*Since I have no advisory board, there will be a poll immediately following this post in which you can rank the list to provide adequate oversight.
Being married to a philosopher can be challenging. You’re often surrounded by smart people who use terms you’ve never heard before (simpliciter, mutatis mutandis, qualia, modus ponens—you get the gist), and you can easily find yourself drifting off when the conversations turn to very technical topics (the virtues of the Begriffsschriftzzzzzzz). But, with just a few simple tips, you can fit right in.
1. Survive the APA and the Job Market (because it’s coming up)
The APA can be a drag for people conducting interviews and a stomach-churning nightmare for candidates, but fun for you. It just takes a little chutzpah, an ill-gotten APA badge, and a handshake.
First, get a badge. This is key. Wear it for the days you’re there. People will think you’re a philosopher, which will make pulling off your prank a bit easier, plus you can go to some talks. The best time to strike will be during the smoker when nervous job candidates and exhausted or indifferent interviewers are painfully socializing.
When you spot a school’s table, walk up, shake hands with the philosophers, and thank them for the interview. It works best if you can throw in a few nods to each of their research areas. DON’T BREAK CHARACTER. As a measure of how awkward the APA can be for interviewers and candidates alike, no one will correct you—they’ll simply awkwardly play along.
Years ago, after Christopher interviewed with Oklahoma State, I found their table at the smoker. I asked him to hang back while I went over on my own. I shook hands with Oklahoma State’s Doren Recker and the other philosophers, and I thanked them for a wonderful interview (remember badge = legit). Although they looked confused, we chatted for several minutes, until Christopher walked up and blew my cover. It sort of bummed me out because I think I had them convinced—(campus bound!)
As an aside, Christopher ended up with an on-campus interview. I’m pretty sure he was riding my comedic coattails.
Pro tip: Whether or not this will work in your favor is a toss up, but it can provide some much needed levity to what, at times, will feel like a wake. With less food.
2. Have Your Own “Research” Agenda
Be prepared to steer philosophers away from those pesky technical topics. Develop your own “research” agenda and talking points. When choosing a topic, keep in mind that philosophers will talk about anything. Anything.
During two not-so-distant conferences I had a little research agenda of my own: bestiality. Okay, let me back up here for just a minute. I understand that one of the main objections to bestiality is that animals can’t give consent. This may be true in cases where a female animal is involved, but not so much in the case of a male animal who is the actor in such a situation. So, if you solve the consent issue, then what’s the objection?
I’ve brought this topic up at two different state PAs, and each time philosophers fully and enthusiastically entertained the topic. Bonus: I got to give my devastating (in my mind) objection regarding male animals and consent once philosophers started talking about consent issues.
Of course it won’t take long for you to wade in to philosophical waters far too deep to swim in. When that happens, just rejoinder with, “I’m an anti-realist about moral value.” Honestly, I only vaguely understand what that means, but it’s gotten me out of a lot of tight spots.
I’ve since moved on from that topic, now I’m ruminating on how I can be an anti-realist about mathematics, but a realist about scientific theories and inquiry (and wondering why anyone would want to be a moral realist).
Pro tip: Use these phrases to get out of trouble: Is that a justified true belief with no defeaters and a causal connections? Or That has supervenience written all over it. Or That’s begging the question.
3. Entertain Yourself with the Consequentialist Party Game
A fair number of philosophers are hardcore consequentialists. This creates a fantastic philosophy party diversion (for you). You can freely pose provocative and mostly inappropriate questions about behavior and outcomes over a glass of wine. Non-philosophers will usually slink off with a shocked look to refill their glasses. Philosophers, on the other hand, will sit down and legitimately consider the question, making it the best philosopher party game. EVER.
I once asked a group of philosophers if X amount of money would be enough to perform a particular act, A (at the time illegal in many states) on camera. The answer was a resounding yes. Because…well, they’re consequentialists, and a few minutes of act A, would give one a LOT of money. And one could do a LOT of personal and public good with that money. As one philosopher said, “It would be irrational not to!”
Pro tip: If they assent too quickly, just keep upping the ante. Make ‘em bite the bullet!
4. Pick a Side (or I Poked Dan Dennet in the Chest)
Philosopher’s have public tantrums. I love it. EVERYBODY ELSE DOES TOO. This can be pure gold for you because it requires very little philosophical knowledge! All you have to do is pick a side to be part of the in-crowd.
Remember when Dan Dennet and Michael Ruse had those public disagreements? I happened to come down squarely in Ruse’s camp (full disclosure: I met my husband in Ruse’s History of Philosophy of Science seminar). If you stay abreast of these oh-so important spats, you can use them to philosophically engage the other party. For example: A short time later I ran in to Dennet at the 2009 Darwin Conference. I spied him from across the room, and gleefully walked over to scold him. I screwed up my height to all 5’2, poked him in the chest and said, “Why are you being so mean to Michael?”
Dennet’s a bright fellow, but I don’t think he knew I was mostly teasing, since he responded with, “He started it.” He stammered a bit before scurrying off, but I can’t blame him—I cut a damn intimidating figure.
Pro tip: This tactic is best used if you do not share a last name with your spouse.
5. Prepare Your Philosopher for Hostile Audiences (or Do Not Be Deterred by Your Own Lack of Philosophical Knowledge)
Do NOT take it easy on your philosopher. You can best support his or her work by mimicking a hostile audience. If you can’t do this on your own, enlist the help of other philosophers (they’ll be only too happy to oblige). This potential strategy can go awry; see cautionary tale below.
At one of Christopher’s talks, I asked John Hardwig (at the time the Chair of University of Tennessee’s Philosophy Department where my husband was working) to give me a devastating objection I could pose during Christopher’s Q & A session (stop beating me at all the board games and this won’t happen). Hardwig thought a moment, and then gave me a question to ask which I didn’t really understand, but that was beside the point. I was too excited about the potential troll I was about to perpetrate (mentally I was rubbing my hands together and throwing sinister looks at Christopher).
The Q&A rolled around, and I eagerly raised my hand. After calling on everyone else, Christopher finally pointed to me. I asked my question and smugly sat back ready to enjoy the aftermath. Except things didn’t go as planned. He actually asked me a follow up question to explain my position. What?! I just gave him an incredulous stare. Thank you, David Lewis.
Pro tip: Be prepared to boldly utter some of the phrases from pro tip #2.
In all seriousness, thanks philosophers for allowing me to tag along and for making me feel included. Because Christopher slogged through it all, I’ve enjoyed many of the perks without any of the hard work (something I’m constantly aspiring to do).