The missing philosophy

21 oktober 2010 | In Meta-philosophy Self-indulgence Uncategorized | Comments?


How do you get to do philosophy? As a profession, I mean. How do you go from being genuinely interested in the stuff to doing it as a full time job? For an initiated look at the profession and some perfectly juicy gossip to boot, you would do well to turn to Leiter reports. If you happen to be female, or actually: no matter what you happen to be, you might want to look into the excellent but sometimes somewhat discouraging Being a woman in Philosophy. Talking to members of staff at your local, or any, department for philosophy is generally advisable. This being said, my academic advisor, when I asked about the prospect for a career in philosophy, said that it’s perfectly possible. If you’re independently wealthy.

Arriving at university very much a Man with Ideas, the question was mostly a practical one. How could I get to spend my days working on those ideas, ideally while getting paid and duly appreciated?

I find, and others have shared this experience, that it goes something like this. You read and you listen and you talk a lot. You are quite impressed, but not discouraged by the amount of excellent thinking that has already taken place. You’re not discouraged, either,  by the fact that the history of philosophy has an unfair advantage. Kant, the lucky s.o.b. had the good fortune of being born into a world where Kantian ideas had not already been developed and twisted and turned ever which way. You find something that’s particularly interesting. Your teacher, if you got one, has probably given you an assortment of topics to choose from, and you look around for stuff that treats the topic you find yourself drawn to.

And then it happens. You find that something is missing. Despite initial appearances, there are philosophical theories that have not been developed yet. This is the opening. If you are really lucky, the position is not only unoccupied, but also quite plausible.  And then you go about developing that missing theory, defending it’s merits over other, neighboring theories. More likely than not, you’re not going to convince anyone at this stage, but you may earn their respect, and the possibility to spend a couple of years making the best possible case for your theory.

Along the line, as you’re vacuuming of the field progresses, it is likely that you will find something that is awkwardly close to what you wanted to say to begin with. But then you’re already so von kopf bis fuss entrenched in it that you go on to develop an enhanced variation of it any way.

For me, the missing theory bit happened when I was dealing with preferentialism. The ongoing debate was between objective and subjective satisfaction versions of the theory:

Either it is good that what you want to be the case is the case no matter whether you know it or not, or the only thing that matters is that you think that your wish is satisfied: what is good is the conjunction of the desire and the belief that it is satisfied. Whereas the latter version struck me as more plausible, the mere conjunction of desire and belief did not seem to me to be close enough. It’s not enough that I have a desire that P while having the belief that P is the case. I may have those things, and fail to make the connection, so to speak. Neither would it be sufficient that I have the desire that P and the belief that this desire is satisfied. No, I thought there should be a more concrete relation between the two. Beliefs and desires being mental states, they had to actually meet up and a new mental state: the desire being satisfied as a result of the ingoing components meeting up was the real value-bearer here.

The ultimate result of that train of thought became part 1 of the dissertation, the theory of pleasure.

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