy programs could learn a lesson here.

Anonymous said...

"This line is offensive, suggesting women are less likely to be exclusively and hopelessly into philosophy than men."

Though not a woman, and so lacking in authority here, I'll say anyway that I'm not sure I would be offended is someone suggested that I am less likely to be 'exclusively' and 'hopelessly' into something. And even if ...

"That's just the sort of stereotype that already hurts women in the profession."

That fact itself might reflect one or both of two problems with the profession; that it undervalues people it (mistakenly) takes to be insufficiently exclusively/hopelessly obsessed with philosophy; *or* that it overvalues exclusive/hopeless obsession. If the second problem is the main one, then the suggestion in question seems more complimentary than offensive.

Anonymous said...

"This line is offensive, suggesting women are less likely to be exclusively and hopelessly into philosophy than men"


Only a naive belief in a "blank slate" view of the mind would be *offended* by the mere possibility of there being sex-based differences in motivation. Biologists have found sex based differences in motivation (e.g. in aggression, sexual courtship, etc) in almost every other animal species ever studied. It would be a downright miracle if there were no sex-based differences in humans. To be offended by something that may just be a fact of biology is absurd. Now, Im not saying there is conclusive evidence that human males are *in fact* more motivated to be obsessive compulsive about creative/intellectual pursuits (though there is some tentative evidence), but surely this is an empirical question to be debated calmly without worrying about "offending" someone. In fact, many evolutionary theorists have hypothesized sex-based differences for humans in the overall within-sex variance of obsessive motivation i.e. "fatter tails" in the distribution of extreme motivational deviance.

In his debate with Spelke in Edge, Pinker writes:

"In a famous long-term study of mathematically precocious youth, 1,975 youngsters were selected in 7th grade for being in the top 1% of ability in mathematics, and then followed up for more than two decades. These men and women are certainly equally talented. And if anyone has ever been encouraged in math and science, these kids were. Both genders: they are equal in their levels of achievement, and they report being equally satisfied with the course of their lives. Nonetheless there are statistical differences in what they say is important to them. There are some things in life that the females rated higher than males, such as the ability to have a part-time career for a limited time in one's life; living close to parents and relatives; having a meaningful spiritual life; and having strong friendships. And there are some things in life that the males rated higher than the females. They include having lots of money; inventing or creating something; having a full-time career; and being successful in one's line of work. It's worth noting that studies of highly successful people find that single-mindedness and competitiveness are recurring traits in geniuses (of both sexes." http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/debate05/debate05_index.html


Notice that last part? This research doesn't imply that no females are ever as obsessive as the most obsessive males, it just means that on average, a randomly selected female will be less likely to obsessively devote themselves to a narrow domain of interest to the neglect of everything else.

Again, Im not saying there is conclusive evidence for this hypothesis. But this is an empirical matter, not a matter of political correctness. "Being offended" isn't going to magically change the contingent course of evolutionary history and erase millions of years of sexual dimorphism.

Anonymous said...

"This line is offensive, suggesting women are less likely to be exclusively and hopelessly into philosophy than men. That's just the sort of stereotype that already hurts women in the profession."

It seems like a concern with stereotype threat is itself becoming a stereotype threat. It's getting to the point where we cannot have an intelligent conversation without having to worry about "offending" someone's delicate sensibilities.

Anonymous said...

"Again, Im not saying there is conclusive evidence for this hypothesis. But this is an empirical matter, not a matter of political correctness. "Being offended" isn't going to magically change the contingent course of evolutionary history and erase millions of years of sexual dimorphism."

I'm not sure the study you offered, at least, is *any* evidence for the hypothesis that there are more male geniuses because of biologically driven sexual dimorphism. It may be true that "a randomly selected female will be less likely to obsessively devote themselves to a narrow domain of interest to the neglect of everything else"; but only because the selection is from a target population that is socially situated in a certain way; e.g., so as to be expected to "have a part-time career for a limited time in one's life".

Anonymous said...

This doesn't show that such differences are a result of biology, rather than culture. But, point taken: there is empirical evidence to suggest men and women differ psychologically in many ways.
Nothing in that Pinker quote, however, is evidence that these differences result from evolutionary biology.

