Friday, December 12, 2014

Reposting: A Note to Spouses

A little later than usual, but people have asked for a re-post, and I aim to please.  From the good old days: November 2010.


Dear Spouse of an Unemployed Philosopher,

As you are no doubt well-aware, we're now creeping into the all-important ten-day period during which hiring departments will be contacting job applicants in order to schedule APA interviews. The whole process is, indeed, every bit as awful as your spouse says it is. In fact it's probably much worse that your spouse realizes. In any case, expect your spouse to begin behaving strangely.

Over the next several days, your spouse will begin incessantly checking his or her voice-mail and email for any signs of hope. Information about which schools have contacted interviewees, some of questionable reliability, will be posted on various blogs and wikis. Rumors about canceled searches, insider candidates, and "courtesy interviews" will abound. Given the horrendous job market, even under the best circumstances, things will look excessively bleak. And they are.

Should your spouse get no invitations to interview, do whatever you can to help soften the blow. You spouse worked extremely hard on his or her PhD. Spending another year adjuncting for slave-wages, or worse, is a terrifying prospect for your spouse. And, indeed, that your spouse has not gotten any interviews does not entail that your spouse is not a highly qualified, well-trained, and promising academic. Most job ads yield hundreds of applications, and departments interview only twelve or so at the APA. The search process at many institutions is nearly blind to all the things that matter in selecting a new faculty member.

Those who get interviews will have but a few hours to feel affirmed and accomplished. Enjoy this all too brief period of satisfaction. Celebrate. The joy will soon give way to a morass of anxiety and self-doubt as your spouse begins to prepare for the interview. Of course, it will quickly dawn on your spouse that the only way to prepare is to practice running a gauntlet of the cruel, the ignorant, the hostile, the maniacal, the stupid, and the clueless. Chances are the some such assemblage will be deciding your spouse's fate. This only compounds the anxiety and self-doubt.

Perhaps your spouse will be among the three or four who survive the APA interview. If so, she or he will be invited to an on campus interview. In some ways, the anxieties of the job-seeking process lift at this point. But they're quickly replaced by a different set of anxieties: what to wear, what paper to give, how to deal with off-the-rails questions at the Q&A, how to interact with the faculty member who behaved like a jerk at the APA interview, and so on. Of course, if your spouse has reached this stage, he or she has already accomplished a great deal. But that makes the prospect of not getting the job all the more depressing. And so it goes.

In short, the next month will be unbelievably trying for your spouse. Resign yourself now to the fact that the entire holiday season will be a drag. Devise ways to cope with the fact that your spouse will be psychologically compromised for several weeks. And, if you can, cut him or her some slack.


Is this a Joke?

Heavy Metal Christmas.

A different joke: There's no presents, not this Christmas.

Fear still nails it.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Ask a Fucking Question Already

I seem to recall there being a post about this some years ago, but it's a perennial frustration.  Why is it that otherwise intelligent and minimally decent philosophers can't properly ask a fucking question after a colloquium talk?  The variety of pathologies is staggering, and they are typically manifest in the opening words of a purported question:

1. "Your paper about indexicals vaguely reminds me of something completely unrelated to indexicals that I overheard at an APA in 1974.  So let me fill you in about all of that...."

2. "Your paper about indexicals said absolutely nothing about the non-identity problem, which is what I work on.  And, by the way, it's the only important problem in philosophy. So let me tell you about that...."

3. "Your paper about indexicals said nothing about global poverty.  Are we to assume you're okay with the fact that kids are starving?"

4. "Your paper about indexicals said things I do not understand, because I work in an area of philosophy that constantly asserts that philosophy of language is passe. So your paper must be uninteresting. Don't you have anything to say about the subaltern?"

5. "Your paper about indexicals said nothing about Scotus' very interesting ideas about indexicals. I have no idea how they may be relevant to what you're doing, but the fact that you did not mention Scotus entails that you're ignorant of his views, and probabaly the history of philosophy, so let me tell you about Scotus..."

This is all rude, unprofessional bullshit.  Ask a fucking question.  The question must be about the paper that the speaker gave.  It must address what the speaker actually said.  It must be formulable in no more than 90 seconds. No follow-ups.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Marion Barry Posse

Marion Barry has a posse.


Friday, November 21, 2014

Should I Go to the Eastern APA?

A reader writes:
I am a second year graduate student in a PhD program that's not prohibitively distant from Philadelphia. I am wondering if I should go to the Eastern APA even though I'm not on the program.  The word around my department is that the Eastern APA should be avoided at all costs, and that one should go only once one is on the job market (and then only if necessary).  I read your blog and know you have been critical of the APA.  But, really, is it that bad?  And even if it is that bad, is its badness enough to warrant the counsel to never go unless required by a job interview? 

The word around your department is about as misguided as could be.  The worst thing would be to have your first visit to the Eastern be your job market year.  My criticisms of the APA tend to assume as a premise that there's sufficient reason for large segments of the profession to attend the Eastern regularly.  This applies to graduate students.  So if it's affordable, definitely go and get a sense of what the conference is like.  Attend papers about topics you already know things about.  Skip the "smoker." And don't get too drunk.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Still a Scumbag, etc.

I've been out of the country for a few weeks, and a lot has happened.  Here's a quick roundup of notable items that you might have missed.

The Pope's still a scumbag, and apparently "Search and Destroy" is one of his favorite tunes.  But Iggy said no, so Patti agreed.  What's the world coming to?

Meanwhile, the Florida Satanists score big for sensible church/state principles.   Thanks, guys.

