Wednesday, December 18, 2013


The Philosopher in the Back Seat

This actually happened earlier this week.

The Girl and I were in the car, driving home after a school event.  She’s nine, and she was in the back seat.

TG (unprompted): How do philosophers make a living?

DD (laughs): Where did that come from?

TG: Well, if I want to be a philosopher, how will I make a living?

DD: Well, lots of them have a hard time with that.  Some of them teach philosophy to support themselves.

TG: I don’t want to teach!  I want to do it myself!

DD (laughing): Okay, well, sometimes they have other jobs to support themselves, and then they write in their spare time.

TG: But I’d be too tired!

DD: Yeah, that’s a problem.

TG: I mean, you never see signs saying “Wanted: Philosopher!”

DD: That’s true.

TG: And if you did, what would they do all day?

DD: Ya got me.

TG: You can’t really sell philosophy.  People don’t buy philosophy books like they buy Harry Potter books.

DD: No, they don’t.

TG: They don’t make movies about philosophers.  It would just be people asking “why are we here?”

DD: Well, sometimes they do, but they’re not very popular.

TG: Exactly!  They’re not like Thor.

DD: No, they’re not.

TG: Maybe I could be a veterinarian first, and then be a philosopher.

DD: Sounds like a plan.

So there you have it.  Philosophers are not like Thor.

I love your daughter. That is fantastic.
What a great story.

... and a beauty of the internet is that it may be possible to find this posting in a search cache as a reminder in 10 years, or fifteen, ..., Perhaps I'll put it aside in case it is relevant for TG to read it at your eventual retirement dinner. (First I'll look for the "decade" setting on my alarm clock.)
As someone who has a PHD (in history, not philosophy), I have to say your daughter is a very wise person.
I guess academic parents do give you a leg up. It takes some of us until our late 20s or early 30s to figure out what your 9 year old did!
Coming at this from a somewhat different depends on what one means by "doing philosophy," doesn't it? I could probably think of several novelists (Dostoevsky, for example, and even--to stretch a point--Tolkien) whose works are really attempts to present philosophical positions to their readers...Same for poets (oh, but they don't make a living either)...
Your daughter might enjoy (when she is older? Because of the "mature" relationships and themes?) the Alexander McCall Smith books about Isabel Dalhousie (The Sunday Philosophy Club) which show how a very wealthy person does indeed practice philosophy and how her study of that discipline influences her thoughts about dicey relationship issues and crimes that she helps to solve.
It is true that movies that ask "why are we here" are probably not like Thor (which I have not seen other than previews and ads), but some definitely do well at the box office.

It's a Wonderful Life?
On the Waterfront?
The Best Years of Our Lives?
To Kill a Mockingbird?
Miracle on 34th Street?
Fair warning: you may not see many "help wanted" signs for vets either- at least in private practice it can be hard to do the volume to pay off student loans (in state tuition for vet school helps a little, but a surprising number of states don't have their own). There was an NPR piece on the issue a while back. Research vets are awesome, but its hard to find jobs, probably more so than philosophy.
Haha! Cute story.
No WONDER Nietzsche wanted to philosophize with a hammer--to be more like Thor.
There is in fact a new movie out called The Philosophers. It looks quite dramatic and interesting actually. The trailer is here:
Life of Pi
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
The Invention of Lying
A Clockwork Orange
Groundhog Day

We're popular . . . but there's popular, and then there's Thor-popular. We're not Thor-popular.
I am a veterinarian. My husband is a philosopher. I'm pretty sure she meant that philosophers are not like veterinarians.
I did once see a job ad for an "ontological engineer", but somehow I get the feeling that showing up with a metaphysics degree isn't what they'd be looking for.
You can assure TG that there *are* veterinarian philosophers! (Well, ex-veterinarian philosophers, at any rate.) Check out:
Well, you don't make money by doing philosophy, you do philosophy if you have money (that is: time). So, does veterinarians make that kind of money?
The veterinarians that work on the policy side of the ethics of humanely raising and slaughtering livestock do a fair amount of philosophizing. Similarly for the veterinarians who serve on IRBs and consider the ethics of medical research on vertebrates.
I'm a philosopher who has worked in the field of veterinary bioethics for quite some time now and in my experience working with practitioners as well as policy wonks there are very, very few in the field who have a firm grasp of the concept of moral theory, let alone participate in anything resembling 'philosophizing'. Veterinary students are not taught ethical theory in school (and trying to get a mandatory ethics course into the curriculum is, to put it mildly, an exercise in futility. Veterinarians are not required to practice 'informed consent' as their human medical counterparts are, and in my experience when the topic has been broached it's been met with vehement opposition. Veterinary medicine as a whole has been historically slow to adapt to changes in the field and opposition to new protocols is the rule. Those few vets who are ethically inclined and fight for change in the status quo are ostracized by their peers. The problem is the general public has an image of kindly Dr. Dolittles and rarely take the time to glimpse behind the curtain.
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