What Kind of Jerk Are You?


Henry Shevlin, a PhD student at CUNY, has posted about the philosophy of jerks:

What makes someone a jerk? Is it merely being rude, or selfish, or is there something more subtle that underlies the behavior of the jerk? And just as important, how do you know if you’re a jerk yourself?

Following up on Eric Schwitzgebel’s prolific jerk work, Shevlin offers a situationist account of the jerk, and then provides a taxonomy of jerks, including “the bore,” “the martyr,” “the drama king/queen,” “the vice jerk,” and others, including “the academic jerk”:

The academic jerk
“Ethics is junk. I do analytic metaphysics because I want to study something real.”
Academics can be jerks in lots of ways – unresponsive to their students, dismissive of colleagues, and cruel to kittens. But one particularly common jerkish tendency I’ve noticed as a philosopher is a tendency to accentuate the importance of one’s own work and interests while utterly disregarding your colleagues’ areas of expertise. And this in spite of having little to no awareness or understanding of those fields. What makes this especially jerkish is its self-serving and unreflective nature: there’s no point in them learning anything about, say, continental philosophy, because if it was good, it might undermine their own smug sense of superiority (“and besides, it’s all junk anyway”).

We’ve discussed jerk moves in philosophy before, but if you have other examples or thoughts on the matter, feel free to share them. (Note that attempts to identify specific jerks will likely not be approved. If that itself is a jerk move, well, tough.)

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Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
6 years ago

I have definitely seen philosophers dismissing work they know nothing about. Having said this, it isn’t easy to determine how much you need to know about an area of expertise before deciding that it isn’t particularly important. How much, for instance, do you need to know about analytic metaphysics before deciding, as many philosophers have done, that it isn’t very important? So I absolutely accept that the academic jerk, as described above, is real and harmful, though I’ve also seen a lot of false accusations of jerkdom made on the grounds that someone isn’t impressed with one’s area of work.Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
6 years ago

I love analytic metaphysics myself, but don’t you agree that a philosopher is not necessarily being a jerk if they regard analytic metaphysics as fundamentally wrong-headed? They certainly might be being a jerk. I wouldn’t want to deny that the academic jerk, as described in the OP, is a real creature. I agree that a philosopher should know something of analytic metaphysics before coming to the conclusion that it isn’t fruitful. In fact, a pet peeve of mine is people who dismiss analytic metaphysics while demonstrating that they fundamentally misinterpret it. However, I want to make space for those philosophers who think analytic metaphysics is barking up the wrong tree.Report

Anon
Anon
6 years ago

In the context of social philosophy (especially race/gender), i’ve witnessed this a few times which frankly seems like a jerky thing to do to me:
Speaker: [Advances position/argument on, say, race/gender]
Q&A participant: [Sincere question that reflects either seeking clarification or raising a legitimate challenge to the argument presented.]
Speaker: “You’re only saying this because of how racist/sexist you are.”

Jerk: Someone who finds his/her own use of ad hominem/genetic moves legitimate, acceptable, and entirely non-fallacious, but derides anyone else’s use of similar moves.Report

Ian
Ian
Reply to  Anon
6 years ago

I like that particular Jerk characterization, and I’m not sure it even needs the “but derides anyone else’s use of similar moves” qualification.Report

shane
6 years ago

I encourage students to go to grad school in philosophy. . .Report

shane
Reply to  shane
6 years ago

Just kidding, I’m not that big of a jerk.Report

Im Auftrag des Teufel
Im Auftrag des Teufel
6 years ago

I’m often called a jerk for taking the advocation of the devil too far. Really, I do want those with whom I’m conversing to consider alternate aspects of their position, but I have sometimes forgotten that an initial personal bias on a subject might cause emotional grief. I’ve not had anyone reach the point of tears as I will cease my arguments and explain that I meant no personal offense. I have seen others take the position to an extreme point where it appears to become petty vengeance.

Does that count as jerky? I think.. yeah.. I think it might do.Report

Louie Generis
Louie Generis
6 years ago

I find the “doesn’t email Louie questions” jerk to be an especially problematic subtype, one that I can say, without any doubt or hyperbole, will almost definitely cause the collapse of Western civilization later this week.

[email protected]Report

Internet Reader
Internet Reader
6 years ago
Disordered
Disordered
6 years ago

Did anyone mention the jerky tendency to diagnose other philosophers with personality disorders? Narcissistic personality disorder tends to be the jerk’s favorite diagnosis to make.

Who knows? Maybe the jerk is some sort of anomalous academic who hates praise, couldn’t care less about being right, and is uncomfortable with the idea of being admired.Report

p
p
6 years ago

So does (should) working on jerks make you a jerk?Report