And, just what the universe needs now, Babymetal.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Puzzling AOS/AOC Notation

This from the PhilJobs site:
AOS: Epistemology OR (Philosophy of race OR Non-Western philosophy)
AOC: (Philosophy of race OR Non-Western philosophy) OR Epistemology
What to infer?  What's with the commutation?  The parentheses?  Should someone with AOS's in Epistemology and Philosophy of Race, and an AOC in, say, Philosophy of Language apply to this?  Does an AOS in x entail an AOC in x?

Saturday, November 1, 2014


"He has more opinions than .... um .... ideas."
--Guy in coffee shop, to lady in coffee shop, about the guy who just left the table for the bathroom.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Seasons Greetings

Happy Halloween

And for those pagan dead who seek the warmth of the Samhain fire...

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Jack Bruce Posse, etc.

Jack Bruce has a posse.  Here.

Finally some good news out of Oklahoma.  Here.

How to Use the Philosophical Gourmet Report

A longer version of this memo to undergraduate philosophy majors has been circulating in my department for some time.  I myself happen to think that the PGR is more useful and reliable than this piece suggests.  But I see nothing in the following to strongly reject.  At the very least the tips below provide a solid place to begin.

Applying for graduate work in philosophy is a time consuming and trying process.  There are many good PhD programs, and there is a lot of variation with respect to requirements, timelines, levels and length of support, etc.  Moreover, not every good department is good in every subfield of philosophy.  Many departments that are strong in, say, contemporary european philosophy are embarrassingly weak in mainstream fields like epistemology, philosophy of language, and ethics.  The same goes for departments with strengths in specific subfields: and excellent department for metaphysics or philosophy of mind may offer little to those with interests in social and political philosophy or logic.  It is safe to say that the excellence of any department is always relative to some specific intellectual subset of topics/areas/periods within philosophy. Yes, there are some programs that are strong overall (they can train students excellently in a wide range of subfields), but none that are equally strong in all areas.  In deciding where to apply, one must exercise one’s judgment.  Schools that may sound impressive (like Yale or Harvard) do not have the best all-around philosophy programs, and given your specific interest and goals, some less impressive sounding school (for example, Arizona, Maryland, or UC Davis) might be far better than, say, Columbia or MIT.  

Since choosing where to apply requires an exercise of your judgment, you will need to find ways to inform yourself about what the various PhD programs in philosophy have to offer.  Important information (requirements, support, teaching opportunities, placement, average time to degree, and much else) can usually be found on departmental websites.  Use the APA’s guide to graduate programs to see what programs there are.  Still, one can waste a lot of time googling departments.  It could help also to narrow, at least initially, the range of schools you’re considering to those that seem to have a reputation within the discipline for strength in the areas that are of most interest to you. Remember: given certain interests, the schools with the most impressive sounding names will not have the best graduate programs in philosophy. 

There is an online reputational ranking of philosophy PhD programs called the Philosophical Gourmet Report (PGR).  The PGR is controversial within some philosophical communities. Some think it useless, others claim that it is deceptive or biased, some say that it is methodologically unsound and corrupt.  The more severe objections to the enterprise are overstated. The PGR is certainly not perfect (what is?), but it is not the blight upon the profession that some claim.  If you take the time to read the PGR website’s explanations of its aims, methods, and limitations, you will find the PGR to be a helpful resource.  

Here are a few tips.
1. Learn what the PGR is. Read the sections on the PGR website about its methodology carefully. Read the website’s section on how it should be used.  Think about what kind of information it is providing.

2. Learn what the PGR is not. In light of the methodological and other caveats presented on the PGR website, keep in mind that the PGR is not a list of the best departments for you.  It’s not a list of the places you’ll be most welcome.  It’s not a list of the places where graduate students are most happy. It does not tell you which departments have the best or most conscientious professors. It does not measure the professional success of the PhD’s produced by any department.  It does not track placement. In short, the PGR is not a substitute for your own judgment.  

3. As it is not a substitute for your own judgment, the PGR is a place to begin thinking, investigating, and deliberating about graduate study.  It provides information of a very specific kind; it does not provide all of the relevant information there is.  Use the PGR to craft an initial list of departments that look suitable, given your interests.  Bring that list to the philosophy faculty members who know you best.  Use it to start a discussion, not settle one (or avoid one).

4. Do not place too much importance on the overall rankings, and disregard slight numerical differences among closely-ranked departments.  The rankings in the subfields are often more useful for identifying (again, initially) the some of the programs that are well regarded in a given area.  

5. Cross-reference the subfield rankings.  Your philosophical interests will likely change during your graduate training.  In some cases the change will be drastic.  You may discover that your currently favorite philosopher has been subjected to a decisive criticism, or that the philosophical problem that currently fascinates you has been solved.  You may discover that your interest in moral responsibility is really better addressed within metaphysics than ethics, or that phenomenology is methodologically bankrupt.  There’s no way to inoculate against the most drastic changes (in fact, sometimes they should be welcomed).  But you can try to account for the more likely shifts by looking for programs that are strong not only in the area you’re presently most interested in, but also have strengths in your other interests and in subfields that are closely related to what’s presently most important to you.  

6. Have lots of conversations with your professors about all of these matters.  

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Satan In Vancouver

The statue has been dismantled, and the Kickstarter campaign to have it rebuilt has failed (I pledged what would have been the cost for attending the Pacific APA this year). 

Still no word from the APA in response to the injustice of it all.  Boycott is still on.

"Enough! I gave you enough!”"

A few people have sent this my way, and there's only one reply:

Fuck you, Billy. 

Monday, October 13, 2014


I would guess that most people are fans of the PhilJobs site. It's a major improvement over the old JFP.  But an administrator this morning asked me if the job market in Philosophy shows any sign of improvement over the past three years.  How to answer?