Similarly, you'll find lots of cross cultural differences in psychology. But once again, this, by itself, doesn't show that such differences are a result of evolution.

Anonymous said...

Anon 6:39 AM here. Im probably just opening a huge can of worms here, but oh well, here we go!

First of all, the quote from Pinker was not supposed to be a representative example of the type of evidence used to support the hypothesis that there are sex-based differences in motivation for humans. It would probably require several book-length projects to engage with all the relevant evidence, not a single out-of-context paragraph. The quote from Pinker was merely supposed to show that there are legitimate psychologists out there who are making such hypotheses about sex differences in motivation, thus bringing the question into the realm of reasoned empirical debate. The point then is that once a question becomes a scientific one, it doesn't matter if the conclusion might offend people who get offended by the mere suggestion that male and female have psychological/motivational differences. Even if such a fact could be established, it of course tells us nothing about how we *ought* to act in response to these facts (maybe knowing such facts would actually encourage policy actions to counter such biological differences. But if a scientist is unwilling to put forward a plausible testable hypothesis merely because it's "offensive" to some, then this spells trouble for our epistemic integrity.

Furthermore, I want to resist the suggestion that by showing these sex-based differences to be products of culture one has thereby shown it is not a product of evolution. Natural selection works at multiple levels, and "culture" is plausibly one of them. Take for example, Western rock stars getting a lot groupies. On the face of it, this looks like a phenomenon that can only be analyzed as a product of culture. But if we look at how "rock star pottery makers" or "rock star bow-and-arrow makers" in other cultures are also getting the ladies, then we can begin to see cultural phenomenon like artifact construction as potential domains over which both natural and sexual selection works.

Thus, we could see culture as a product of sexual selection. It just so happens that what humans value in partners is vague notions like intelligence and creativity, and it's harder to find direct honest signals of these capacities (unlike bright plumage on a male bird). But humans might instead use indirect "proxies" of intelligence like artistic creativity or linguistic eloquence.

Im actually just elaborating on the theory of George Miller, who has argued that sexual aysymmetries in artistic/intellectual creativity are driven by sexual selection. I don't necessarily agree with the theory, but it's definitely one of the possible "menu options" in the theoretical space.

"This doesn't show that such differences are a result of biology, rather than culture"

I hope to have shown that it's possible for culture itself to be a product of biology. Think of the "culture" of language users. Clearly there is a sense in which linguistic phenomena are "cultural" in that the transfer and modification of cultural information happens within lifetimes and not just within the germ line. But it would be absurd to say that biology has "nothing to do" with language at all given that natural selection shaped our brains in such a way as to be receptive/interested in language, as well as having the relevant learning capacity/grammars, etc.

"But once again, this, by itself, doesn't show that such differences are a result of evolution"

No, but it could be that the very capacities of plasticity-for-culture are themselves products of evolution. So if a young adolescent male "all-of-a-sudden" desires to be a rock star, this doesn't mean that there are no deeper motivations at work such as the motivation to distinguish oneself and impress girls.

Anonymous said...

Anon 6:39 continuing my post due to length limits:

Furthermore, the question "is [Trait X] a product of genes or a product of the environment" is an unproductive question. Think about the importance of gravity on normal biological development. Normal development of a fetus depends on physical sensitivity to the directionality of gravitational pull. But does this make all of development a "product of the environment" because it depends on the presence of something outside of the genetic code to develop properly? It's a truism that everything is a complex product of genes interacting with environment, but it's the honest truth.

In a nutshell, the lines between "evolutionary biology" and "cultural evolution" are blurred, especially in the case of humans where our apparent biological success is largely due to our cultural achievements (e.g. tool construction). Thus, there can be natural selection pressures on the development of cultural plasticity because it is that cultural plasticity that enables us to cope with novel environments (like the Ice age at the upper end of the Pleistocene).

