Sun Feb 16, 2003

Dealing with Philosophers

Brian Weatherson’s Philosophy Weblog is lots of fun for philosophers, and his Online Papers in Philosophy is a great service for them. I’ve been meaning to link to him for a while. Seeing as he was just talking about Laurie (my significantly smarter other) this seems like a good time.

I drop by Brian’s blog to keep my philosopher-bugging skills sharp. The important thing to know about philosophers—- especially the metaphysics, epistemology and mind people—- is that, when they are with other philosophers, they are incapable of doing anything except arguing the finer points of some thesis or other. This means that, if you (as I do routinely) find yourself having dinner with a bunch of them, you must decide how to react to the buzz of premises, syllogisms and counterexamples flying around you. Three main responses are possible.

First, you can tune out altogether and play with your food, read a book or listen to a CD or something. This is rude, but philosophers are generally pretty undersocialized and probably won’t care, or even notice. If you don’t participate, you may still occasionally be called on by somone wanting to “test” the plausibility of some allegedly intuitive premise or conclusion on an “untainted” (i.e., empty) mind such as yours.

Second, you can try to keep up with the conversation and join in the argument as a bona fide participant. This is not recommended.

Third, you can absorb just enough of the substance and terminology to ask irritating questions and make incorrect observations that sidetrack the discussion. This is a moderately risky strategy, but by far the most enjoyable one. Useful phrases in this context include, “Doesn’t that violate local supervenience?”, “I thought that tropes were supposed to deal with that problem”, and “I didn’t think it had that connotation in the original Greek.” A more general approach is to say things like “Well, it’s all just subjective anyway, right?”, “It’s not as if there’s really a right answer, eh?” or “Hasn’t science made philosophy irrelevant?” Bonus points for being able to move back and forth between the last two questions, as needed.