So if someone asks, "What evidence is there for more male obsessiveness?" one could point to, well, the apparent existence of male obsessiveness. Of course, the cultural-theorist would say "But that's just a product of a male-dominated society!", which the evolutionist will say "Well, the society itself is a (partial) product (or by-product) of evolution". So now we have a classic case of theory underdetermination. Both the cultural theorists and the evolutionists can "account" for the data, but which is ultimately the better explanation? When we take into account the success of evolution in the rest of biology, my sense is that siding with evolutionary theory is the better bet. Which is NOT to say that I believe Pinker is completely right in that debate. But again, this is something to be debated using evidence and theoretical models, not armchair reflection on cultural practices or special pleading on behalf on political correctness.

Anonymous said...

We are all pathetic losers...

Anonymous said...

I think the most amusing thing about this blog is the fact that the commenters are their most thoughtful, most erudite, and most passionate when someone suggests they might be sexist.

Keep on keeping on, boys!

Dan Dennis said...

How about this as a criterion for when to go to grad school and attempt to become a professional philosopher: Only commit yourself if you honestly think that there is a reasonable chance that you will contribute something valuable to the development/progress of philosophy and/or education of students, which will not be contributed if you do not enter the profession.

In other words, think not of what philosophy can do for you, but of what you can do for philosophy.

Anonymous said...

"commit yourself if you honestly think that there is a reasonable chance that you will contribute something valuable"

But undergrads don't have the ability to reasonably judge this. Even their professors can't really predict this based on undergraduate performance.

Added to that, academics and philosophy are fields that select for self-delusional ego-maniacs. So if the criterion is "do YOU think you'll make an important contribution", then you are effectively saying "Tell all phil majors to go to grad school."

Anonymous said...

In addition to what 9:48 says, I don't think there's ANYTHING anyone can contribute that cannot or will not eventually be contributed by someone else. No one is that good or unique. Had Newton, Einstein, Plato, Wittgenstein, -or whoever- not existed, someone else would have done what they did. And it wouldn't have taken much longer either. The "great man" view of philosophical (and other) progress is a big part of the problem, I think.

Anonymous said...

Starting salaries at top departments are well over 60K. If you can stomach it, get a job in a business school teaching ethics, and you'll make well over $100K to start.

Anonymous said...

Anybody have any idea why UT-Knoxville suspended their search?

Anonymous said...

Two points.

The main contribution most philosophers can make is in the classroom. I thought way back when that I could be a decent professor in that regard, and I've done at least that if not better. If you can't hack it as an instructor, then be good enough in research that you don't have the opportunity to ruin many minds because of extra-light teaching loads.

I also strongly disagree that conceptual/scientific innovations are inevitable. Look at the ontological argument. Augustine nearly gets it right, but it takes hundreds of years for Anselm to close the deal, and then it takes nearly another thousand years for something like a sound modal understanding of its second form. Take Anselm out of the picture and I could see that we'd be in the 21st century without anything like the ontological argument.

Cindy Willmot said...

Thank you for this thread. Twenty-six years ago, I earned a BA in Philosophy. Most of my professors encouraged me to go on, but my family spent four or more years trying to dissuade me. I have spent most of my adult life wishing I had taken the risk.

Along the way, I picked up an MS in Psychology. I've worked for 18 years as a mental health therapist. I now make a remarkably generous 50K a year. No kidding, I've been lucky. For additional income and intrigue, I've applied for numerous community college and third-tier university adjunct faculty jobs. But master's degrees in Psychology are a dime a dozen. Oddly, I've been told twice that if I had the MA in Philosophy they would hire me. Part time, of course. I have recently gotten a nibble teaching Criminal Justice (I have a lot of experience in jails and prisons), but nothing firm as of yet.

Looking back, I became too narrowly focused on Philosophy. Taking and really studying the Strong Interest Inventory was useful to me as it showed I had an Investigative and Artistic pattern of interests. Of course Philosophy would have satisfied these tendencies. But I also think I could have been satisfied with in Psychology, Linguistics, or Economics. The point is that I had a theoretical bent. Try as I might, I wouldn't have made a very good lawyer or businessman. I just don't look at things the way most people do. Part of this is due to my philosophical training; a bigger portion seems to be just hard-wired into my personality.

Another point. For Philosophy to be taken seriously in academics, it needs to shed the Beatnik Studies image and develop a reputation for being difficult like Mathematics or Art History, because it is.